Sell It or Give It Away: The Best Option for Your White Paper (ASK Mike)

By Michael Stelzner

Now that the economy is in the dumps, a LOT of businesses are turning to educational marketing techniques (like white papers) as a primary marketing vehicle.  In fact, one of my Fortune 50 clients just told me, “We’ve decided to cut back on trade shows and focus more of our efforts on white papers because they work so well.”

So, that brings me to a question sent in by a reader.

Terry writes:

I have a buddy that I am helping and he is of the thought that the white paper should be sold as a way of giving real content at a real value.

I told him that yes, while you may sell 40 copies at $37 – $ 67 per copy you are limiting the number of potential customers and leads due to the fact that some are going to balk.  I am going through your book and the blog for insight, but would love for you to address the issue.

Here’s my response:

Terry, does he understand what a white paper is?  It sounds like he is mistaking a white paper with a book or an ebook.  Also, is he trying to generate leads?

Here’s the deal.  A white paper should be useful, but incomplete.  That means it should be useful enough that the prospect finds great value in it, but still doesn’t have all that is needed to solve his/her problems.  And it should always be free.

If your friend is trying to sell a more detailed version of the white paper, then start with a 10-pager that lays out the problems and how to solve them.  At the end of the paper, provide the option to buy the $39 ebook or to talk to the expert author…

This is the model I employ.  For example, if you register for my How to Write a White Paper: A White Paper on White Papers, you will see this in action.

But the key is to have the prospect “purchase” the original paper with his/her contact details (name/email/…).

I hope this helps you out.

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  • chicago heart attack

    Great response. It’s all about giving just enough. For new people to the industry it is always good to give just the basics and then say for x amount of dollars you can get all the advanced techniques to make you a top competitor.

  • Andrew Duthie

    This is spot-on. Give away your expertise for free, right up to the point where you’re applying it to someone’s specific problem. Once you’re working on someone’s problem, they need to engage you officially (or decide they’re not yet ready to pay for help).

  • Jacques Seoman

    A ten pager, followed by an expanded offering in the form of an ebook makes good sense to me. To initially charge for anything means excluding a lot of potential business. By offering engaging initial free material you’re creating possibilities, rather than having a price tag slam the door shut in peoples faces.

  • Copygreen

    I agree, give a little for free, kinda like bait to lure them in. People are more likely to buy what you’re selling if you give them a taster and it tastes good.

  • Goran Giertz

    Any fisherman will tell you that casting a hook without a lure will lead to no success. Bait the hook, however, and you’ll have a much better success rate. Giving a teaser is necessary, in my opinion.

  • Geoff

    White papers are the collateral you use to build your database and develop a relationship over time. You build your profile as an expert with a view to the subscriber/reader doing business with you when you have convinced them of your offering.

    Sales lead generation takes time. Some might buy immediately, others might require 2, 3 or more teasers to get over the line, but you should consider all possibilities to get the sale and prepare accordingly. Develop a “campaign” around your teasers and work it as you would any other marketing strategy. A good email marketing tool should help you measure and understand the interest that a subscriber has each time you send him another teaser. You should also be able to determine on average how many teasers it takes to make a sale.

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