# 256 The Six Reasons White Paper Projects Fail

Having more than 300 white papers to your name might not sound like much … until you realize only a handful of writers in the world have reached that milestone.

My friend and colleague Gordon Graham is one of them. Gordon is not only a highly talented writer – he’s also a great thinker.

So late last year he went through his 300+ white paper portfolio to look for trends. And he was surprised by how many of these white papers never saw the light of day.

In this podcast episode, Gordon and I discuss the six main reasons why white paper projects fail.

Once you learn where these projects go off the rails, you’ll be better equipped to get them across the finish line.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

For listeners who are hearing your name for the first time, tell us a bit about your business and how you got to where you are.

Gordon calls himself That White Paper Guy because he has specialized in long-form white papers for B2B for most of his career. He’s written over 300 of them.

From the time he was a little kid, Gordon he knew he wanted to make his living as a writer.

When he stumbled across white papers, they appealed to him because they were more fact than emotion-based. Most white papers written in the 90s weren’t very good. He decided he could do better, so that’s where he shifted his focus.

Recently, you embarked on a project to dig into all the reasons why writing projects can fail — and white paper projects in particular. Tell us what you did.

After completing 300 white papers, Gordon looked back at them and realized 50 of them had not been published.

With further analysis, he found the following patterns as to why white papers fail:

26% of failures are due to internal conflict.

Writing a white paper forces a company to think more deeply about their products and what they have to offer.

But many companies have a divide between the sales and marketing people and the engineering/developing/product people. They don’t get along or see eye-to-eye.

22% of failures are due to lack of executive sponsorship.

Sometimes there’s no sponsor, a weak sponsor, or the sponsor leaves in the middle of the process.

You need someone at a high level who will drive the project and is strong enough to resolve conflicts that might come up.

Internal champions can also work. They may not be an executive, but they can rally executives, get their support, and collate all the feedback.

14% of failures are due to lack of story.

The company makes a strong claim about their product or some related aspect, but they can’t back it up.

You have to think like a lawyer and build a case with evidence. If you have no evidence, you’re going not going to persuade anyone with your white paper.

“Says who?” “So what?” and “Who cares?” are great questions to ask as you’re writing.

White papers force you to think deeply. It’s not just a writing exercise. It’s a thinking exercise. Your thinking needs to be crystal clear and hold together at every step.

14% of failures are due to a change in direction.

Sometimes a product gets delayed. Or it doesn’t get regulatory approval.

These and similar changes in direction can put the brakes on a white paper.

12% of failures are due to unrealistic expectations.

The idea that a company can put out a white paper and garner thousands of dollars in sales with no larger marketing campaign isn’t realistic.

People won’t just read one paper and then place their order for an expensive B2B product.

Most white papers readers aren’t ready to talk to a sales guy. It’s too early in the process.

12% of failures are due to a process breakdown.

These failures are the most painful.

Everything’s going great, and you send in your draft. But then you’re either ghosted or get

contradictory feedback.

They can’t articulate what they want you to do. So the paper never gets published.

It’s tempting to blame yourself for this type of failure. But it’s not you. The company is either inexperienced or at war with itself.

What can writers do to help make sure these things don’t happen?

Realize that you’re dealing with people. People are fallible, so don’t take it personally when things go sideways.

Engaging with clients as real people is a good practice. Spending five to ten minutes chatting at the start of a call helps you get to know each other. When you know each other, you’re more likely to communicate openly and cut each other some slack.

It also makes you more fun to work with. You’re not a machine.

We undervalue the importance of being easy to work with.

Clients will choose a good writer who is amazing to work with over an amazing writer who’s difficult to work with every time.

A white paper plan will also help prevent white paper breakdowns. Who are the subject matter experts you’ll need to talk to? What are they like? Who’s going to have to approve it? Would it help to give them a heads up?

Where can my listeners learn more about you?

Subscribe to Gordon’s newsletter at www.thatwhitepaperguy.com/subscribe

The blog at?www.thatwhitepaperguy.com has lots more posts about this analysis of 300 white papers and where they went wrong and what people can do about it.




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