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Beware of White Paper Propaganda

White papers serve a function: to position a vendor’s assessment of opportunities or challenges faced by their target market and serve up that vendor’s products or services as solutions.  In most cases, white papers are marketing documents rather than the unbiased analyses they appear to be.  (There are exceptions, including the white paper recently published by ASTD.)Be careful!

What about the research quoted in white papers?  What I question is what isn’t included in the white paper, not what is.  For example, one white paper I read states that companies that have adopted the vendor’s cold-calling technique have averaged 28% more qualified leads than they had previously.  What they don’t talk about is alternative methods of generating leads, some of which might deliver significantly more value to the customer.  I want to be clear.  I don’t expect a vendor to talk about other options or their competitors.  Their job is to convince you to see they world the way they do, so they can sell you something.

What about a white paper’s recommendations?  We all know that when your unique capabilities are adopted by the customer as their buying criteria, you become competitively advantaged.  That’s why we work hard to get the customer to use our pro-forma RFP as the basis for theirs.  Well, white papers serve the same purpose-to get the customer to see the world through the vendor’s eyes.

Are a white paper’s assessments accurate even if the recommendations within it are not?  The answer is most often no.  J. M. Barrie said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” That especially goes for the vendor that produced that white paper. That company was built on the unique way they see a market.  They’ve developed products and services to serve customers based upon that vendor’s perceptions of the market and what they have to sell.  To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, when you’re a vendor that provides training on cold-calling, most sales-related problems you see in a company ultimately the result of ineffective cold-calling.

So, when you read a white paper, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What view of my challenges and issues is the vendor focused on?
  • What alternative views of market-related challenges and opportunities might exist?
  • What other vendors’ views might offer alternative perspectives?
  • What isn’t the vendor discussing in the white paper that I should know about?
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