Ever get that feeling that your marketing message isn’t pressing the right buttons for your customers? Ever notice that sometimes the story you’re using to sell your product or service just isn’t connecting with your leads?

This is a problem I encounter quite often with the business owners I work with. They’ve got something truly remarkable to offer but no one knows because they aren’t talking about it in a way that makes people take notice.

Immediately, I start to consider the answers to these questions:

  • How does the customer perceive their current situation? How do they feel right now?
  • What do they know about the problem they face or the desire they’re hoping to attain?
  • What’s currently standing in the way of them either fixing their problem or achieving their goal?

You’ve probably heard that the best way to communicate with someone is to meet them where they’re at. The point of these questions is to figure out exactly where that is so that you can do just that.

Once I’ve figured out where a particular customer segment is, my job is to understand what matters to them. Is it the problem they’re facing? Or is it the solution they’re after?

That helps me put those customers into one of two very big umbrellas: problem-aware and solution-aware.

Problem-aware customers know they hurt. Or they’re frustrated. Or they’re fed up with the status quo. They know they’re not accomplishing what they want to accomplish–whether that’s looking great for a big event, changing careers, or breaking bad habits–but they don’t know what it takes to make it happen.

When your customers are merely problem-aware, your main job is connecting the dots between what they feel and what they perceive as the problem to what you see as the solution to their problem.

It takes a lot of empathy, a lot of acknowledgement, and a healthy dose of step-by-step, insightful explanation.

How do you know if you’re dealing with problem-aware customers? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my customers focus more on superficial issues and less on underlying concerns?
  • Do my customers focus on how they feel right now and less on how they want to feel?
  • Do my customers miss connections between their frustrations and their actions or beliefs?

Evernote‘s current brand messaging is telling a story about a problem most people face: forgetting stuff. For their website headline, they switch it around and lead with “Remember everything.” They don’t open the conversation with the fact that their app is available on every platform, that it’s free, or even that it has an infinite number of uses.

They focus on a single problem, forgetfulness, and suggest that remembering everything is actually possible.

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Solution-aware customers know what they want and know there’s a tool, product, process, program, or service that will help them get it. If it’s information they lack, they have a well-formed question. If it’s skills they lack, they have name for those skills. If it’s a tool they lack, they can describe it to you.

These customers need you to explain why your solution works, why it’s best, and why it’s what they’ve been looking for. Credibility is key here. Reputation is huge.

Empathy still plays a part but so does helping to hold a positive vision for your customers. It’s almost more about empathizing with how they will feel instead of how they feel right now.

How do you know if you’re dealing with solution-aware customers? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are my customers asking for specific solutions that make sense for their goals?
  • Are my customers addressing underlying issues that might prevent them from reaching their goals?
  • Do my customers see where they’re falling short and aim to address those areas specifically?

Conversely to the Evernote example, WooThemes leads with the solution when they talk about WooCommerce. The prospects for this product aren’t confused about the fact that they need to sell online. They probably don’t even need to be convinced that they’re looking for a WordPress plugin. Nope, WooCommerce can simple say that it’s the WordPress eCommerce plugin that sells anything & everything, beautifully.

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If you’ve created a product or service that you feel should be a no-brainer and it’s not selling, it’s likely that the story you’re telling about that product isn’t matching what your customers are aware of.

That said, problem-aware and solution-aware customers exist in almost every market. People will buy your product for different reasons. And it will mean different things to different people.

Gene Schwartz wrote in Breakthrough Advertising:

“If [your prospect] is aware of your product and realizes it can satisfy his desire, your headline starts with your product. If he is not aware of your product, but only of the desire itself, your headline starts with the desire. If he is not yet aware of what he really seeks, but is concerned only with the general problem, your headline starts with that problem and crystallizes it into a specific need.”

Of course, how you frame the story doesn’t start & end with the headline or sales page. It can be baked into the very development of the product, just as any good story should.

And as Bernadette Jiwa writes in Difference, “You can’t begin to tell a story without understanding why that story should matter to the people you want to serve.

That’s really the crux of it.

A story on the solution side doesn’t matter nearly as much to a person who is focused on the problem, the disconnect, or the frustration. A story that’s focused on the problem doesn’t matter nearly as much to a person who is looking for a solution.

Once you’ve determined what’s important to your prospects about what you have to offer, whether it’s the solution itself, the pain they’re feeling, or the image they want to have of themselves, you can craft both a product/service and the story that will help you sell it.