I’m somewhere between Austin and Phoenix, riding on a Boeing 737 jet. This sucks. I’d rather be riding the four-to-seven-foot surf that I know El Niño is delivering to my favorite surf breaks back home in San Diego.

Anyone who surfs knows how lucky they are every time they paddle out and drop into a perfect glassy wave. At that moment, nothing is linear; waves don’t do linear. For experienced surfers, it takes adjusting every part of their body, making minor footing changes and then feeling the wind rush up the face of the wave as they drag their trailing hand. That’s when they enter that “stoked” moment where their mind is completely and utterly clear, focused only on the wave.

Surfing is competitive. Surfers read the waves and prepare accordingly, ensuring they are in prime position to catch the next one. Take your eye off the horizon for one second, and the next thing you know, your wave is in the hands of someone else and you’re caught inside, taking a beating from Mother Nature.

The same could be said about business.

Change Is Inevitable, Embrace It

Change in the enterprise market is inevitable—and sizable. Every organizational facet demands adjustment at some point or another. To be inflexible or ignorant can be costly and possibly devastating. The companies that didn’t see the huge wave of change coming over the last decade may have found themselves out of the Fortune 500 or out of business, taking a beating they will never recover from.

According to Deloitte’s Tech Trends report, Babson College found that 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies in 2000 didn’t exist 10 years later.*

Peter H. Diamandis, co-author of Abundance: The Future Is Better than You Think, wrote that in 2012 the world experienced what he calls “the new Kodak moment”:

A moment in time when an exponential technology put a linear-thinking company out of business. Kodak, the company that invented the digital camera in 1976, and had grown to a 145,000-person, 28-billion-dollar global company at its peak, ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 2012 as it was put out of business by the exponential technology of digital imagery. In stark contrast, another company—also in the digital imagery business—called Instagram, was acquired in that same year by Facebook for $1 billion. Instagram’s head count: 13 employees.*

We see further evidence when we’re scrolling through apps on our smartphones. Uber, the largest “taxi company” in the world, doesn’t own any cars, and HomeAway has the most available accommodations in the world but doesn’t own any hotels. Amazon, the company that sells just about anything you can imagine, owns just one physical store and can still deliver to your door in as little as an hour!

We know change is inevitable, and yet, I sit down with enterprise companies on a regular basis who are struggling to adapt their linear business models to compete with exponentially thinking startups. The quicker companies can embrace change, the sooner they can begin to adapt and compete.

Marketing’s Key Role in Taking Advantage of Change

New disruptors are reframing marketing’s conversations. Their span of offerings are changing your buyer’s decision-making process. When this happens, marketing, the owner of customer relationships, has to quickly adapt communications for both marketing and sales. Marketing is the conduit between customers and product development—and that makes your next chess move a big one.

Marketing also needs to ensure it is positioned to take advantage of the tens of trillions of dollars in economic value that will be created by 2020 as the world’s population of digitally connected people jumps from two to five billion.* This wave is one you can’t afford to miss.

Planning for that growth should be a priority for companies and doing so requires three major adjustments from marketing:

  1. Insights – As shopping habits change, it’s more important than ever to align your marketing with the way your customer buys. Otherwise, you’re doing a lot of work for nothing.
  2. Connections – Great sales conversations are based on identified pain or interest areas. It’s how you listen and connect with your customers that will help you provide a valuable solution.
  3. “MarTech” and Data – You can waste time sifting through thousands of tech options, or you can learn to use the systems and data that you already have to drive results.

Marketing can (and should be!) the mobilizer of change within enterprise businesses today. Fail to adapt, and prepare to take a deep breath—and a beating.

*Deloitte Consulting LLP, Tech Trends 2014: Inspiring Disruption, 2014.