IT is passing the baton as the next wave of digitization takes shape.

It’s clear to many of us that the first great wave of digitization in the workplace has crested and passed. Most businesses are integrated into the 24/7 digital world—websites are more than billboards; desktop email programs and a host of other applications are synced with mobile devices; and the HR now routinely recruits online. Businesses now manage things like pricing and inventory in real time, from anywhere. Marketing budgets include social, digital and mobile media as a matter of course. The pressure is on us all to do more as our stakeholders grow more comfortable with the way we are measuring, improving, and demonstrating returns.

“That ‘Holy Grail’ for us is in sight: connecting our efforts to ROI as we show our customers how well we know and understand them”

So what’s next? I can see we’re all pursuing that perfect wave—a one-to-one marketing relationship in a B2B environment, now being thought of as Business to Individual or B2I. We’re not all on the same wave at the same time, and some of us are navigating more than one. But it helps to make sense of the changes happening around us so we can anticipate and prepare.

Here’s how you might look at some of the contours of this next wave and what I believe is shaping up as a central challenge for B2B marketing leaders as a result.

Marketing is Driving More of the Conversation and the IT Investments:

The growth in digital marketing spending, often independent of IT, has led to debate among industry analysts as to whether the marketing organization will soon yield more spending power than the IT department. Companies in our 2014 Digital IQ study say that just under half (47 percent) of their company’s IT spend is outside of the CIO’s budget. Take this trend as a sign that business leaders understand  more and more what great marketing can do to compress sales cycles, increase win rates, and delight customers. 

The Promise of “Big Data” is upon us—Don’t Panic Predictive analytics is creating opportunities to make better decisions all around us in ways we could only dream of just a few years ago. That ‘Holy Grail’ for us is in sight: connecting our efforts to ROI as we show our customers how well we know and understand them. Business analytics is at the top of corporate tech trends but we’re still in the early stages. A recent CMO survey found that marketing analytics is used in only 30 percent of company projects. We’ve got some space to get the approach right. PwC’s Andrea Fishman has come up with what I find to be a helpful checklist for CMOs to consider as they design their own predictive solutions. As she notes, jumping on the Big Data bandwagon without a roadmap could be one of the worst investments a CMO can make.

The Consumer Experience is Leading the way with Predictive Analysis that Benefits the Customer:

The best retailers I shop with online definitely know me. Their emails and offers, even their ads on social networks generally feel relevant to me. I don’t always buy, and often delete, but rarely feel angry at their incessant knocking on my door. In fact, I often can’t wait to see what is ‘recommended’ for my next e-read.

They also rarely cross over into another product line until I make the first move. I do not get pummeled with emails to buy things I have never shown interest in. There’s an important message here for B2B marketers with multiple products or services that appeal to, many of the same buyers.

Central Challenge for B2B Marketing Leaders:

When I put these three interrelated strands together, it strikes me that as confidence grows in the ability of marketing to drive more of the relationship with customers, we’re going to have to work harder to define the customer experience and make sure everyone is aligned on priorities and investments. It’s still too difficult to take an enterprise view of the customer across multiple product or service lines. And marketing often contributes to the problem through aggressive targeting of multiple services to the same economic buyers.

With so many tools available to each line business owner and decentralized marketing efforts, it’s increasingly up to us to make sure we’re not headed toward the Wild West. The stakes are high. When a B2B marketer fails to live up to what we’ve come to expect, we really feel let down. How dare “they” crowd our inboxes with such woefully misaligned pitches? I receive dozens of emails from companies that clearly don’t know me, know us, or understand what we do or how we operate. Instead of getting closer to me, they drive me away. But they’ve succeeded on one front with me: I have a wealth of examples to use when showing others what not to do.