Tag: crm (page 1 of 3)

VRM at MyData2016

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As it happens I’m in Helsinki right now, for MyData2016, where I’ll be speaking on Thursday morning. My topic: The Power of the Individual. There is also a hackathon (led by DataBusiness.fi) going on during the show, starting at 4pm (local time) today. In no order of priority, here are just some of the subjects and players I’ll be dealing with,  talking to, and talking up (much as I can):

Please let me know what others belong on this list. And see you at the show.

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At last, a protocol to connect VRM and CRM

person-entity

We’ve been waiting a long time for a protocol to connect VRM (customers’ Vendor Relationship Management) with CRM (vendors’ Customer Relationship Management).

Now we have one. It’s called JLINC, and it’s from JLINC Labs. It’s also open source. You’ll find it at Github, here. It’s still early, at v.0.3. So there’s lots of opportunity for developers and constructive hackers of all kinds to get involved.

Specifically, JLINC is a protocol for sharing data protected by the terms under which it is shared, such as those under development by Customer Commons and the Consent and Information Sharing Working Group (CISWG) at Kantara.

The sharing instance is permanently recorded in a distributed ledger (such as a blockchain) so that both sharer and recipient have a permanent record of what was agreed to. Additionally, both parties can build up an aggregated view of their information sharing over time, so they (or their systems) can learn from and optimize it.

The central concept in JLINC is an Information Sharing Agreement (ISA). This allows for—

  1. the schema related to the data being shared so that the data can be understood by the recipient without prior agreement
  2. the terms associated with the data being shared so that they can be understood by the recipient without prior negotiation
  3. the sharing instance, and any subsequent onward sharing under the same terms, to be permanently recorded on a distributed ledger of subsequent use (compliance and analytics)

To test and demonstrate how this works, JLINC built a demonstrator to bring these three scenarios to life. The first one tackled is Intentcasting , a long-awaited promise of VRM. With an Intencast, the customer advertises her intention to buy something, essentially becoming a qualified lead. (Here are all the ProjectVRM blog posts here with the Intentcasting tag.)

Obviously, the customer can’t blab her buying intention out to the whole world, or marketers would swarm her like flies, suck up her exposed data, spam her with offers, and sell or give away her data to countless other parties.

With JLINC, intention data is made available only when the customer’s terms are signed. Those terms specify permitted uses. Here is one such set (written for site visiting, rather than intentcasting):

UserSubmittedTerms2ndDraft

These say the person’s (first party’s) data is being shared exclusively with the second party (the site), for no limit in time, for the site’s use only, provided the site also obey the customer’s Do Not Track signal. I’m showing it because it lays out one way terms can work in a familiar setting

For JLINC’s intentcasting demonstration, terms were limited to second party use only, and a duration of thirty days. But here’s the important part: the intentcast spoke to a Salesforce CRM system, which was able to—

  1. accept or reject the terms, and
  2. respond to the intentcast with an offer,
  3. while the handshake between the two was recorded in a blockchain both parties could access

This means that JLINC is not only a working protocol, but that there are ways for VRM tools and systems to use JLINC to engage CRM systems. It also means there are countless new development opportunities on both sides, working together or separately.

Here’s another cool thing:  the two biggest CRM companies, Salesforce and Oracle, will hold their big annual gatherings in the next few weeks. This means JLINC and VRM+CRM can be the subjects of both conversation and hacking at either or both events. Specifically, here are the dates:

  1. Oracle’s OpenWorld 2016 will be September 18-22.
  2. Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2016  will be October 4-7.

Both will be at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Conveniently, the next VRM Day and IIW will both also happen, as usual, at the end of October:

  1. VRM Day will be October 24.
  2. Internet Identity Workshop (IIW’s XXIIIth) will be October 25-27.

Both will take place at the Computer History Museum, in downtown Silicon Valley. And JLINC, which was launched at the last VRM Day, is sure to be a main topic of discussion, starting at VRM Day and continuing through IIW, which I consider the most leveraged conference in the world, especially for the price.

If all goes well, we’ll have some examples of VRM+(Oracle and/or Salesforce) CRM to show off at Demo Day at IIW.

