Doc Searls: VRM and the new tools of engagementby
Vendor relationship management will change buyer-seller relationships by providing new means for engagement. Doc Searls highlights some of the most notable forms of VRM that are emerging.
A few months ago, Doc Searls - co-author of the groundbreaking book The Cluetrain Manifesto - was kind enough to share some of his predictions about the future of the buyer-seller relationship, forecasting that emerging technology and processes would enable customers to "carry some of the relationship weight" in what has traditionally been a very one-sided dynamic. This is what is commonly referred to as vendor relationship management (VRM). And for the second part of this interview, we’ll be looking at the kinds of vendor relationship management techniques that are emerging, and how these will ultimately provide new means for engagement.
- Personal data stores - A kind of data warehouse in which individuals store all the data about themselves, personal data stores would include information such as administrative details, transaction histories, interaction histories, supplier information, personal preferences and future plans. VRM envisions that these personal data stores can then be replicated with trusted ‘fourth parties’ to aid interactions and transactions with vendors. Mydex.org is one example of such a project.
- Simplifying personal data - Some are working on ways of simplifying and representing personal data. Azigo.com, for instance, has created software called Selector that gives individuals control of their personal data via information cards, enabling them to manage their online identities independent of any particular website. Meanwhile, Kynetx.com has been exploring architecture and creating solutions built on a rules engine for contextual customisation. The development tools will allow users to create context-sensitive, cross-platform apps to support relationships between customers and companies, with Kynetx.com integrating with information cards.
- Consolidating loyalty data - Some are working on ways of consolidating loyalty data on the customer side and reforming loyalty programs from the outside in. A good example of this is Scanaroo from Cerado.com, which allows individuals to use their iPhone to keep track of and support loyalty cards.
- Digital identity systems - All the many digital identity systems VRM components and constituents. Information cards, OpenID and XDI all seek to allow individuals to control their identity, data and relationships without vendor/provider dependence, addressing the issues associated with signing up to new sites or updating online profiles whenever your data changes. Relationship cards – also known as r-cards – are a new form of information card that has been developed by the Higgins Project. These can enable automated data sharing relationships between individuals, vendors, or vendors and individuals. Elsewhere, digital identity system communities such as IdentityCommons.org also have CRM constituents.
- Personal data analytics - Some are also working on simple customer-held means for organising one’s own data and relationships. This will enable individuals to track trends such as spending, anticipate changes after major life events (such as marriage), and use ‘people like you’ comparisons to highlight where resources could be better managed. TheMineProject.org is one such example, which allows users to take charge or their own data, arrange and share it whilst connected to the internet, whilst providing an infrastructure for VRM.
- Personal request for proposal - Here a personal request for proposal (RFP) is sent from an individual advertising his or her desire to buy a product or service at a given place and time ("and not just through a walled garden such as Facebook or eBay," adds Searls). The requests can even extend to specifications for products/services that do not even exist yet. The RFPs can take the form of one-to-one requests, from a named individual to one or more names companies; or aggregated, where multiple individuals’ requests are collated and delivered to companies by an intermediary, after which the organisation responds either individually or collectively; or anonymised where an intermediary delivers the requests and is the sole contact point for the business throughout the transaction.
- Permissions management - Permission management allows the individual to specify the rules of engagement for marketing relationships, covering both the release of information and the receiving of information. Individuals can choose what data to release to what organisations, for what purposes and on what conditions. For instance, in the US numerous organisations are working on patient control of their own health care data and relationships with health care providers. Google and Microsoft are amongst the organisations working on this.
- Other significant developments - In other VRM areas, work is being undertaken on a means for logging one's own media usage, and providing means for putting the pricing gun in customer hands, for instance ProjectVRM and its friends in various media businesses. Others are working on customer-driven terms of service, such as ProjectVRM and friends at Harvard Law School and elsewhere. And elsewhere, others are working on user driven search, outside the walled gardens of Google and Bing, with Switchbook.com being a notable example.
Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 20 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined MyCustomer in 2007.