Tag: crm (page 2 of 3)

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.

VRM on the CRM radar

From the last paragraph the latest post by in the : “Stay tuned for the May issue of , which will focus on vendor relationship management (VRM). You’ll hear about tools (such as mobile coupons) that provide customers with both independence from vendors and better ways of engaging with vendors. It’s a cool concept that I look forward to share more about.”

I talked with Laura last November, and believe Iain Henderson did too. It’ll be interesting to see how the story comes out.

CRM & VRM, Figure & Ground

Antagonyms, Social Circles and Chattering about VRM is a deep and helpful piece by Cliff Gerrish on his blog. He starts by visiting and (words that carry dual and opposing meanings) and how context tilts perception and meaning toward one side or another. By example he suggests that Google’s problems with were (at least in part) a result of internal perspective and experience (“Google launched Buzz as a consumer product, but tested it as an enterprise product”). From there he suggests that CRM and VRM also require that we consider perspective and reciprocity:

Meanwhile, introduces Chatter to the enterprise and rolls it out at no extra charge to all employees on the internal network. And while it will start inside the enterprise, Chatter will quickly expand to the boundaries and begin to cross over. From a business perspective, it’ll be used to turbo-charge collaboration and create real-time communication for project teams and business units. But very quickly you’ll see friends sending messages to each other about meeting up for lunch, and a public-personal communications channel will be opened within the enterprise. And the circles will connect and widen from there.

Here are a couple more Contranyms:

clip (attach to) – clip (cut off from)

cleave (to cut apart) – cleave (to seal together)

Salesforce.com calls itself the leader in Customer Relationship Management and Cloud Computing. Chatter may just be the communication medium that ultimately contains both CRM and its opposite number, VRM. Vendor Relationship Management is a reaction to the data toolsets belonging to the enterprise and not to the individual customer.

In a narrow sense, VRM is the reciprocal — the customer side — of CRM (or Customer Relationship Management). VRM tools provide customers with the means to bear their side of the relationship burden. They relieve CRM of the perceived need to “capture,” “acquire,” “lock in,” “manage,” and otherwise employ the language and thinking of slave-owners when dealing with customers. With VRM operating on the customer’s side, CRM systems will no longer be alone in trying to improve the ways companies relate to customers. Customers will be also be involved, as fully empowered participants, rather than as captive followers.

If you were to think about what kind of infrastructure you’d want to run VRM on, Salesforce.com would be ideal. To run the mirror image of CRM, you need the same set of services and scale. The individual Chatter account could be the doorway to a set of VRM services. I can already see developers using the Force.com platform to populate a VRM app store.

Some corporations will attempt to maximize the business value of each individual worker, stripping out all the extraneous human factors. will be erected to keep the outside from the inside, the personal from the business, and the public from the private. But when you put messaging and communications tools into the hands of people they will find ways to talk to each other— about work, life, play, the project, and the joke they just heard at the water cooler.

I’ll need to study Salesforce’s services before I venture opinions about how well they apply on the VRM side. But in the meantime I do think there is an especially appropriate optical illusion for illustrating CRM/VRM reciprocity: the :

Rubin2

As Wikipedia currently puts it,

Rubin’s vase (sometimes known as the Rubin face or the Figure-ground vase) is a famous set of cognitive developed around 1915 by the . They were first introduced at large in Rubin’s two-volume work, the Danish-language Synsoplevede Figurer (“Visual Figures”), which was very well-received; Rubin included a number of examples, like a Maltese cross figure in black and white, but the one that became the most famous was his vase example, perhaps because the Maltese cross one could also be easily interpreted as a black and white beachball.

One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as and the other as , the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Says Rubin (in Synsoplevede Figurer, 1915),

One can then state as a fundamental principle: When two fields have a common border, and one is seen as and the other as , the immediate perceptual experience is characterized by a shaping effect which emerges from the common border of the fields and which operates only on one field or operates more strongly on one than on the other.

Over the next century Rubin’s vase illusion has more commonly been illustrated with a wine glass between two faces (perhaps because we’re drinking more and arranging flowers less):

I think this imagery does a better job of illustrating the figure-ground distinctions of CRM and VRM. I suggest that CRM sees the wine glass (from which they might drink from the wealth of well-managed relationships with customers), while VRM sees two faces that represent one-to-one interactions between equals.