Love to see other CRM vendors show up too. You listening, SugarCRM? (I spoke about VRM+CRM at SugarCon in 2011. Here’s my deck from that talk. What we lacked then, and since, was a protocol for that “+”. Now we have it. )

Big HT to Iain Henderson of both JLINC Labs and Customer Commons, for guiding this post, as well as conducting the test that showed, hey, it can be done!

 

 

 

 

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If it weren’t for retargeting, we might not have ad blocking

jblflip2This is a shopping vs. advertising story that starts with the JBP Flip 2 portable speaker I bought last year, when Radio Shack was going bankrupt and unloading gear in “Everything Must Go!” sales. I got it half-off for $50, choosing it over competing units on the same half-bare shelves, mostly because of the JBL name, which I’ve respected for decades. Before that I’d never even listened to one.

The battery life wasn’t great, but the sound it produced was much better than anything my laptop, phone or tablet put out. It was also small, about the size of a  beer can, so I could easily take it with me on the road. Which I did. A lot.

Alas, like too many other small devices, the Flip 2’s power jack was USB micro-b. That’s the tiny flat one that all but requires a magnifying glass to see which side is up, and tends to damage the socket if you don’t slip it in exactly right, or if you force it somehow. While micro-b jacks are all design-flawed that way, the one in my Flip 2 was so awful that it took great concentration to make sure the plug jacked in without buggering the socket.

Which happened anyway. One day, at an AirBnB in Maine, the Flip 2’s USB socket finally failed. The charger cable would fit into the socket, but the socket was loose, and the speaker wouldn’t take a charge. After efforts at resuscitation failed, I declared the Flip 2 dead.

But I was still open to buying another one. So, to replace it, I did what most of us do: I went to Amazon. Naturally, there were plenty of choices, including JBL Flip 2s and newer Flip 3s, at attractive prices. But Consumer Reports told me the best of the bunch was the Bose Soundlink Color, for $116.

So I bought a white Bose, because my wife liked that better than the red JBL.

The Bose filled Consumer Reports’ promise. While it isn’t stereo, it sounds much better than the JBL (voice quality and bass notes are remarkable). It’s also about the same size (though with a boxy rather than a cylindrical shape), has better battery life, and a better user interface. I hate that it  charges through a micro-b jack, but at least this one is easier to plug and unplug than the Flip 2 had been. So that story had a happy beginning, at least for me and Bose.

It was not happy, however, for me and Amazon.

Remember when Amazon product pages were no longer than they needed to be? Those days are gone. Now pages for every product seem to get longer and longer, and can take forever to load. Worse, Amazon’s index page is now encrusted with promotional jive. Seems like nearly everything “above the fold” (before you scroll down) is now a promo for Amazon Fashion, the latest Kindle, Amazon Prime, or the company credit card—plus rows of stuff “inspired by your shopping trends” and “related to items you’ve viewed.”

But at least that stuff risks being useful. What happens when you leave the site, however, isn’t. That’s because, unless you’re running an ad blocker or tracking protection, Amazon ads for stuff you just viewed, or put in your shopping cart, follow you from one ad-supported site to another, barking at you like a crazed dog. For example:

amazon1

I lost count of how many times, and in how many places, I saw this Amazon ad, or one like it, for one speaker, the other, or both, after I finished shopping and put the Bose speaker in my cart.

Why would Amazon advertise something at me that I’ve already bought, along with a competing product I obviously chose not to buy? Why would Amazon think it’s okay to follow me around when I’m not in their store? And why would they think that kind of harassment is required, or even okay, especially when the target has been a devoted customer for more than two decades, and sure to return and buy all kinds of stuff anyway?  Jeez, they have my business!

And why would they go out of their way to appear both stupid and robotic?

The answers, whatever they are, are sure to be both fully rationalized and psychotic, meaning disconnected from reality, which is the marketplace where real customers live, and get pissed off.

And Amazon is hardly alone at this. In fact the practice is so common that it became an Onion story in October 2018: Woman Stalked Across 8 Websites By Obsessed Shoe Advertisement.

The ad industry’s calls this kind of stalking “retargeting,” and it is the most obvious evidence that we are being tracked on the Net. The manners behind this are completely at odds with those in the physical world, where no store would place a tracking beacon on your body and use it to follow you everywhere you go after you leave. But doing exactly that is pro forma for marketing in the digital world.

