B2B White Paper Interviews – 7 Questions (Part 2)

This post was written by John White on Thu, 26 Jan 2012 14:30:37 +0000
Posted Under: interview,process of writing,subject matter experts,white papers

Subject matter experts (SMEs) have the story in their heads. White papers help make that story readable, and these questions help build the paper.
Sec. Salazar - B2B white paper questions

Continuing from the previous post on interviews and how to write them up into a white paper, here are 4 more customer interview questions for generating the information readers want to see.

4. What are some current approaches to solving this business problem? Why are they inadequate?

Your readers are already making do, but they’re not very happy with what they have in place because:

  • it’s a chewing-gum-and-baling-wire hack
  • it’s too slow/expensive/low-performing
  • time is not on their side

That’s why they want to read your paper. This is also the opportunity to shake them out of their inertia by pointing out threats you’ve identified that haven’t yet occurred to them; e.g., “If another, less understood scenario of universal health care plays out, providers will also be on the hook for…”

5. Why/how can the approach you’ve chosen overcome these inadequacies?

This information forms the turning point for the paper, as discussion changes from listing problems to solving them. The SME’s time on this question is best spent relating how s/he has seen the approach work in the real world, in a variety of situations. Don’t soak up valuable interview time with a detailed discussion of the approach that already exists in other documentation, slide decks, technical content, etc.

Arm your readers with information and let them draw their own conclusions.

A true white paper will describe the approach rather than your product or service itself, then let readers figure things out on their own. If the paper needs to include a discussion of your product, label it a “technology overview,” “buyer’s guide” or similar. link to rant on mislabeling white papers>.

6. Which particular advantages do they get with your company’s implementation of the approach?

Again, in a true white paper, the goal is not to flog a product, but to build trust and educate. Describing a potential advantage to readers is more proof that you’re in their shoes, thinking of things that have not yet occurred to them.

For example, if the technology you’ve chosen for compressing digital movies also includes the advantage of encrypting them for protection against privacy, mention this in a clinical manner as a potential benefit, without naming it as a feature of your product.

7. Describe a few steps in adopting and integrating this approach in environments familiar to readers.

The white paper is not an implementation guide or a user manual, but this information anticipates the technology questions that will arise at the next level of scrutiny. The people responsible for installing, maintaining and living with the product or service have an itch that the white paper needs to at least begin to scratch, so don’t ignore that itch.

With the answer to this question, you can demonstrate your technical chops to all readers, even those with a business focus. Tell them about replacing the carburetor with fuel injection, but don’t go into which hoses to switch or bolts to loosen.


Once you see how to write customer interview questions that focus on real customer problems, you’ll begin to draw out the kind of information that builds trust with readers.

John White of venTAJA Marketing is a marketing communications writer for technology companies. He posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it. Download his eBook, “10 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your Marketing Communications Writer.”

photo credit: DeepCwind

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