Is paperless B2B marketing possible?

B2B literature pile
A pile of opportunity … or a pile of waste?

I’ve invested a lot of work in the last five plus years developing quality brochures for our company and products. I have a fine appreciation now of how hard it is to concisely bring tons of information and messages into a complete whole. So while everyone has been charging forward with ‘the next thing’, I’ve been going old-school.

Can you call brochures old school, though? As PDFs they serve a functional purpose living online or as an email attachment, arguably more useful than any webpage could. PDFs have the additional value to us marketers as being easy to update.

With paper, literature is just a normal functional part of sales calls, prospecting, trade shows, and image building. Ubiquitous enough to be almost invisible. Useful despite a world of screens and intertubes.

We’ve kind of hit a tipping point, where the usage of PDFs seems more significant and dynamic than the printed version of the brochure. At least for marketers, anyway. What about the prospects and salespeople:

  • Do customers want PDFs, or printed literature, or both?
  • Do salespeople find handing literature out as a successful procedure?
  • Do the people who actually buy ever see the literature (in either form)?

The challenge

Our company president doesn’t like literature. If a visiting salesperson gives him literature, he will give it back. Or throw it away. He’s an engineer, and our customers are mostly engineers, so he ascribes his behavior with our customer’s behavior (or at least their desires).

I’ve faced this question from him before, but this time it was a challenge:

  • Why are you asking me to pay to print literature that the prospects are ultimately just going to throw away. Or it will be outdated before it is ever handed out.

Isn’t there a better way to spend the money that is going to be more useful and valuable for our marketing? Can PDFs (or other content) be a better substitute if salespeople are given the tools and training to present them to prospects correctly?

I’ve got a thick skin

I generally disagree with the idea of going paperless, it just seems crazy. Even at the suggestion of printing only our main brochure and going paperless otherwise, the president balked. I thought it sounded like a reasonable compromise.

At the very least, I’ve got to do my homework about alternative solutions and agree on a plan before we run off and print anything. I’ve got a thick skin, and after shaking it off, will agree that it is a worthwhile process to investigate and possibly rebuild how we make and distribute marketing materials.

So while everyone in the b2b-marketing-blogoshere is talking about the next thing, I’m going back even farther than being old-school … I’m starting from scratch. The good news is that it will get us ahead and into the future.

Comments and ideas, folks? I need your input on this, please.