After CRM and VRM come to be working well together, vendors and customers will still have their own tilted perspectives — one’s figure will be the other’s ground — but both will be fully present.

As of today that’s not the case. CRM is a multi-$billion industry, while VRM is just getting started. Perhaps, by thinking about CRM from a VRM perspective (and vice versa), we can build out tools and solutions better, and faster.

VRMspotting

Graham Sadd (@grahamsadd) in VRM Trust Matters:

MyCustomer.com publishes the second half of Doc Searls predictions and emerging forms of VRM but I couldn’t resist adding a few to his list.

As a long term advocate of VRM (or SRM as I used to call it back in the last century) I fully agree with Doc and the ProjectVRM core principle of ‘user-driven’. However we at PAOGA prefer ‘user’ to ‘customer’ in this context as we provide secure VRM tools and services extending beyond the ‘Vendor Relationship’ to enhance individuals participation in their relationships as a citizen, patient, employee, client, student, et al. Let’s call it XRM.

Whilst Doc provides a number of examples whereby VRM can provide significant mutual benefits to both buyer and seller, I think there are a few more worthy of mention.

The full text of that MyCustomer.com interview is at How VRM helps CRM.

In Accepting Payments on the Real-Time Web Damon Cortesi (@dacort) visits issues we face from the user/customer’s side with EmanciPay:

Here’s the thing – I build products. Lots of them. And I want to charge for them. I don’t want to have to drive tens of thousands of uniques per month before ads even start to think about paying out. I’m tired of visiting websites and having ads about people’s ugly teeth be the first thing I see. Dave McClure had an interesting, if curse-word-infused, post on the future of subscriptions. The basic gist is that startups have focused on growth and advertising-based revenue models in the past decade and that now we are heading more towards a subscription and transaction-based model.

His spot-on rant is ridiculously close to what I almost ended up posting this morning, and I’m glad I didn’t, as I haven’t quite earned the the respect to swear online like that yet. But here’s how it looks from the ground floor as a developer on a 2-person team that is trying to avoid the CPM/CPC model and instead focus on building useful products that people want to pay for. A crazy concept, I know!

Then he reviews, at length, a number of company offerings, and concludes,

Since the weekend, I’ve been contacted by a number of other subscription billing companies. Of the couple I checked out (Vindicia and Aria Systems), their websites were primarily marketing fluff – white papers, best practice guides and webinars. In order to actually determine their feasibility, I had to fill in a form and have a sales person contact me. This may work for larger corporations, but we’re a startup. Putting up a sales gateway in front of your documentation makes it pretty damn difficult to evaluate the efficacy of your solution. When we’re building products in a matter of hours or days, your 9-5, Monday-Friday attitude is simply not going to be compatible with our workflow. But maybe we’re not your target audience.

All that being said, there’s hope. Spreedly, Recurly, and Chargify are all brand new and all appear to both be listening and care about their  current and potential customers. I don’t doubt that they’ll all get to where I want them to be in the near future, but they’re not quite there yet.

Perhaps useful to other folks is this spreadsheet where we tracked different recurring billing solutions against our requirements. I’d love to hear other people’s experiences with these, or other payment solutions.

Nicolas Shriver:

I like the VRM concept. The Vendor Relationship Management is somehow a reverse CRM. A customer exposes his needs for a product, and the brand gets in contact with him to provide the accurate information, via social media or its website. This is the reason why community management is getting so huge.

John Cass:

I’m reading Paul Greenberg’s CRM and the speed of light, just getting into the second chapter where he discusses various CRM related terms. Including VRM, Doc Searls’ baby, the idea of vendor relationship management, customers manage their data and relationships instead of companies managing customer data. Companies provide customers with the tools to manage their data. Google Health would be an example of VRM. Paul and I discussed VRM back in 2008. I think it will be a hot topic in the years to come. Glad Paul included the term in the book, and I picked up some extra points from Paul’s more detailed research. Really enjoying the book.

