I’ve written in the past about the importance of selling solutions rather than stuff, but it’s an idea worth diving into from another angle.

Said in another way, to be successful today, marketing has to be bigger than your products and services. It has to focus on solving the problems your target audience is facing.

Let’s assume you’ve identified a set of problems common to a particular market, have crafted a solution to address those problems, and can position your solution as an alternative to other solutions that already exist. You now have to engage in a conversation that helps your prospects understand what you’re selling.

That conversation has changed radically in the past generation. Selling features isn’t the answer and, in fact, hasn’t been effective for much longer than most marketers would admit.

And selling benefits, which still can be effective, is only effective if it’s not your first line of marketing.

You have to sell solutions. More specifically, you need to demonstrate that you can apply a solution fruitfully to your prospects’ unique situation. Their problem, their position, their market.

Now, much of this isn’t new. Case studies, for example, have a long and storied history, and they are a great example of demonstrating a solution in action. They may even be the purest form of solution-based selling.

But case studies aren’t the most appropriate piece of marketing in all instances. In fact, at the top of the funnel, they’re not appropriate at all. Folks who are just getting to know you don’t want to commit to diving into a lengthy piece like a case study, or even a shorter “case story” or similar summary-style presentation.

What they want is evidence that you can help them and that learning more about you and your offerings is worth their time. This is where, in the good old days, we’d tell ‘em about how wonderful we are and invite them to give us a call. Decades of unfulfilled marketing promises make that an impossible sell these days.

In short, the only effective way to gain a prospect’s attention is to walk the walk rather than talk the talk. Offer insights into the issues they’re having. Talk about the process that has led you to the solution you’ve crafted. Give examples and tools they can use themselves to see benefits of your approach.

You don’t want to give away the store, but you do want to give prospects the opportunity to prove to themselves that there’s merit to your solution and that they should consider trusting you. (You can’t expect trust, yet. That comes much further down the road.)

Those are the solutions your marketing needs to focus on in order to gain prospects’ attention and move them through their buying process and your sales funnel. They’ll buy the stuff, just like in the old days, but only after you’ve proven it’s the solution they’re looking for.