White Papers vs. Case Studies. There’s a difference. And you probably need to be using both.

Let’s talk about white papers first. The white paper is usually a lengthy document, and by that I mean 2000-3000 words. The purpose of the white paper is to provide a fairly complete description of a problem that your customers might have, and which you would like to solve for them. But it’s not a sales piece per se. It’s educational in nature and designed to both teach your potential customers about the issues involved with solving the problem, and to demonstrate that you clearly know all the subtleties of the problem at hand and how to resolve them in the most efficient and economical manner for the reader. Use the white paper at any stage of your sales process to inform your customers and potential customers.

Case studies use real customer experiences to demonstrate how your company resolved a problem for a specific customer. Usually the creation of a case study will require that several approvals, interviews and photo ops with the customer and some great product shots, which you probably already have. There will be permissions to obtain and approvals to get, and there’s always a chance that your customers won’t want to be named specifically due to concerns about competitive advantages. But when you are able to persuade a customer to allow their experiences with your company to be turned into a case study, you will have a very powerful sales piece.

The case study likely to be a shorter document but also will probably last a lot longer in your selling portfolio.

So the real difference between the two is twofold:

1) The white paper is more in-depth concerning the capabilities, features, advantages and disadvantages of your solution than the case study

2) The case study is less technical and teaches your potential customer or client by example, often giving him/her the ability to actually reach out and talk to one of your satisfied prior customers

So which should you use? I think both works better than either. With a case study, you are showing prospects that you have satisfied clients. That lends credibility to your company.

The white paper is essentially a gift to the prospect. You’re letting them in on a lot of information that they may not otherwise have been aware of–telling them all the things they need to know about how to solve a problem and why the tool(s) you provide are the best way to do it. Most customers will appreciate the education and you’re earning brownie points for giving it to them.