You’ve just been briefed on a new product launch, and you’ve been tasked with writing a white paper to go with its introduction. Before you start, a few things can help make sure the white paper serves as a good lead generation piece that influences decision-makers.

After all, the idea behind the white paper is to help the sales department qualify leads. If you’re properly pressing on the pain points of your readers – and you’re writing in a way that sets off their internal light bulbs – then they’re more likely to bring the white paper to the person who will ultimately approve the purchase. The product itself is important but choosing a focus, determining the audience, and writing to that audience can make or break the success of the white paper.

Set a Focus

If you’re writing a white paper to help sell a product, the product itself is not enough of a focus. I advocate for collaboration between marketing and sales, and this is one of those times. Talk to the sales team in charge of the product. Ask what problems the product solves. The problems – and the solutions to those problems – will be the focus of the white paper. For example, instead of the focus being WidgetWare CRM, the focus is properly upselling customers in the age of Google.

I strongly advise against focusing solely on the product or the company. At the end of the white paper, you’ll have plenty of room to talk about the specific product and how it solves the customer’s problems, and you’ll be able to talk about your company’s experience developing solutions. Focus on problems and the product as a generic solution instead.

Determine Your Audience

Next up, figure out who will be reading this white paper. Go beyond job title and create as much of a persona as possible:

  • Industry
  • Pain points
  • Job responsibilities
  • Teachability (Pro tip: the lower down on the food chain the person is, the more likely they are to be teachable. Also, if their pain points are excruciating, they’re more teachable.)

I purposely left out gender. Why? At this stage, it doesn’t matter. If you’re crafting personas, it’s fine to create Jennifer the CFO or Mark the Marketing Director. I also left off outside interests. What you need to know is what’s important to Jennifer and Mark: are these positions likely held by parents who want to stop being called away from their kids’ soccer games to fix a problem at the company? Is Jennifer worried about being able to justify this purchase, while Mark is concerned about lead generation?

Choose a White Paper Type

Now that you know your audience, what type of white paper do they want to read? Some choices:

  • The standard white paper details the market overview, problem, solution, and your specific solution. It’s a formulaic setup.
  • The e-book white paper reads more like a longer feature article.
  • The listicle white paper is a “Top 10” list, or a “7 Deadly Sins” list.

There are other types of white papers you can write, some tongue in cheek and some not. Once you know who your audience is, you can figure out the best way to deliver the content to them. If you’re writing a white paper for someone in a more traditional industry, a more traditional format is your best bet. But if your audience works in marketing, for example, that audience may be more receptive to something that gives them a chuckle.

Identify SMEs

Your company is full of people who can talk about the new product and provide valuable insight when you’re writing a white paper. For your sanity, and the sanity of your writer, choose two or three people. One subject-matter expert should be in sales and knowledgeable about pain points. Another should be from the product development side so your writer can understand how the product works. Find the people most knowledgeable about the products and customer pain points, and prepare them to speak to the writer. After you select a writer, you may want to have the writer prepare questions before the SMEs hop on a call. The SMEs can review the questions so they know what to expect.

Pick a Point Person

If you’re not writing the white paper yourself, select a person to be in charge of it. This person will work directly with your writer and be the person that helps wrangle SMEs, get revisions to the writer quickly, and manage the project. This person can be you or someone in your department. The idea is to have a single person responsible for keeping everything in one place so that the SMEs know who they’re dealing with, as does the writer.

Select a Writer

Finally, decide who is going to be writing the white paper. If you’re lucky enough to have writers on staff, this is much easier. If you’re not that lucky, choose a freelancer who can understand the subject matter, interview subject matter experts, and write well.

(And yes, I’d love to talk to you.)

Ideally, going through this process will help you narrow the scope so that, no matter who is writing a white paper for your company, that person will know what you want. Even staff writers can’t read minds, so zeroing in on the focus, format, and SMEs will go a long way to getting the first draft you envisioned. Ultimately, this will mean a white paper that is used as a definitive decision-making tool, or at least something that pushes prospects further into the funnel so that they want to know more about the product and how it can help them.