Sean Donahue

Are White Papers Still Effective for B2B? Absolutely!

Last week, we invited 35 MarketingSherpa Members to a virtual roundtable discussion to tackle a question we’ve been hearing quite a bit about recently: “Are white papers still effective?”

From our standpoint, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Data show that white papers are still an integral part of the business buying cycle:

- In 2008, 44% of business prospects said they are reading white papers more often than in the past. That’s an increase from the 39% who said in 2007 they were reading white papers more often.

- More than half of business decision-makers and influencers said they read two to five white papers per quarter.

But to judge whether those white papers are effective, marketers need to understand what role they play in the lead generation and lead nurturing cycle. A single white paper download by itself will almost never generate a new customer.

Instead, prospects typically download a white paper in the research phase of a buying decision. They’re looking for content that’s highly relevant to their industry or job description, and that addresses one of their biggest business problems or needs. By downloading your white paper, they’re starting a conversation that should help you gauge over time their product needs, interest level and stage in the buying cycle.

An effective white paper, therefore, can be one that generates names to target for a series of future marketing contacts, such as webinar invitations, telemarketing follow-up calls, and even more white paper downloads. If your benchmark for white paper effectiveness is how many immediate purchase orders you receive, you’re almost certain to be disappointed.

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B To B Ecommerce, Business Technology Marketing, Business To Business, Lead Generation, Sales Lead Generation



  1. February 5th, 2009 at 08:04 | #1

    I absolutely agree with your comments, Sean. White papers are a great tool for kicking of a lead nurturing program, but they should not be expected to close a deal in and of themselves. It’s sometimes difficult to believe in this “internet day and age” that something as old fashioned as white papers would be important. But indeed they are, as your numbers point out. Thanks for the article.

  2. May 26th, 2010 at 01:55 | #2

    This is a good resource for people to utilize in their local business strategy.
    Thanks for such wonderful ways. Shelly

  3. Jaime DeArman
    June 15th, 2011 at 14:11 | #3

    How do you know if a download rate (for a white paper) is good?

  4. Boris Grinkot
    Boris Grinkot
    June 16th, 2011 at 18:39 | #4

    @Jaime DeArman
    Hi Jamie. I am assuming you are talking about conversion rate, and not download speed of white papers. We are often asked what the “right” or “average” conversion rates are–whether for white paper downloads, for e-commerce transactions, etc.

    Unfortunately, as much as we want to know there is a single benchmark out there, it would be impossible to provide a number that would be meaningful for your website. The meaning of a conversion rate number heavily depends on the preferences and motivations of your website visitors–which you may be able to group into segments, or measure in terms of “lead quality” or something similar. Therefore, only data from websites that get the same type of visitor would provide you with a potentially meaningful average–not all websites that offer white paper downloads.

    Also, different websites have different objectives. While your question defines the objective pretty narrowly, even “whitepaper download” could mean different things and be prominent to a different extent on different sites–all leading to a conversion rate not being comparable apples-to-apples.

    So, that’s a long non-answer to your question. However, the good news is that if you have determined that whitepaper downloads are important to you, it doesn’t matter where you are in comparison with other websites. In my experience doing consulting and research work, we start with whatever the conversion rate is, and improve it from there–and it doesn’t really matter if it’s “good” or not. Only testing can show you if it can be improved, and that’s probably your real objective.

    So while this doesn’t directly answer your question, I hope I helped set aside the underlying concern.

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