The industry white paper

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Having trouble reaching the decision-makers at prospective customers? Looking to build credibility for your company in a new industry?
Here’s an idea for scoring points with prospects and projecting an image of expertise. It’s also an inexpensive way to generate new business for your company.
We used this technique effectively when I worked for an advertising agency, but it’s applicable to most any business. It’s called the industry report, or "white paper," and it serves as an ideal entree to prospective customers.
Here’s how it works: the objective is to provide fresh information on some aspect of your industry or the industry of your prospective customers. Include new insights. Load it with statistics. Make it comprehensive, maybe even controversial. But above all, be objective.
Key to the successful white paper is its objectivity. This is not a shameless sales piece. Your firm may not even be mentioned in the report, except as its author.
Here are some examples:
1. An accounting firm might offer free analysis of the rapidly changing health- care industry for distribution to hospitals, nursing homes, or managed health- care organizations in the hope of attracting new clients.
2. An office furniture distributor might offer a free analysis of workplace ergonomics as a service to facilities managers at prospective customers.
3. A brokerage firm might offer free investment advice on Individual Retirement Accounts to attract new investors.
4. A home improvement center might offer data on energy conservation in the home. This information, provided free to consumers, could motivate homeowners to install new windows or doors in an effort to weatherize their homes. Naturally, they would consider calling the provider of the free information for an estimate.
You get the idea. Position your company as a knowledgeable source of information in the industry. Recipients of your informative report perceive your company as the industry authority. Of course, everyone wants to do business with an expert.
Your white paper need not be anything elaborate. A simple, 10 to 15 pages of well-written text with a few charts or graphs and a nice cover works best. Use secondary research (from the library, Internet, or other published resource) combined with relevant quotes from a few acknowledged scholars in the industry.
How do you get quotes from acknowledged scholars? Here’s your chance to speak to those key prospects and decision-makers.
Call and ask them for an "interview." This is not the time for a sales pitch. Rather, ask for their perspective on industry growth trends, new product innovations, pending legislation, or other issues affecting their industries for inclusion in this important study.
Almost every executive is flattered to be sought out as a revered seer, an opinion leader in his or her industry. Most will be pleased to contribute. Their participation will add objectivity and credibility to your report. And they will naturally be avid readers of your report when it is finished, searching doggedly for their contributions, and those of their colleagues.
When the report is complete, distribute it so as to maximize the benefits to your firm.
First, send a copy with a press release to all your local business publications. Announce the availability of your informative report to anyone requesting one.
Next, mail a notice (with a return card and SASE) to all your prospective customers in that industry. Send along a cover letter extolling the benefits to your customer of the report. Include a summary of the key findings, enough to cause them to return the request card.
Finally, send your report to an industry trade magazine for publication. Most trade magazines are hungry for well-researched, well-written articles on their industry. Publication in an industry journal will further bolster your company’s reputation.
Publishing an industry white paper has many benefits. It creates awareness of your company in the industry. It establishes you and your firm as experts in the field. Most importantly, it offers four opportunities to be in contact with prospective customers:
1. The request for prospects’ comments to be included in the report
2. The announcement of the availability of the report to prospects
3. The sending of the report to prospects
4. The follow-up with prospects after the report has been sent
The white paper is a unique and inexpensive means of prospecting for new customers while enhancing your company’s reputation and credibility.

Robert Grede, author of Naked Marketing – The Bare Essentials (Prentice Hall), teaches marketing and entrepreneurial management at Marquette University. Learn more on marketing at

Jan. 10, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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