Paul’s blog is here. And here’s the book at Amazon.

Paul Madsen:

With appropriate #micro-syntax, could #plancast serve as a #VRM RFI/RFP platform, ie ‘plan to buy’?

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce points to Loyalty Marketing: The Nature and Scope of CRM and VRM Systems. Reading the promo text, I’m not sure the speaker is talking about our kind of VRM or another one, but I’m curious to know.

Dennis Howlett, in Rationalizing the E2.0, SCRM, social business discussion:

A constructive next step?

It’s always easy to throw brickbats but on this occasion I’d prefer to add something I hope is fresh into the conversation while representing a challenge. In doing so, I am asking people to think beyond their silos of expertise in an effort to articulate the strategic intent that seems implied but is never quite said.

Doc Searls has long talked about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) as a socially constructed way of looking at the vendor-customer relationship. It’s kind of the inverse of CRM but with the same philosophical grounding.

The last time we discussed this, more than a year ago, he acknowledged that making VRM work in anything other than relatively simple supply chain situations was likely to prove tough. Yet real customer service means having some reach into the supply chain. Even now Doc acknowledges that many of the tools don’t exist to make the VRM dream a reality. But maybe there’s a way where E2.0/SCRM thinkers can see where their ideas start to disintegrate and use the conversation Doc has going to make this more relevant to the real world. At the same time, maybe think also about how Sig’s BRP impacts the broad sweep of E2.0/SCRM.

Finally, when thinking about E2.0/SCRM, pay attention to the way in which organizational change occurs in the context of nuanced cultures. Don’t be constrained by one or other theory simply because it makes for an attractive sounding buzz phrase. Without that, much of what passes for this new way of thinking will be lost.

It’s early days. I’m sure it is happening. Somewhere. I’d just like to see it.

For additional context there I’ll point to Enterprise 2.0 (the subject for which E2.0 is an abbreviation), the excellent new book by my colleague Andrew McAfee.

Robin Wilton in Paying for Privacy:

The older reason is that “point” privacy protection products can usually do little or nothing about the elephant in the room… the vested and mostly-invisible commercial interests behind online advertising are so huge, so entrenched and so opaque to the user that it is all but impossible to change the balance of power between the ‘data subject’ and the ‘data gatherer’. As an example, look at the difficulty some very bright people have had with turning VRM from concept into reality. (VRM, or “Vendor Relationship Management” was coined as a flip-side to “Customer Relationship Management” – CRM – … the idea being that my interests would be better served if I took control of my data and used it as the leverage to change vendors’ behaviour). The idea, the principles and the technology might all be fine, but those factors are not enough to convince/persuade/force vendors to do things your way instead of theirs.

Yep.

VRM Mojo Working

Think of the industrialized world as Kansas and the Internet as Oz. The difference is actually more radical than that, because the Internet is real. From the perspective of industry, the Internet is actually surreal. It’s a place that calls for depiction by Dalí, or Escher or Magritte. For example, the term “content” suggests a quantity of stuff we can “upload”, “download” and “distribute.” Yet, most of the time we are actually copying and proliferating. That’s because data moves by a process of replication. “The Internet is a copy machine”, Kevin Kelly says.

So, how do we “protect” something that is not a thing, has value, and is easily copied? Well, there are lots of ways, but maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe the better question is, Who do we share it with, and what decisions about it do we, as a couple, make about it?

Questions about protection usually devolve into arguments about ownership, and that’s a red herring. As Joe Andrieu explains in Beyond Data Ownership to Information Sharing, “sometimes the arguments behind these efforts are based on who owns—or who should own–the data. This is not just an intellectual debate or political rallying call, it often undermines our common efforts to build a better system.” Joe offers five propositions for consideration:

  1. Privacy as secrecy is dead
  2. Data sharing is data copying
  3. Transaction data has dual ownership
  4. Yours, mine, & ours: Reality is complicated
  5. Taking back ownership is confrontational

Of #3, Joe says,

In the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in a confrontation with Mr. Hand, Spicoli argues “If I’m here and you’re here, doesn’t that make it our time?” Just like the time shared between Spicoli and Mr. Hand, the information created by visiting a website is co-created and co-owned by both the visitor and the website. Every single interaction between two endpoints on the web generates at least two owners of the underlying data.