When you click on that little triangular symbol in the corner of the ad, you can see how the “interactive” wing of the advertising business, generally called adtech, rationalizes surveillance:

adchoices1The program is called AdChoices, and it’s a creation of those entities in the lower right corner. The delusional conceits behind AdChoices are many:

  1. That Ad Choices is “yours.” It’s not. It’s theirs.
  2. That “right ads” exist, and that we want them to find us, at all times.
  3. That making the choices they provide actually gives us control of advertising online.
  4. That our personal agency—the power to act with full effect in the world—is a grace of marketers, and not of our own independent selves.

Not long after I did that little bit of shopping on Amazon, I also did a friend the favor of looking for clothes washers, since the one in her basement crapped out and she’s one of those few people who don’t use the Internet and never will. Again I consulted Consumer Reports, which recommended a certain LG washer in my friend’s price range. I looked for it on the Web and found the best price was at Home Depot. So I told her about it, and that was that.

For me that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t, because now I was being followed by Home Depot ads for the same LG washer and other products I wasn’t going to buy, from Home Depot or anybody else. Here’s one:

homedepot1

Needless to say, this didn’t endear me to Home Depot, to LG, or to any of the sites where I got hit with these ads.

All these parties failed not only in their mission to sell me something, but to enhance their own brands. Instead they subtracted value for everybody in the supply chain of unwelcome tracking and unwanted message targeting. They also explain (as Don Marti does here) why ad blocking has grown exactly in pace with growth in retargeting.

I subjected myself to all this by experimentally turning off tracking protection and ad blockers on one of my browsers, so I could see how the commercial Web works for the shrinking percentage of people who don’t protect themselves from this kind of abuse. I do a lot of that, as part of my work with ProjectVRM. I also experiment a lot with different kinds of tracking protection and ad blocking, because the developers of those tools are encouraged by that same work here.

For those new to the project, VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management, the customer-side counterpart of Customer Relationship Management, the many-$billion business by which companies manage their dealings with customers—or try to.

Our purpose with ProjectVRM is to encourage development of tools that give us both independence from the companies we engage with, and better ways of engaging than CRM alone provides: ways of engaging that we own, and are under our control. And relate to the CRM systems of the world as well. Our goal is VRM+CRM, not VRM vs. CRM.

Ad blocking and tracking protection are today at the leading edge of VRM development, because they are popular and give us independence. Engagement, however, isn’t here yet—at least not at the same level of popularity. And it probably won’t get here until we finish curing business of the brain cancer that adtech has become.

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If your voice comes from a company, you don’t have one

Got this in my email today:

Oracle pitch

I’m sure Oracle Service Cloud is good at what it does. Such as:

  • Deliver an integrated customer experience while equipping employees with the right tools
  • Drive and meet consumer expectations in the new omni-channel world
  • Adapt their service to customer needs by researching and considering their demographics

The problem is that this assumes customers have no voices of their own, and need to be given one. And, since every company has its own way to give customers voices, the customer turns into a Tower of Babble, speaking with many different voices to many different companies.

For example, today at a medical center I had to give exactly the same personal information to two different systems operating in the same office — and this was information already known to countless other systems with which I’ve had dealings over the years. Why? “Because we’re using two different CRM systems.”

You can look at the problem here as one of scale. Systems such as Oracle’s give companies scale: one way to deal with many different customers. Likewise, customers need one way to deal with many different companies, regardless of what CRM systems they run. This is a fundamental VRM challenge. And it’s one that should be good for CRM too. Win-Win.

You can see how it would work if you imagine being able to  change your phone number or email address, for every company you deal with, in one move. Lots of VRM developers are working on that, but we aren’t there yet.

It helps that we already have the Internet, which bridges many networks (why it’s called internet), along with email, phones and other things that give us one way to deal with many different entities.

But we don’t yet have voices of our own (meaning scale), or we wouldn’t see headlines like the one above.

Giving our voices scale isn’t a CRM job. It’s a VRM job. It also has to be done in a way that speaks directly to the Oracle Service Clouds of the world, engaging what they already have in place.

