How to Write Compelling White Papers with Essentials of Winning Business Proposals


When I was a corporate consultant, I participated in the preparation of responses to numerous Requests for Proposals (RFPs).  Anyone who’s gone through that process knows that you can’t take anything for granted – if you are competing to win.  The more intense the competition, the greater the pressure to deliver a winning proposal.

Looking back, I see a clear pattern to the outcomes of my team’s proposal writing efforts.  Without a doubt, all of the projects we won through the RFP process resulted from proposals that satisfactorily answered the questions of interest to the clients.  While anxious to demonstrate our qualifications, we ensured that our primary focus was on the clients’ needs and expectations.  By contrast, we lost projects through the RFP process when we failed to address the clients’ concerns or when we misread their expectations.

Writing a persuasive and effective business white paper is not so different from writing a winning proposal in the RFP process.  In both cases, you are asking prospects to buy your idea, product, or service.  Success in both endeavors involves the ability to deliver on a set of criteria.  In this article, we identify three essentials of successful proposals, which can be used to develop compelling business white papers.

1.  Understand what the client wants.  This requires reading and re-reading the RFP documents.  Even if the project is on a familiar topic and your area of expertise, it is crucial that you “see it” (as it were) from the prospective client’s point of view.  Failure to do so might lead to a misplaced focus in the proposal or misinterpretation of the client’s expectation.  The equivalent of this essential in the arena of white paper writing is a thorough market research of the target market and an in-depth needs assessment of the client.

  • The market research provides the crucial information on the sponsoring company’s intended use of the white paper, including  characteristics of the target market and clear reader profile.
  • The needs assessment provides crucial information of what the sponsoring company hopes to achieve with the marketing strategy.

Both types of information will help you write the white paper specific to the objective.  It allows you to differentiate market drivers and solutions in ways that fit business segments and problems.

2.  Watch the language.  One of the unspoken rules of responding to RFPs is the one  about the right language.  The problem is what is the right language?  Based on my experience, there is no universally right language.  It is safe to say that the prospective client defines the right language.  Factors, such as the client’s subject-matter expertise, the technicality of the project, and the intended use of the final report, help define the language of a proposal.

In the arena of white paper writing, determining the appropriate tone has all of the same considerations.  A persuasive business white paper uses the tone that matches the subject-matter expertise of the target reader, the phase of the complex sales cycle, and the expectations of the ultimate decision-maker.  It is a tall order, but one that can be greatly facilitated by good market research and competitive intelligence.

3.  Credibility counts.  This essential is important because a proposal is only one aspect of the winning game.  The credentials and performance of the project team must match the requirements of the job.  It is ill advised to exaggerate claims or inflate qualifications in proposals.  The same holds true for business white papers.  As lead generation tools, these special reports are essentially door openers in complex sale processes that typically last many months.  The credibility of the sponsoring company is vital from the initiation of the lead to the conclusion of the sale and beyond.  The company must deliver on the claims and promises made in the white paper.


Companies develop white papers because they are powerful tools for generating leads.  Success in achieving the marketing objective is significantly enhanced by adopting a few winning essentials, including an undivided focus on the target reader’s interests, an appropriate tone, and the credibility of the sponsoring company.


© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009.


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