This is not a minor issue. The courts have already ruled that if an email is stored for any period of time on a server, the owner of that server has a right to read the email. So, when “my” email is out there at GMail or AOL or on our company’s servers, know that it is also, legally, factually, and functionally, already their data.

Because of all five points, Joe suggests,

Rather than building a regime based on data ownership, I believe we would be better served by building one based on authority, rights, and responsibilities. That is, based on Information Sharing.

Joe isn’t just talking here. He and others are working on exactly that regime:

At the Information Sharing Work Group at the Kantara Initiative, Iain Henderson and I are leading a conversation to create a framework for sharing information with service providers, online and off. We are coordinating with folks involved in privacy and dataportability and distinguish our effort by focusing on new information, information created for the purposes of sharing with others to enable a better service experience. Our goal is to create the technical and legal framework for Information Sharing that both protects the individual and enables new services built on previously unshared and unsharable information. In short, we are setting aside the questions of data ownership and focusing on the means for individuals to control that magical, digital pixie dust we sprinkle across every website we visit.

Because the fact is, we want to share information. We want Google to know what we are searching for. We want Orbitz to know where we want to fly. We want Cars.com to know the kind of car we are looking for.

We just don’t want that information to be abused. We don’t want to be spammed, telemarketed, and adverblasted to death. We don’t want companies stockpiling vast data warehouses of personal information outside of our control. We don’t want to be exploited by corporations leveraging asymmetric power to force us to divulge and relinquish control over our addresses, dates of birth, and the names of our friends and family.

What we want is to share our information, on our terms. We want to protect our interests and enable service providers to do truly amazing things for us and on our behalf. This is the promise of the digital age: fabulous new services, under the guidance and control of each of us, individually.

And that is precisely what Information Sharing work group at Kantara is enabling.

The work is a continuation of several years of collaboration with Doc Searls and others at ProjectVRM. We’re building on the principles and conversations of Vendor Relationship Management and User Driven Services to create an industry standard for a legal and technical solution to individually-driven Information Sharing.

Our work group, like all Kantara work groups, is open to all contributors–and non-contributing participants–at no cost. I invite everyone interested in helping create a user-driven world to join us.

It should be an exciting future.

It isn’t easy to “set aside questions of data ownership”, of course, because possession is 9/10ths of human perception. We are grabby animals. Our thumbs do not oppose for nothing. We even “grasp” ideas. This is why one of the first words a toddler utters is “mine!”

As it happens, this is also a key insight of The Mine! Project, whose About page says,

The Mine! project is about equipping people with tools and functionality that will help them:

  1. take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),
  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to their needs and preferences and
  3. share it on their own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

The Mine! aims to be an (infra)structure for other solutions – VRM (relationships with individuals and vendors, transactions), self-defined identity, authentication, data portability and hopefully many more.

These and other projects are visited by Neil Davey in a post in MyCustomer.com on VRM and the new tools of engagement. This follows up on an earlier post, based on the same interview with me. I wrote about it as well in How VRM helps CRM.

When we started here at the Berkman Center, the idea was never that we’d do this development ourselves, but would instead provide a place where we could share our thoughts, show our work, do research, publish what we’ve learned, and encourage more development.

Nice to see the mojo working.

Advertising in Reverse

Here in the VRM development community we’ve been talking (and in some cases working) for several years on the Personal RFP. Technically an RFP is a “buyer-initiated procurement protocol” for businesses doing business with businesses: B2B as they say. With VRM the buyer is an individual. Hence, Personal RFP. Not a great label, but one that businesses understand.

Now comes Scott Adams (Dilbert’s cartoonist), with Hunter Becomes the Prey. His compressed case:

Shopping is broken… Google is nearly worthless when shopping for items that don’t involve technology. It is as if the Internet has become a dense forest where your desired purchases can easily hide.