I know people at Oracle and its competitors who are ready and eager to see VRM developments that speak — literally and figuratively — to their corporate systems. They know VRM is going to make their jobs a lot easier and cause a lot more business to happen and improve.

Conversations are happening, and that’s good. But we also need more development in the direction of convergence. Expect to see reports on that in coming months.

Complaining vs. Buying

Q: “What’s the difference between a tweeter and a customer?”

A: “One complains, the other buys.”

Just had to write that down. The Q and the A came in the midst of a VRM conference call that also touched on CRM, VRM+CRM, sCRM, trust frameworks, identity and other stuff.

Not saying that’s a fair characterization, by the way. Just that it’s an interesting one.

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the contect of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August…] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

VRMomentum

Thanks to a question from , VRM is now on the radar of , a business consulting group I have followed and respected for nearly two decades. Much of what we’re doing with VRM is right in line with what Peppers & Rogers have been writing and talking about for the duration, so I’m not surprised to see them groking VRM in just one pass. Responding to Rebecca, posted VRM: Next Destination in Technology’s March?, where he says this:,

Think about it: “Management” is synonymous with control or direction by someone, while “social” represents an inherently collective, non-managed value. Trying to describe “social CRM” in other words, is something like trying to describe “citrus watermelon.” And in fact, many of the pioneers in SCRM are finding that in order to have any traction at all in social media they must first give up control – that is, they must admit that they cannot by themselves “manage” the process or its outcomes.

But the VRM idea may just describe the next destination in this march of technology. In our view, VRM makes the most sense for consumers when the process involves highly personal computers with mobile applications that allow consumers to mange their own information more directly, even as they continue to participate in the economic system, buying products and services and putting them to use.

Whether VRM actually takes root or not, however, depends on whether the right intermediaries spring to life to facilitate it. In The One to One Future, back in 1993, we speculated that eventually a form of business would emerge that we termed a “privacy intermediary.” This would be a business that would collect an individual’s personal information and use it to extract the best possible deal from a vendor while protecting the person’s privacy – that is, without allowing the vendor to gain its own access to the individual (see Chapter 9.)

Martha and I often say that if we made one big error in the predictions inside this book, it was overestimating the degree of interest consumers would have in protecting their own privacy. We thought privacy intermediation would be a big business, but so far this just hasn’t happened. On the other hand, it may be that technology has now reached the point that this kind of intermediary function might soon be handled as a simple mobile phone app. And when that happens, VRM will arrive for real.

Don & Martha, if you’re reading this, check out . (Also find more background on VRM here, here and here.)  And look here for some examples of efforts that qualify as “privacy intermediaries.” I think Azigo, , , and  are all in that ball park, each with different roles. (For more on that park, see Joe Andrieu’s series on user driven services.)

I need to add, however, that we don’t always need intermediaries. VRM is about independence as well as engagement. We need self-hosted and self-directed solutions as well. We also need to build on free and open code, standards and protocols if we don’t want VRM to become as silo’d as “social media” have become. (The big two, Twitter & Facebook, are both companies, not functional categories.) This is what is for. Also , the code-child of , whose fingerprints are also on both Twitter and Oauth. Here’s a nice interview with Blaine by Tom Murphy at .

has a customarily thoughtful post with The customer is not king. He explains,

…today that’s changing and we can look at the world through a different lens – that of the decision-maker (the person) rather than that of the decision-influencer (the seller). Once you do this it quickly becomes apparent that this meta-need – to make (and implement) better decisions – is bigger than all other needs (for chocolates, for cars, for current accounts etc) because it embraces them all, subsuming them into the bigger task of achieving what the person (not the seller) wants to achieve.

Person- or buyer-centric services then, sit on the side of the individual, helping the individual achieve what the individual wants to achieve, including managing relationships with many different suppliers more efficiently and more effectively (VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management). The central questions here are, What challenges does the person face when doing this? How to do it better?

The difference between now and say, twenty years ago, is that twenty years ago this person-centric perspective was operationally irrelevant. You couldn’t do anything practical to help people address these challenges. When marketers said ‘the customer is king’, it was just a disguised way of saying ‘the organisation is king’.

