Selling Without Salesmanship: How to Introduce Your Solution in a White Paper

June 8, 2011 by

In my last post, I talked about the dangers of leading off a white paper by talking about your product or service. Then, I discussed the value of using a problem/solution format, starting with the problem.

Today, I'd like to talk about what you should do in your white paper once you've finished laying out that problem for your reader. I'm going to show you what I think is the best way to introduce your solution.

When you're writing a white paper, you almost always want to start with a problem your prospect has.

Naturally, that problem will be one that your product or service was designed to solve. You work toward your solution from there, rather than starting from the solution itself.

Beginning your white paper with a discussion of your prospect's problem places readers on familiar ground. It helps them determine relevance. It reaffirms their concerns.

Problem discussions also build affinity with prospects. They show readers you understand the problem and what they're up against. Often, you're giving them insights or implications they hadn't considered.

But you can't talk about problems alone. Eventually, you have to offer a solution.

Introducing that solution, however, is a delicate proposition.

You see, technology buyers typically read white papers for education, not for product information. Introduce your product or service too soon, or in the wrong way, and you can easily give your reader the impression she's being sold. And that's a big mistake.

The Worst Mistake You Can Make with a White Paper

When TechTarget and the CMO Council asked tech buyers which factors most often caused them to be disappointed in a white paper, 47.7% said they were “expecting technology discussion, not product info” – the highest total of any factor measured. [1] In other words, giving the appearance of a sales pitch is probably the worst mistake you can make with a white paper.

Prospects are only interested in hearing about product features once they know what they want – once they’ve decided to seriously consider your solution. White paper readers, however, are more often in the initial, information-gathering stages of solving a problem. They may not fully understand what their problem is, yet. They're not interested in a sales presentation.

So, how do you introduce your solution in a white paper?

Make it generic.

What do I mean by “generic”? Well, once you've laid out the problem for the reader, don't immediately propose your specific offering as the solution. Instead, introduce a new class of solutions that is particularly well suited to solve the problem at hand.

Of course, this new solution class will be one into which your offering fits very neatly.

You can define this generic solution class as broadly or as narrowly as you need. If your product has a lot of competition in its existing category, you can define a very specific subclass of that category, based on your product's strengths, which excludes most of your competitors. If you have a very innovative product, on the other hand, you can define a brand new class of products of which yours, for now, is the only member.

Any advantage your product or service offers the market can be used to define this new solution class.

I got this "generic solution" idea from white paper specialist Michael Stelzner, author of the book Writing White Papers. I think it's brilliant because of the variety of benefits it offers technology marketers.

Benefits of a "Generic" Solution

Here are some of those benefits:

1. You give your white paper a more educational feel: As I mentioned earlier, white paper readers are typically trying to educate themselves. They're gathering information. They're not ready for a sales pitch. A discussion of a problem they have, and how a new class of solutions can help them solve that problem, gives them exactly what they want. So, they’re more likely to keep reading.

2. You avoid the perception of salesmanship: By introducing your solution in a generic fashion, you can discuss its strongest selling points without mentioning your specific product or service, or even your company, by name. Thus, you reduce the perception of bias, and the case you make for your solution becomes more persuasive. Then, at the end – once you've thoroughly convinced your reader you've shown him the best way to solve his problem – you can introduce your specific product or service as a "real world" example.

3. It simplifies your explanation of the solution: You avoid the temptation to drill down into product features. The discussion stays at a high level. It makes your explanation both easier to understand, and less intimidating for the reader.

4. You get to "set the specs" for your prospect: If your white paper is convincing and seems unbiased, there's a good chance your prospect will use it as a specification for choosing an implementation. In defining a new solution class, you're setting the requirements for what it takes to be considered a part of that class. In effect, you're tailoring the specification to match your offer. And you're persuading your reader to eliminate most, if not all, of your competitors from consideration.

5. It lets you include a "What to Look for" list: You can even take your "specification" one step further. After you've made the case for your new solution class, you can supply your reader with a list of "key considerations" for seeking a specific implementation. Stelzner calls this the "What of Look for" list. He says, "By providing a list of key considerations, you are essentially telling readers how to shop you’re YOUR solution, without ever mentioning your product. The list should be written in such a way that it leads readers down a path, at the end of which only your solution stands.” [2]

6. You position your company as a thought leader: You've shown your reader all the implications of the problem he's facing. And you've proven to him that this emerging class of solutions is the best answer to that problem. In other words, you've shown him all the thought your company has put into solving his problem. When it comes time to choose a specific solution, who is that reader most likely to trust?

7. You establish a unique position for your product or service in the marketplace: You've given your offering its own niche. You've set it apart from all the rest, even without mentioning it by name.

Combined, these advantages not only create a powerful position for your product, they also keep readers engaged, so they'll follow your argument to its end. This, in turn, greatly increases the chances they’ll act on what they've learned. Which is exactly what you want.

On your next white paper project, insist on a problem / "generic solution" format. And be sure to prove a strong case for your generic solution before you introduce your specific product or service. It's a proven formula for boosting white paper ROI.

Need someone who knows the formula to write that white paper for you? Call me at (+39) 011 569 4951 . Or drop me an email at



[1] 2007 TechTarget/CMO Council Technology Buying and Media Consumption Benchmarking Survey.

[2] Stelzner, Michael, Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged, WhitePaperSource Publishing, 2007.

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