Advertising is broken too, because there are too many products battling for too little consumer attention. So ads can’t hope to close the can’t-find-what-I-want gap. The standard shopping model needs to be reversed. Instead of the shopper acting as hunter, and the product hiding as prey, you should be able to describe in your own words what sort of thing you are looking for, and the vendors should use those footprints to hunt you down and make their pitch…

You can imagine this service as a web site. The consumer goes to the section that best fits his needs (furniture, cars, computers, etc.) and describes what he wants, in his own words. Vendors could set key word alerts via e-mail or text for any products in their general category.

Once they read the customer’s needs online, they have the option of posting their solution, publicly, which gives other vendors and consumers an opportunity to offer counterpoints.

I assume this service already exists in some weaker form. www.answers.yahoo.com is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t broadcast your needs to vendors.

My prediction is that Broadcast Shopping (as I just decided to name it) will become the normal way to shop.

I love “broadcast shopping.”

Where I veer from Scott’s approach is with the assumption that this requires “a site.” That’s because sites become silos, and silos are a big part of the problem we also have with loyalty cards. All are different. All say We have ways of making you shop. Tll trap and control you in their own ways. We need something that serves as a customer’s own tool, and works as simply as a keyring, a car key, an emailing, or a text message. “Here’s what I want: _________.” That’s it.

In business, RFPs use an open protocol (essentially, formalized paperwork and bidding processes). Anybody can use it. We need the same for broadcast shopping. Any of us should be able to broadcast, in a secure and selective way that protects our privacies, specified goods we’re shopping for.

I use the plural of privacy because what we reveal selectively will depend on who we already relate to. For example, say I have a trusted relationship with Nordstrom, Sears and a variety of smaller clothing retailers. I could broadcast only to those stores my need for a tan cotton dress shirt of a particular brand, with a 17″ neck and 31″ sleeves (my actual dimensions, there — I have a linebacker’s neck and arms like a penguin’s flippers). Or I could broadcast the same need to the general marketplace through a fourth party that intermediates on my behalf, not revealing any information about me beside my actual need.

One scenario Scott describes in his post…

For example, let’s say you’re looking for new patio furniture. The words you might use to describe your needs would be useless for Google. You might say, for example, “I want something that goes with a Mediterranean home. It will be sitting on stained concrete that is sort of amber colored. It needs to be easy to clean because the birds will be all over it. And I’m on a budget.”

Your description would be broadcast to all patio furniture makers, and those who believe they have good solutions could contact you, preferably by leaving comments on the web page where you posted your needs. You could easily ignore any robotic spam responses and consider only the personalized responses that include pictures.

… outlines a broad class of needs where the customer’s mind is not yet made up. Those are within the scope of VRM, but I think we should start with cases where the actual requirements are known by the buyer, and the buyer can set the terms of engagement. For example, “I want my receipt emailed to me in (this specified) data format, and I don’t want to receive any promotional material.”

All this is not only do-able, but inevitable.

I’ll conclude with a pitch of my own for funding research and development on this work.

Google should be interested because Advertising in Reverse, or Broadcast Shopping (a term I love, by the way), will either undermine or replace the company’s standing business model (which pays for all those freebies we enjoy).

Microsoft should be interested because this could give them something Google doesn’t have yet.

Yahoo should be interested because they need something new that’s a winning idea. Amazon and eBay should be interested because they’re already in that business, though in a silo’d way.

Oracle should be interested because it will sell more databases and Sun gear.

Apple should be interested because it’s one more area where they can push for new standards on which the range of innovation goes through the roof.

Every retailer and intermediary should be interested because the promise of the Net for buyers is not an infinite variety of closed silos, but a truly open marketplace where any buyer can do business with any seller — and on the buyer’s terms and not just the seller’s.

Like everything else we will come to depend on utterly while remaining absent in the present, VRM is thoroughly disruptive idea. It’s always smart to get ahead of the curve by getting behind what will bend it.

Intention Economy Traction

My thinking out loud about what came to be called VRM began with The Intention Economy at Linux Journal, which I posted from a seat amidst the audience at the 2006 eTech in San Diego. The money ‘graphs:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers.

