Honestly, I don’t want to hear how great you are. I don’t want to know about your awesome products. I don’t care to listen to you blather on about your superior service. Really, you just don’t have any credibility when you’re talking about yourself. What I want is your help.

This is what your customers are saying today. They don’t want to see your trophy case. They want help doing their jobs or living their lives.

Well, give the people what they want.

In his new book Youtility, Jay Baer writes that forward-thinking businesses are now focused on helping rather than selling.

“The difference between helping and selling is just two letters. But those two letters are critically important to the success of business today.”

Of course, as Baer points out, operational and psychological barriers stand in the way of transitioning from old marketing tactics to a new, more audience-focused strategy. As SAP’s Michael Brenner told Scribewise last week in our Q&A with him, “the biggest challenge is not starting something new. It’s to stop the old techniques that no longer work as well as they once did.” You have to change your thinking away from promoting your products or services to providing assistance for your customers.

Think of it as helping a friend. If your buddy’s car was in the shop and his kids needed to be transported to soccer practice, would you give them a lift? Or would you try to sell him a new car? He very well may need a new car; after all, this one seems to need repairs all the time. However, he’ll make that decision when he’s good and ready. Right now, he just needs to get his kids to soccer. Even if you’re a car salesman, the friendly thing to do is to offer to drive the kids. If you do, you not only did the right thing, the friendly thing… you also increased the chances that he’s going to ultimately buy that new car from you.

Today, consumers are seeking guidance. Consider this statistic from Baer (actually, it’s from Google, but it’s in Baer’s book): in 2010, shoppers searched 5.3 sources of information before making a purchase decision. In 2011, one year later, they searched 10.4 information sources before making that decision. Why? Lots of reasons, including the explosion of content, increased smartphone use and the insatiable thirst for information that we all have now.

Consumers of both B2B and B2C products and services today have millions of choices. This seems like a good thing, but it has created choice confusion. They need to be educated on how to make the right choices, so that they can take full advantage of the promise of the Internet.

They want guidance.

If you provide the guidance, you’re the company they’re going to buy from. The consumer still has the control in this preference marketing era, but you can build a platform that makes you the preferred vendor.

Need more rationale for changing the way you market from selling to helping? Google is trying to make search more human, as evidenced by its new Hummingbird algorithm, which is built to reward high quality, helpful content. Hummingbird focuses on contextual search; as Steve Haase writes at Hubspot, if you search on “How do I fix the chain on my Trek mountain bike?” Google now understands that you’re neither shopping for a bike nor a bike chain, but you’re looking to fix said chain. They are now prioritizing the context of the query as much as the content. By emphasizing the intention of the searcher (“I want to fix this”) over merely matching key phrases (“Trek mountain bike chain”), Google will be delivering more relevant results.

What this means is that marketers who provide helpful content meant to answer real, human questions will rise above the tricksters who try to game search engines.

If you sell something to your prospect, you’ve made one sale. If you help that prospect, you just might get a customer for life.