You know what I hate? Having my time wasted. I’m going to channel the 1860s-era prospector my children say I should have been born as for this one, so I apologize if the style rubs you wrong.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I have enough time as it is and so I really hate it when someone wastes it, especially after I’ve given them permission to do so.

Now, I don’t actually say to people, “You know, I have an extra 20 minutes so why don’t you waste it.” But I do, on occasion, give people permission to send me white papers, which some folk seem to think is the same thing.

If I’d asked for a company brochure, then maybe I’d think different. If that’s what I asked for, then I deserve what I get. But when someone offers to send me a new white paper and I agree to read it only to find out that it’s a company sales tool….well, I hate that.

When I ask for a white paper, here’s what I want.

1. I want to know that the people sending me this material have identified a problem I actually have and that I’m keen to solve. I don’t want to read a white paper about someone else’s problem or something that everyone agrees is a problem (global warming, government growing out of control, angry people on social media, kids in detainment) but that I’m not really in a position to do anything about right now. Send me a paper written about a source of business pain I’m experiencing right now but would like to not be experiencing. 

2. I want to know that the company sending me the white paper understands how I’ve worked around this problem in the past. If they don’t know how I’ve tried to solve this problem, what confidence could I possibly have that their proposed solution is any better? None. Time wasted. If they don’t know the specifics of the problem I face, including my current list of failed attempts to solve the problem, they don’t know enough about it to write a white paper on it.

3. I want them to tell me why they think my workarounds have failed. I’m pretty sure I know why they didn’t work, but if the folks sending me the white paper don’t have a good reason why they’ll fail again maybe I should go back and give it another shot. Before someone asks me to consider a new solution, especially one they’ll earn a profit by selling me, they’d better explain why other solutions didn’t or can’t work.

4. I want to hear them explain, at a high level, what a real solution would have to look like. Why? Because if they just launch into the pitch, how do I know they’ve considered everything. One of the things I hate even worse than having my time wasted is someone selling me a partial solution. Tell me everything you think would have to be built into a complete solution before you pitch me what you’ve got.

5. I want to see what they’ve got. I’m not backtracking on my brochure statement. I’m just saying that if they’ve come this far without losing me, annoying me or convincing me that they should find another line of work, then I’d like to see what they’ve put together. And don’t just tell me about the features, show me the data that convinced you that this solution will actually work. Don’t be stingy. I like data, especially when it relates to something you want me to spend my money on.

6. I want to know how to find out more. I’m not buying anything just because some hot shot whippersnapper wrote a good white paper about it. I’m going to need to learn a lot more, so tell me who to call about that.

Now, I know full good and well that a white paper actually is a company sales tool, or should be. But it won’t sell if it wastes the reader’s time. Give them these six things in your next paper and maybe it won’t. Now, get on out of here before my mule kicks ya.