Why Reader Complaints May Be the Most Useful Part of Your Day

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As managing editor for TEC’s white paper site, I receive a wide variety of reader comments, ranging from lost password requests to queries about white papers on particular (sometimes very particular) subjects.

The other day I received this e-mail, titled “Meaningless White Papers”:
“I don't appreciate seeing a good White Paper title and description, then finding out I need to register with my phone number at another site to read it! What's worse, the white paper in question (CRM Functionality) is a useless 2-page sales summary. You ought to take better care in what you publish and push.”

The e-mail, from Marc V., was referring to a Vendor Guru white paper, A Buyer’s Guide to CRM Functionality, that had headlined our White Paper Newsletter issue of February 17.

Marc is really raising three points, all of which gave me pause for thought:

  1. As a reader, it’s frustrating to go through sign-up and registration hoops in order to read content that may not provide you with the information you’re looking for.

  2. It’s equally frustrating to be misled by a white paper title and description.

  3. These points are only exacerbated when you do end up with a white paper of little perceived value.

All three points center around the issue of reader expectations, and as managing editor it’s my responsibility to provide a transparent and up-front process that makes sure readers get what they expect to get.

We do enter into partnerships with other content providers, in order to be able to provide a broad range of material targeted at a wide variety of readers. That’s the upside. The downside, of course, includes the additional registration steps.

You’ll note that on our white paper site we indicate such material with a note to that effect. (See the white paper in question for an example.)

Beyond the time it takes to fill out these e-forms, there’s always the concern that comes with divulging your information to a third party, who may contact you with promotional offers and such.

At best, you are exposed to offerings that truly belong on your long list of software purchase considerations and that you might not have considered otherwise. At worst, however, it’s an unsolicited annoyance.

And therein lies the dilemma faced by all sites of this type: how to provide content that appeals to the maximum number of readers, while still operating a functional business model?

Through articles and white papers, we aim to provide valuable software-selection-related content to readers at all stages of the decision-making cycle:

  • research

  • evaluation

  • selection

  • implementation

  • maintenance and management of an existing system

I see the Vendor Guru white paper as immensely valuable to readers who are at the research phase of the software purchasing process, when they’re still compiling a long list of potential systems, and when they need to know what is available on the market.

Since the white paper is very much a high-level overview of CRM functionality, however, it’s probably not as pertinent to readers who are currently in the process of dealing with the nitty-gritty details of a software selection project.

Similarly, the case studies on our site are useful at the research stage, and also as material which can inform the reference-check stage of your software selection process.

Marc was kind enough to allow me to quote him for this blog post, and amplified his concerns in a subsequent e-mail:
“For a title ‘CRM Functionality’ I expected a thorough discussion of the what to look for in the various pillars of a CRM system. This paper barely went to a second page and just simply listed a one sentence or two central sales pitch of specific vendors and not of a CRM system in general. A more apt title would be ‘Brief Summary of Major CRM Vendors’.”

This criticism was terrific (although I do believe that the value of the content goes beyond simple sales-pitchery), and made an interesting point concerning the way titles and abstracts inform reader expectations.

While I believe the existing title and abstract are both substantively accurate, Marc’s observation was part of the impetus behind a new initiative for our white paper site. We’ve added a new category of documents called Checklists/Buyer Guides (check out the sidebar on the white paper site home page). This category flags documents which—by definition—provide high-level overviews of the enterprise software market, and which are useful to some (but not all) readers. You’ll notice this flag up front, in our Newsletter and on our white paper site.

Our white paper site is the only site in the industry to call this category out, which goes hand-in-hand with my mandate to make this site as useful as possible—to all readers.

All thoughts welcome—leave comments below.
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