In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, “I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?” — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business…

I also believe we need to start viewing economies, and markets, from the inside out: from the single buyer toward the surrounding world of sellers. And to start constructing technical solutions to the buyer’s problem of getting what he or she wants from markets, rather than the seller’s problem of getting buyers’ attention.

Now jump forward to David Gillespie‘s 263-slide narrative titled Digital Strangelove (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Internet). It doesn’t mention VRM, but it unpacks what’s really happening with The Internet vs. Media (the former subsumes the latter and undermines all silos, among other good things), and it brings up The Intention Economy, by name, on slide 119. Since this is also the title of the book I’m writing, I find this encouraging.

[Later… David responded with this extraordinarily generous post, in which he makes connections to what we’ve both been saying about The Intention Economy.]

Along those same lines we have Chris Messina’s Don’t Make Me a Target, which brings up VRM this way:

Doc Searls calls this consumer-driven leverage VRM or “vendor relationship management”. I’ve been a fan of the idea, but I think it falls down on the last word: management. Big companies are willing to devote thousands and millions of dollars “managing” their customers; individuals are not. But services like Brightkite and Facebook are beginning to change that by enabling us to leverage our real-time, real-world behavior as a gating apparatus, removing the “management” requirement of VRM, and allowing us to “flow with the go”. As we invite these attention brokers into our list of recipients to whom we release increasingly contextualized and precise information about ourselves, we stand to benefit a great deal. And privacy, then, becomes a rational, economic instrument that determines whether a company gets to serve us well (based on knowing us better) or clumsily (as they make presumptions about us through circumstance rather than intentional disclosure).

Well, again we see how VRM is an imperfect name for what the development movement is actually about, which is making customers customers both independent of vendors, and better able to engage with them. I can’t blame Chris for taking VRM’s third name too literally. But I would encourage him, and everybody else, to take a broader view of what we’re trying to do here.

We’ve been saying for some time that much of the money and effort vendors spend “managing” customers is worse than wasted: it’s disliked or outright hated by customers. VRM is about giving customers ways to manage relations (even if those are just simple interactions) with vendors. This doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. You manage your keys with a ring, and don’t spend millions doing it. VRM won’t work unless it’s key-ring simple. It also won’t work if the only rings you keep in your pocket are ones that vendors give you. The best of these, such as the ones Chris Messina talks about, are steps in the right direction. But at a certain point those steps stop. That point is customer independence, freedom and autonomy. Those are things customers need to have for themselves. Vendors can’t give it to them. That’s why VRM starts with the customer, not the vendor. With his Laws of VRM post, Chris Carfi helps scaffold the concept of VRM with the customer (or, in non-commercial settings, the individual) at the center — as the point of integration, an observation first made by Joe Andrieu.

As David Gillespie points out in his presentation (see slides 37, 38, 50, 55, 66, 73-74…) it’s still early. The Internet is brand new. As I said in Beyond Social Media and Toward Post-Journalism Journalism, the big brands of the Web today (Facebook, Twitter, even Google) are its trilobites and bryzoans. We are in the Net’s paleozoic, not its mesozoic or cenozoic — much less its pleistocene or holocene. The Net feels holocenic to us because now is when we are living and grooving on all the cool new stuff we can do. Still, trust me: it’s early. I’m as impatient as the next geek to get on with it, but it’ll take time. (It pisses me that I’m writing this at age 62, but maybe I wouldn’t be writing it if I were younger.)

So David is right. Intention is the key.

A brief story. Last night on the way home we stopped to pick up some provisions at a big Shaw’s grocery store. We went there because their food selection is enormous, and because  have one of their loyalty fobs on my key ring. In fact it’s one of just two on there (the other is Border’s). So we got our cart, gathered a bunch of groceries and went through one of the store’s self-checkout lanes. I hate those things, because something often goes wrong. But my kid loves them. He digs pressing the buttons, scanning the barcodes and bagging the groceries.

Well, something did go wrong. The machine didn’t ask for our Shaw’s card, or if it did we missed the request. After completing the purchase I realized that we got none of the “discounts,” and went to the customer service counter, where we waited about 20 minutes while the helpful people there tried to unscramble what went wrong. During that time I mentioned to one of the service people that I hated the whole loyalty card thing. She said she hated it too, as did other people at the store. Turns out they hated the self-check-out system too. The loyalty system is a big kluge, with double-pricing for nearly everything,  slow-downs at check-out, constant de-bugging and other problems. And self-check-out is a constant mess. “We’d be better off getting rid of those things and just adding more express lanes,” she said. I agreed.