Now, however, as information becomes a tool in the hands of the individual, that’s changing. The organisational king is being deposed. This is not about superficial changes in ‘how to achieve the same old marketing goals better’. For example, it’s got nothing to do with arguments about whether it’s easier, cheaper or better to get marketing messages across via social media or mass advertising. It’s a deep, structural, tectonic, remorseless and comprehensive transformation in the relationship between individuals and organisations.

And if you keep on looking in the customer mirror, you simply won’t see it coming.

Denis Pombriant, who was a very helpful contributor to VRM+CRM 2010 a couple weeks ago at Harvard (with big thanks again to the Berkman Center staff), followed with VRM, CRM and Social Media. While mostly complimentary, Denis adds,

I can’t say the same for VRM and that’s one of the big hang-ups for it.  Who makes VRM and who pays for it?  The customers don’t seem interested in paying for anything so don’t look there.  And savvy vendors tend to look at VRM as slitting their own throats.  Pretty quickly you realize that while there is a need for what VRM does, there doesn’t seem to be a constituency ready to pay for it.

Well, we’ll see. Customers will pay for lots of stuff that has real value, provided the means are provided. When the only easy way to get digital music was Napster, everybody talked about how nobody wanted to pay for music anymore. Then Apple made it easy to pay 99¢ per tune, and since then more than ten billion tunes have been sold on iTunes alone. Mobile apps are another one. At a more mundane level, how about coffee. Before Starbucks, coffee was one of the cheapest drinks you could get. Now the new norm is $3+ for a cappuccino or a latte.

But Denis’ point is well-taken. VRM solutions need to provide real value to customers, or those solutions won’t thrive in the marketplace. Some of that value will come from free stuff that business can be built on. Some will come from services that customers — or somebody — will pay for.

David Cutler also has a nice post on VRM, borrowing a very helpful graphic from Julian Gay, which was the subject of much discussion at VRM+CRM 2010. A gallery of pix is here.

And the Danish Magazine  interviewed me, about VRM, e a few weeks back. The piece is up now, in Dansk. Here’s a blog post about it in English, with a short video by , shot over lunch outside in Paris. Scenario also got some great shots of me, also in Paris, to go with the piece.

Finally (for now), check out this Klint Finley interview with Josh Bernoff on Josh’s new book (co-authored with Ted Schadler, Empowered. I dunno if VRM comes up in there, but VRM is certainly more than consistent with the title.

VRM + CRM

We’ve reached the point where VRM and CRM developers are ready to talk.

There is a lot of CRM-facing development going on in the VRM community. A number of both commercial and non-commercial projects on this list are involved, and some are far enough downstream that folks in both communities need to show what they’re working on, sit down and talk.

Some of this is already happening. More will happen next week in New York. And more will happen in some other gatherings that are in the works. Stay tuned for those.

I think that will help answer some of the questions that have been coming up — partly as a result of what I’ve been writing here, and especially after CRM Magazine’s May Issue, Julian Gay’s Beyond Social CRM post, Ewe Hook’s Edison, Insull and planning for the future of VRM and Mitch Lieberman’s VRM Who Has the Relationship Repsonsibility Anyway?, in CRM Ousiders. Martin Schneider’s follow-up, Remember, No One “Owns” a Relationship aligns exactly with what I wrote in Cooperation vs. Coercion and in R-buttons and the open marketplace. As I said there,

Markets, in both their literal and metaphorical meanings, are middle grounds. They are places where we are selectively open to society, and especially to sellers — and where they are open to us. One way to represent that is to turn our silos on their sides and open them up, so we each have a representation of containment, but also of openness, and even of attraction. So, instead of having silos, we have magnets, like this:

You are on the left. The seller is on the right. And the market is in the middle.

The VRM community is working on building this out. (As we said above, the CRM community has begun to join the effort as well.) We are doing this by creating ways of relating in which both sides are open to the other, but neither contains the other. The two can have attractions toward each other, but engagement is optional. Think of the result as a market that’s far more free than the your-choice-of-silo model.

