You won’t get their attention. They aren’t even listening. There’s simply too much sound and fury already — too many megaphone marketers shouting much the same thing. And, even if they heard you, you couldn’t persuade them. No one wants to be persuaded anymore.

In recent years, solution sellers often have acted as though the appropriate response to all this deafness was to shout louder. They bought ads. They purchased trade show booths. They launched direct mail campaigns. They hired telemarketers. They gave away ipods. All the while, they were witnessing nothing but diminishing returns. The return on investment for all these types of efforts simply continued to drop. Enterprise software companies, for instance, now routinely spend 30-40% of their revenue on sales and marketing. But what do they get for all that? Not much.

The trouble with too much of today’s marketing is that it doesn’t invite a conversation. It actually forestalls it. Marketers paint a brilliant and beautiful future, but fail to address the unpleasant present. They have an insufficient understanding of the scope and magnitude of customer problems and their puffy and propagandistic marketing pieces reflect as much.

Meanwhile, sales teams, too often, focus on the presentation and the pitch (and, once the prospect finally gets a chance to speak, knocking down objections). They typically do an insufficent job of illuminating the costs and risks of the current situation and the consequences (assuming they are significant) of simply doing nothing.

Why can’t they hear you? Probably, because you are not conversing. You are persuading. You are pushing. You are pitching. Or, maybe you are just making the wrong assumptions. “You are either overestimating the value your solutions bring to the customer or overestimating the customer’s ability to comprehend the value,” contends Jeff Thull, author of the forthcoming book Exceptional Selling. No one understands better than Jeff the capacity of marketers and sellers to put their need to persuade in front of the customer’s need to comprehend.

Instead of concentrating on persuasion, we must now begin to think in terms of engagement. What are the factors that actually might encourage a prospect to want to engage us in a conversation? Based on experience with thought leadership marketing efforts, I can point to a few things that grab the attention of decision-makers confronted with costly problems.

They are looking for potential solution providers who can lock onto a specific business problem they face and can help them understand it better. They want to know how other companies — in similar situations — have faced and are facing these problems. They are looking for indicators of credibility and field experience, which might be demonstrated upfront in an article, a white paper or custom research report. Smart marketers provision their sales teams for credible and compelling conversations. They enable them to conduct a thorough analysis of the prospect’s existing situation and, if the costs and risks are sufficient to justify change, begin building a business case.

Let the evidence speak for itself. Let your prospective clients persuade themselves. Through engaging thought leadership and smartly orchestrated selling, we demonstrate we are listening. It is only then that we will be heard and, more importantly, our solution will be valued.