In the end they couldn’t figure out what I was due back and instead gave me a gift card with a generous sum on it. Humanity overrode The System.

My point: loyalty programs are screwed up, and so are the constant efforts by sellers to automate the crap out of everything (including relationship as well as transaction), in too many cases offloading customer support to customers themselves. There is a distance beyond which this crap can’t work any more, and we’ve reached it. Beyond that point the market requires self-empowered customers, who will gain the ability to manage relating to multiple sellers in simple and uncomplicated ways that are independent of any seller’s silo, yet able to engage with those sellers in better ways than the sellers can provide with their own systems.

Right now vendors resemble the old AOL vs. Compuserve vs. Prodigy days. Its stil 1989. They’re rolling everything for themselves. What they need is to have the Net brought to them. That’s the customer’s job. Also the mission of VRM.

Hot Fodder for next week’s VRM Workshop

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Neil Davey of MyCustomer.com, a major voice in the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) field. The results are up at Doc Searls: Customers will use ID data to force CRM change. Much of what Neil sources for that piece come from my new chapter (“Markets are Relationships”) in the latest edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto (Now with 30% more clues!). In that chapter, Neil says,

Searls sticks the boot into customer relationship management. And even though CRM has become accustomed to bruising encounters, some of these blows hurt – perhaps because there are some painful truths being delivered. CRM, as Searls sees it, would rather have captive customers rather than free ones. To demonstrate this, we only have to examine the language organisations use when referring to customers – how they try to ‘lock in’ customers and ‘retain’ them after they have been ‘acquired’.

Later this week, after I’ve looked more closely at what did and didn’t make it into Neil’s piece (what I said to him, by emai, was quite long), I’ll post some of what was missed.

Meanwhile, a little summary for VRM newbies arriving from the lands of CRM…

The purpose of VRM is to improve markets by enlarging what customers can do, not just what vendors can do. The latter is necessary too; but that’s what all good sellers have always been doing. And there’s a limit to how far that can go.

Better selling alone can’t make better buying. Better marketing alone can’t make better markets. Better CRM alone can’t make better customers. At a certain point customers have to do that for themselves.

That point came when the Internet arrived. It was announced by Chris Locke in The Cluetrain Manifesto, with this very graphic:

notThere was an equipment problem with that statement. Customers were not yet self-equipped with the means for reaching beyond the grasp of old-school marketers and sellers—a school that is still very much in session.

VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) is about equipping customers with their own ways of of relating to vendors. In the larger sense, it’s also for equipping individuals with their own ways of relating to any organization.

Thats the mission of ProjectVRM.org, which I lead as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center. It’s also the mission of a variety of related projects and companies: The Mine! Project, PAOGA, The Banyan Project, MyDex, ListenLog, EmanciPay, Scanaroo, Kynetx, r-button and SwitchBook, to name a subset of the whole community.

Adriana Lukas, who started The Mine! Project, has something new at Market RIOT (Relationships on Individuals’ Own Terms): MINT, for My Information, Not Theirs. She calls it “a movement to redress the balance of market power between vendors and customers, institutions and individuals, web services/platforms and users.” Its obectives:

  • “to create an ecosystem where customer data belongs to the customer, is freely available to individual customer or user, in open formats
  • ‘to help the individual to become the point of integration for his or her transactional data
  • “to encourage development of applications that enable individuals to enjoy the value they can add by managing and analysing their own data (buying behaviour, purchasing patterns and preferences) and potentially benefit vendors, when such information is voluntarily shared by customers.”

This should bring up plenty of discussion at the VRM East Coast Workshop next Monday and Tuesday at Harvard Law School. It’s free. The agenda will be set by participants (on the “open space” model). In addition I am working right now on lining up an opening panel on Tuesday to lead off discussion of user control of data. Stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t signed up already, go here to register for the workshop.

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