VRM is personal

“Social” is a bubble. Trust me on this. I urge all consultants on “social ______” (fill in the blank) to make hay while the sun shines. Even as the current depression deepens, lots of companies are starting to realize that this “social” thing is hot stuff and they need to get hip to Twitter and the rest of it. (Just ask the Motrin folks.)

And it is hot. But much of that heat is relative to its absence in other areas. “Social” has sucked a lot of oxygen out of the online conversational room.

Meanwhile, here’s the challenge: make the Net personal. Make relationships personal. Equip individuals with tools of independence and engagement. That’s what VRM is about.

I bring this up because I just ran across this post by Tim Kitchin, in which he calls VRM a “reductionistically-named discipline” (never thought about it that way, but I suppose he’s right), and sees it as a “form of social brokerage”. Which it might be, if by social you mean just two parties.

Tim writes,

Now there will always be tensions in VRM between those who approach it from a values-based standpoint of individualism and those who see it merely as a source of efficiency gains – the value perspective. Clearly, for it to work, both perspectives must fuse together…and both are also a red herring in some ways.

He’s right — up to that last point. Because the individualism of VRM is about its point of origination: the individual.

At its base VRM is simple: it’s personal. It’s me or you and the vendors (or other organizations) with which we relate — whether that relating is deep or shallow, enduring or transitory. It’s how individual demand drives and relates to supply.

It’s hard to explain that in a world where conversation drifts easily to “social” everything. And where there are aspects of VRM that will become social. Also in the absence of working code. (Though there are some things with VRMmy qualities, and may actually qualify as VRM. I hope to meet some at this afternoon’s VRM Event here in Amsterdam.) And there are individual matters, such as one’s “social graph”, that pertain. But VRM remains primarily an individual matter.

One more thing, and this is personal too. I am not anybody’s “capital”. You or your company may call me an “asset” or think you have “acquired” me, or “own” me as a customer. But I am and wish to remain a free, sovereign and independent agent of my own soul. There is no price on that. But there is far more value in it than anything you can measure with the economics of transaction alone.

Free customers are more valuable than captive ones. That’s the point of VRM. Proving it is our challenge.

Hat tip to Adriana for the pointer.


  1. John Caddell

    Doc, I’ve been following the posts on this blog and other VRM resources for several months now. The biggest barrier for me in understanding it is looking at it from a business’ point of view. I understand that VRM is anti-customer-control, -ownership, -management, etc.

    From the customer standpoint I can understand the benefit of transparency, comparability, negotiated information-sharing, etc.

    What I’m trying to figure out is how this could be attractive to a business. If they don’t find it attractive, they will fight to retain “control”-type activities and systems. How can a business deploy a VRM-friendly business model without relegating itself to commodity-provider status, with the resulting margins and other effects?

    Or is that the objective?

    thanks, John

  2. Tom O'Brien


    Good post. Social Media is bad practice and bad terminology. The web is just plumbing that enables relationships. Or, if you prefer, you can spam and talk at people in more channels than ever before in recorded history.

    Everyone gets to choose, and I think those who choose relationships over spamming will win.

    Tom O’Brien

  3. Jim Bursch

    I only wish I had a pin that could hasten the bursting of this silly bubble.

    When Murdock bought MySpace my first thought was, “sucker”. It had the stink of AOL/Time Warner all over it. Facebook has a similar odor, although not yet fully ripened.

    Craigslist is the only thing in this space that has anything like a legitimate business model, and it’s not even a business! They don’t self-identified as a business, and I take them at their word.

    I’m also sick of the design style that every social-puke startup has — that muted pastel neutral color pallette with a bubbly font and faceless busts all “connected”.

    As a social retard, I pine for the days when the internet was about making connections, not popularity.

    I’m reading Pip Coburn’s “The Change Function” and he points out that there is something seriously wrong with an industry (Silicon Valley venture capital) that tolerates a 75%-90% failure rate of product development.

    That failure rate probably makes sense in a boom/bust bubble industry — like wildcatting for oil. It strikes me as unhealthy. Is that simply because the industry is immature? Is it just part of growing up?

  4. Jim Bursch

    Hi John

    I would like to offer an answer to your question about the value-add of VRM to businesses.

    Currently, every business collects and manages its own customer data (CRM). The problem is that the data, from the customer perspective, is redundant across vendors and it is often inaccurate and/or out-of-date. The value to businesses is that placing the management of the data with its source — the customer:

    a. Reduces data storage and management/maintenance costs
    b. Gives business access to more data
    c. Gives business access to accurate data
    d. Gives busess access to timely data

    A business that is dependent on exclusive customer data for its competitive advantage will not fair well in a VRM environment. But businesses that focuses on providing value to their customers based on complete, accurate and timely data would do well — as well they should.

  5. Cliff Gerrish

    I guess I’d ask if there are individuals who are not social. Is it possible to draw a line around yourself and claim disconnection from all human networks? If that’s the case, the “R” in “VRM” would not be necessary. A relationship throws off data, it’s valuable for the vendor to keep track of it. If it becomes valuable to an individual to keep track of, she will. If not, not. The rights to the data is determined by the terms of the relationship. Co-ownership is likely, as it takes two to tango.