This also realates to Larry Augustin‘s Some Thoughts on Open post. Larry runs SugarCRM. Larry and I go way back to the 90s, when he started VA Linux and I was still a rookie editor for Linux Journal. Even at a distance we’ve been manning the same barricades for the duration. (Much of the time explaining the same things over and over again. Right, Larry? 🙂

I’m also know people at SalesForce.com, including Marc Benioff and especially my old buddy Steve Gillmor (for whom I can’t find a link currently, so here’s his latest Gillmor Gang, which I was on). Plus people at SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. (Though in some cases not in their CRM divisions.) I’m looking forward to seeing and talking to many of those folks (and more) over the coming weeks and months. More importantly, I’m looking forward to VRM developers other than myself meeting with their counterparts on the CRM side. And with customers and users of CRM software and services.

Meanwhile I’m looking for ways that ordinary users — that’s all of us — can become more aware and mindful of the good work that folks in the CRM community are trying to do. I’m talking here about the work that doesn’t just try to “capture,” “acquire,” “own,” “lock in” or otherwise “manage” us as if we were slaves or cattle. This customer-respecting work is at the leading edge of the CRM world. Respectable customers are at the leading edge of the VRM world. The twain should meet.

I should add that there is much happening in VRM that isn’t CRM facing as well. But for the next few weeks, the focus for many of us will be on reaching across and building out the new common ground between VRM and CRM. That ground is the marketplace, and in many ways it’s still virgin and unspoiled territory.

Positioning VRM

@JulianGay just put up a terrific piece called Beyond Social CRM that positions VRM very nicely. Here’s the graphic:

It’s important for anybody who wants to see how these pieces fit together. VRM’s scope goes into the post-transaction zone as well, but I also don’t want to get too ambitious here. The ovals do a good job, as do the axes. What matters is relationship, and the control both vendors and customers have over the middle ground they share.

Toward the bottom Julian lists five companies as examples of “VRM dynamics”. This is cool, but I want to add that VRM at its base level isn’t about the companies doing it, any more than email, messaging or syndicating are about companies. Those things rely on deeper protocols, standards and bodies of code that are pure building material. For a partial list of VRM development efforts, go here.

Cooperation vs. Coercion

We think of markets as competitive places: arenas, battlegrounds, playing fields, boxing rings. Which they are, if you look at them from the standpoint of vendors. As buyers, we do want vendors to compete, of course. But we also want them to cooperate — with us. From our perspective, markets are places where we shop, meet and do business. We want the freedom to do that, and we don’t want sellers taking any of that away, even if they think doing that makes them better competitors.

For decades, if not for a century or more, taking customers’ freedoms away has been something of a virtue for vendors. It’s not for nothing that marketers talk about “acquiring,” “capturing,” “owning” and “managing” customers as if they were slaves or cattle. In the old industrial economy, this made sense. It was easier to serve managed customers than free ones. You could limit the variables you addressed. Even today we sometimes like having our choices restricted, and gladly make the Faustian bargain of captivity. But even here we see the downsides, which go beyond lack of choice. Being captive may seem safe in some ways, but it also makes us vulnerable to a single source of goods on which we have no choice but to depend.

On the sell side, there are two problems. One is the burden of management itself, which should be easier if customers were also carrying some of the load. The other is intelligence. When all you know is what you learn from your captive customers (say, through your loyalty program), you don’t know enough. There is far more happening in the marketplace than you can learn and crunch only in your own exclusive ways.

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what Steve Gillmor calls gestures, which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for Linux Journal in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for Harvard Business Press. The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station KQED, which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for Creative Commons (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Giving customers means for showing up in the marketplace with their own terms of engagement is a core job right now for VRM. Being ready to deal with customers who bring their own terms is equally important for CRM. What I wrote here goes into some of the progress being made for both. Much more is going on as well. (I’m writing about this stuff because these are the development projects I’m involved with personally. There are many others.)

What I want to make clear here is that symbols are necessary. We need graphic representations of states and actions, and what’s possible for both. And we need ones that are not encumbered by anybody’s intellectual property claims. That’s why r-buttons are free for the using. Everybody is also free to use something else, if you think it’s better. I don’t care. I just know we need symbols, and these are some we’ve been using while we’ve been developing stuff.

In the next few weeks there will be a number of  occasions for VRM and CRM folks to get together, to talk, to start building toward each other, and to start training company legal departments in the new ways of open markets — cooperative ways, rather than just coercive ones. Looking forward to seeing how that all goes.

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