2020 has been laden with challenges for companies, but when I think about the current state of the B2B marketing landscape, I realize this year has also been setting the stage for much-needed improvements.

As companies continue annual planning for 2021, we have an opportunity to reboot businesses and accelerate progress in the direction we've known—for years—we need to go toward.

Here are three mission-critical concepts to carry into your annual planning this fall.

1. The B2B-B2C divide has vanished—connect the dots with data

The professional world's gradual shift to remote, more-flexible working environments was kicked into hyperdrive by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there's no going back.

Nearly three-fourths of CFOs expect to permanently shift at least 5% of their workforces to remote environments. Meanwhile, some companies—including Twitter, Square, and Facebook—are pushing to make the move a widespread, enduring option.

Workers who have spent even a portion of the past few months in a new work-from-home situation can tell you that the blending of personal and professional spaces has significant implications for how they structure their days, environments, and even their fundamental daily mindsets.

Such dramatic shifts—the pros and cons of which depend on the individual—have vast implications for consumer journeys in both the B2B and B2C marketing worlds, particularly in how marketers think about audience data.

We need to stop communicating with "consumers" or "business professionals." We're communicating with humans—complex individuals with equally complex daily schedules and shifting mindsets. We need to apply human-level insights into understanding such complexities and identifying the moments in which those individuals are emotionally ready to hear from our brands.

Traditional dayparts no longer apply. An insurance executive today is just as likely to be helping her son troubleshoot a virtual learning Zoom call for school at 2 PM on a Wednesday as she is to be thinking about the CRM needs of her organization. Likewise, the general manager of a major retail banking operation isn't necessarily unwinding from his day at 8 PM on a Friday evening. He might well be cranking on his PowerPoint presentation for Monday's board meeting.

Today, if you're going to build a strong customer journey, understanding the mindset of each individual in the moment is everything.

2. Embrace the merging worlds in predictive marketing

Marketers are now living and working in a predictive world. Leading brands are using data to make better decisions about communicating with and serving their customers.

That is the essence of predictive marketing, a movement that has become all the more vital in today's strained economic environment, where marketers are tasked to find new efficiencies within their media plans. Data is no longer just an asset; it's a living, kinetic thing from which real-time insights can be derived and acted on. The only way to do so effectively and to truly optimize experiences is to combine human intelligence with artificial intelligence.

The best predictive marketing puts a personal understanding of each individual at the heart of a company's media planning and buying. Advances in data and technology over the past decade have brought that vision to life for many businesses. The problem, however, is that those strategies have typically taken into consideration only half of each individual—the personal half or professional half.

It's time to break down that dichotomy once and for all.

3. Treat mobile as the foundational platform it is

The context in which B2C and B2B brands communicate with prospects and customers is now a blended reality in which any given hour for a target audience member could include a conference call with a client, a laundry-folding session, and a break to fix an eight-year-old a snack. That reality requires a new approach to data-driven marketing.

Today, a B2C brand needs to supplement its knowledge of customers according to their professional lives, while a B2B brand needs to extend its knowledge of customers through their personal details and preferences. For marketers on both sides, that means figuring out how to find and manage new attributes within their CRM. On the B2B side, it means a fundamental reorganization of data—including rethinking the importance of previously coveted information, such as a person's direct dial at work.

These days, mobile phone numbers are the ultimate identifier for bridging the record gaps between a person's personal and professional profiles. After all, a person's mobile phone isn't just a path to calling them directly; it's a foundational platform for connecting via numerous channels, at any time of day, and thus driving direct commerce.

* * *

The expectations of today's consumers and business customers for personalized experiences have been heightened in a world where the devices around them recognize and adapt to them as individuals. They expect their marketing experiences to follow suit.

For years, people have given marketers a pass for treating them as two separate entities—a personal version and a work version—because they, too, physically separated those elements of their lives. But, suddenly and irrevocably, that time has come to an end. Today's reality is one where we don't separate our personal from our professional selves. We are simply our human selves.

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Three Opportunities B2B Marketers Must Seize During 2021 Planning

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image of Tom Zawacki

Tom Zawacki is chief digital officer of Data Axle (formerly Infogroup).

LinkedIn: Tom Zawacki