    Updating profile data across multiple relationships is of limited value. In other words, it’s only valuable on a significant event. Updating for the purposes of updating creates accuracy without value. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if something is wrong or inconsistent.

  6. Justin Kistner

    “Social” is a bubble. Trust me on this. I urge all consultants on “social ______” (fill in the blank) to make hay while the sun shines. Even as the current depression deepens, lots of companies are starting to realize that this “social” thing is hot stuff and they need to get hip to Twitter and the rest of it. (Just ask the Motrin folks.)

    Amen! Social is really just communication. Twitter is just a derivative of a chat room, which is a derivative of IRC, which is a derivative of BBS, etc. Social networks, blogs, and such are really just communication devices; albeit virtual vs. physical devices like phones.

    If you want a long term career, position yourself now as being in the business of communication systems and/or a communication professional, like PR or Corporate Communications. The formats that power communication will come and go, but the underlying power of social skills, communication skills, and one’s network remains the same. In the coming years businesses will need more help with the fundamentals than the technology.

  7. Jonathan

    As a name, Vendor Relationship Management is good, mainly because it
    a) uses a software-ish naming convention, which makes it easier to describe via analogies to engineers who need to build it and maybe investors/foundations who need to fund it.
    b) can be described as a counter-system to CRM, which is a widely-understood concept.
    c) clearly aspires to foster practical personal benefit, by getting you the products/services you and your family really need and a price you can afford to pay.

    Even though I understood the rhetoric of the “attention liberation movement” 🙂 I was always turned off by its lack of focus on tangible benefit for me, the individual. It was only when I heard the term VRM — obviously closely related, but with a different goal — that I got really excited about the vision.

    And, of course, VRM will live or die based on one factor: the extent to which an average (busy, lazy and non-technical) person is willing and able to create and manage the information needed to enable vendors to provide improved services.

  8. Doc Searls

    (I posted a comment here before, but apparently it didn’t take. )

    John, if VRM isn’t good for sellers as well as buyers, it won’t work. That’s why it’s called relationship management.

    CRM systems are all about “improving the customer experience” already. VRM is about the same thing, but from the buyer’s side. They meet in the middle and cooperate on terms that work for both.

    Same is true if no CRM system is involved. You don’t need CRM to do VRM. I just brought it up to talk about reciprocity and positive-sum engagement.

    Free customers are more valuable than captive ones because they are able to bring far more to the seller’s table. Better information is just one of many variables. Better demand is another. Most sellers who do captive customer maintanence (the ones trying to “acquire”, “own” and “lock in” customers) don’t see the money they leave on the table. They only see the forms of demand they allow themselves to see. This blindered approach becomes self-justifying, because all information outside of it is ignored.

    As for making VRM attractive to business, that’s a challenge. I think that PayChoice is one avenue. There will be others as well. Personal RFPs are money waiting to be taken. Advertising and other forms of guesswork are expenses waiting to be reduced. VRM can do that.

  9. Vladimir Dimitroff

    ‘Social’ doesn’t have to be the opposite of VRM or individualist. The trouble with ‘social’ is that the hype-driven fans (and self-proclaimed ‘practitioners’) have never outgrown their 20th century roots of ‘mass’ (mass production, mass communication, mass marketing). Thus they see ‘social’ as a one-to-many relationship between a business and a multitude (for them – a crowd), like the relationship of a farmer with a herd of cattle. The business (the farmer) wants to use ‘social’ tools to drive the herd (customer masses) his way: for milking. Or to the butcher.

    They are unable to grasp the concept of ‘social’ being a many-to-many model, an infinite multitude of one-to-one relationships, where each ‘one’ matters. ‘Mass’ is a thing of the past, this is the 21st century (Hello!?!). ‘Social’ today means that I need a million versions of my product personalised for a million individual cuatomers. I need a million-line pricelist, one for each customer, to charge him/her what I should. And (this is tough to swallow!) I need to allow (not just allow: invite and reward!) a million strangers to mess with the way I run my business. To empower them to design and even produce my products, market and sell them, and porvide customer care and support to one another.

    When I first used ‘CRM 2.0’ some 3 years ago, behind the sarcastic referral to the Web 2.0 fad was a view of changing meanings of all 3 letters of the tired acronym. Customers are now more than that, converging with other stakeholder entities like Employees and Investors. The Relationship becomes an intricate mesh of one-to-one-s; and Customers are no longer Managed, they increasingly take the driving seat and Manage – relationships and a lot more…

    Just my $ 0.02 on a complex, but worthy and IMHO historic subject.
    Season’s greetings and best wishes for a (truly) social 2009!

  10. Sovereign Atlanta Ga

    The momentum that “social” and web 2.0 has created is amazing. Not a day goes by where I do not hear about twitter and tweeting.. Yet as you say there is still a large degree of anonymity within the whole “system”. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves.

  11. Plumbers in Wakefield

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  13. Chere Bausman

    Once you fall off of the wagon it can be very hard to get back on again. This is a reasonable amount of time that you can afford to spend for your body.

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