Once upon a time, customers did what brands told them to do. Buy our toilet paper; subscribe to our newspaper; purchase our services. That was then, this is now, and customers don’t really care what brands tell them to do anymore.  The brands that succeed today are those that embrace, engage and inform their customers.

As Hubspot’s hot-off-the-presses State of Inbound Marketing Report states “it’s a good time to be a customer.” That’s because the customer has all the control now. Thanks to the way technology has changed, the way the Internet dominates everything, and the way customers accumulate information and learn about products and services, the sales process has been flipped on its head.

We are now in an era of preference marketing, in which the customer will have educated herself about your service long before you even know she exists and way before sales contacts her.

And that means marketing must also change. Marketing needs to build a bridge between the brand and the customer and create a bond. Marketing is no longer about simply raising name recognition – nobody believes those horrible car dealer ads screaming at you that their prices can’t be beat; we all know they’re full of crap, and I can guarantee you I personally will never buy anything from them. Because they have failed to engage me, failed to educate me, failed to earn my trust. They’re simply trying to berate me into thinking they have a better product than the guy down the street, which would be fine if I didn’t have the ability to go online and compare their product to the next dealer. But I do have that ability, and that means their advertising is actually a negative – they are driving me away.

However, according to the Hubspot report, it appears those guys are dinosaurs. They surveyed more than 3300 business executives, owners and marketers and found that 50 percent of survey respondents indicate that they consider their companies to be primarily customer-focused. Nearly 25 percent of marketers cite reaching the right audience as their top priority for 2013.

But a customer focus cannot simply be a mindset that is confined to the marketing department; it must infiltrate the entire organization. That means the folks in the C-suite need to be on board, and need to understand the concepts of inbound marketing and how it will impact sales and revenue. It means sales needs to understand that the message in the marketplace will be different; it won’t be about the organization anymore… it’ll be about the customers. And it means IT needs to play nice in order to enable an inbound strategy that relies on frequent updates to the company website and across various platforms.

But more than just being cooperative, the entire organization needs to adopt and embrace a new mindset. This can be difficult for veteran salespeople and C-level executives who are used to closing hard – once a prospect is attracted into the sales funnel they’ll often default to the way they’ve always operated. That means the hard sell, and it is at odds with what most customers today want; in other words, reverting back to the old sales techniques in the middle of an inbound strategy can be disastrous, stopping the sales cycle dead in its tracks.

As the Hubspot report details, the ROI of inbound marketing is significant – but you must do it right and you must let it play out. Sticking with it requires a strong internal champion. It could be the CEO, the CMO or even the VP of Sales. And it requires that champion to push back on the internal forces that want to change course in midstream. Armed with the Hubspot report, you’ll have plenty of ammunition for your arguments – inbound marketing drives more sales leads and has a lower customer acquisition cost.

Will you be that champion?