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Looks like IBM and I Bookare in agreement. Last week the first image you saw at IBM’s site (at least here in the U.S.) was a larger version of the one on the left, with the headline “Meet the new Chief Executive Customer. That’s who’s driving the new science of marketing.”

At the “learn more” link, the headline reads, “The new CMO and the science of giving people what they want.” In the copy there’s this:

In this highly connected world of commerce and communication, you can no longer market broadly to a demographic. A consumer doesn’t want to be a “segment.” She’s an individual. To capture and keep her business, she must be treated as one.

The onus of this evolution has landed on the doorstep of the Chief Marketing Officer. And that means that the mind-set, as well as the skill set, of a CMO has to evolve right along with it. IBM has identified the three mandates for the new CMO.

The first of those is “Harness data to paint a predictive picture of each customer as an individual—on a massive scale.” The second is “Create ‘systems of engagement’ so you do more than shape desire—you predict it. The third is “Design your culture and brand so they are authentically one.”

Above that last one it says this:

Your brand is tested in every interaction. Today, the same transparency that allows you to understand each customer as an individual; conversely allows each customer to understand everything about your company. And gaps between what the brand promises and what it delivers are known―not just by those who experience them, but by others in their social network. Thus how authentically a culture lives its brand becomes the measure of success. This is the heart of becoming a social business. Marketing’s role is to close the gaps by building a system so that in every interaction brand and culture are one.

Two problems with that. Also two opportunities:

  1. Transparency isn’t what allows a company to understand each customer as an individual. Direct interaction is. Better yet, direct interaction that the customer drives, in her own way.
  2. “Becoming a social business” is very 2011. Business was personal in the first place, and it will be personal again. What the hell is a Chief Executive Customer if she doesn’t have direct personal influence with the company?

IBM is familiar with CRM: Customer Relationship Management. Now it needs to get familiar with VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. Because it’s with VRM tools and services that customers will have the means to tell companies exactly what IBM’s headline welcomes: what they want.

Meanwhile, here’s the bad news for Big Data: what customers don’t want, most of the time, is to be told constantly what they want. Or to be told that their Chief Executive status with a company derives from a “predictive picture” derived from “harnessed data” about one’s individual self — least of all “on a massive scale” in which desire is not only “shaped” but “predicted.” IBM continues,

Today’s abundance of data helps companies understand each customer in multiple dimensions. This leads to insights which, when combined, help build a clearer understanding of each customer as an individual. With that, marketers can make better decisions about the mix that will serve customers more completely—based on needs, desire, likely next action, opinions. Today’s marketing practice requires building this capability of understanding customers as individuals across millions of interactions.

There is no clearer sign that a relationship has gone bad than this statement: “We don’t need to talk. I already know what you’re going to say.” Or worse, “I can also shape your desire.” Hell, that’s a relationship headed for divorce, and it’s hardly begun.

But that’s what Big Data marketing is about — so far — and why it will fail if the customer is not truly involved as an independent and autonomous human being, and not just as a “million points of data:+” (IBM’s term), and then as a target for messages and offers, based on the crunching of that data.

On that same page IBM posts this short pile of Big Data stats:

Earth to IBM and CMOs: The next era isn’t social. It’s personal. No amount of marketing analytics will out-perform knowing exactly what the customer wants, intends, or wishes to contribute to the company’s intelligence about the marketplace —in her own ways, and on her own terms.

If a brand wants to be fully understood and respected — and if it deserves both — it needs to be ready for customers to truly engage, and not just be told what they’re like, and then guessed at.

The means for that will be provided by both sides, not just by one. Until IBM and CMOs welcome independent customers, operating at full agency, outside any company’s silo or walled garden, all this mandating will be the sound of one hand shaking.

 

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(Cross-posted from the ProjectVRM blog.)

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones.

Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a  in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with  (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by  and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the  series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined . The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. Some have personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers” or “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

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CRM and IIW

It just occurred to me that everything being worked on at IIW is meaningful to CRM. I had been thinking that only the VRM stuff was meaningful, but I realize now that all the IIW stuff is, because — from a CRM perspective — it’s all about customer empowerment. And empowered customers are entities that CRM will welcome, sooner or later.

Here’s the list of IIW topics on the IIW home page:

  • Open Standards that have been born and developed at IIW – OpenID, OAuth, Activity Streams, Portable Contacts, Salmon Protocol, SCIM, UMA ….
  • The Federated Social Web
  • Vendor Relationship Management
  • Personal Data Services -  collection, storage and value generation
  • Anonymity Pseudonymity and Reputation Online (think google+ controversy)
  • Legal Innovation including, Information Sharing Agreements, Data Ownership Agreements and the development of “trust” frameworks.
  • NSTIC – the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (it uses the term “user-centric identity” 4 times & “citizen-centric identity” once)
  • Cloud Identity and the intersection of enterprise ID and people (consumer) ID

With this in mind we (a bunch of VRM and IIW people) decided that Wednesday afternoon is when we’ll have the VRM+CRM session, although we can have CRM sessions anytime, because the whole workshop is an unconference and participants choose the topics. But if you’re into the future of CRM, that afternoon session will be a good one to hit.

There is also the whole next day, currently thus described:

Thursday is Yukon Day: One of the longtime themes of IIW is how identity and personal data intersect.  Many important discussions about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) have also taken place at IIW.  In recognition of how personal data and identity are intertwined, the third day of the IIW, will be designated “IIW + Yukon” and will stress the emerging personal data economy.  The primary theme will be personal data control and leverage, where the individual controls and drives the use of their own data, and data about them held by other parties.

This isn’t social. It’s personal.  This day you can expext open-space style discuss ions of personal data stores (PDS), PDS ecosystems, and VRM.  One purpose of Yukon is to start to focus on business models and value propositions, so we will specifically be reaching out to angels and VC’s who are interested in personal data economy plays and inviting them to attend.

Yukon” is a play on “You Control.”

So, if CRM is your thing, IIW would be a good place to see what’s coming in CRM’s direction.

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

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It’s been a week since VRM+CRM 2010, and there have been many conversations on private channels (emails, face-to-face, phone-to-phone, face-to-faces), all “processing,” as they say. Meanwhile we also have some very interesting postings to chew on. (Note: This is cross-posted here.)

First, Bill Wendell‘s RealEstateCafe wiki has a nice outline of sessions at the workshop. Better than our own, so far, I might add. Great notes behind his many links, and an excellent resource.

Next, there is Katherine Warman Kerns’s Making Sense of Things (which follows her HuffPo piece, Will VRMCRM2010 disrupt ambiguity?). Here Katherine puts on some hats we both shared as veterans of the advertising and media businesses, and does some great thinking out loud about better ways for marketing energy to be spent than CRM, online advertising and FSIs (I believe these are Free Standing Inserts). An excerpt:

What if that 3% in CRM, the 1% in FSI’s, and the less than 1% online are the same heavy TV watchers with nothing better to do?You’d think there would be a lot of investment in innovation to develop “something better”, but innovators are getting mixed signals from advertisers.  Most businesses still advertise  in order to convince retailers and/or Wall Street that they are supporting the brand.

Few outsiders understand that advertising has become a business to business marketing tactic more than a business to “consumer” tactic. Instead of paying attention to advertising spending trends -  dropping from 40.6 % of the total media/marketing industry in 1975 to 17.2% in 2009 . . . . . .  the Venture world pays attention to the proportional amount spent on different tactics: “what this chart (provided by GOOGLE’s Hal Varian) says is that over that past decade Internet has gone from nothing to 5% of all the ad spend in the US”.  As I point out in my comment on this post, “At 5% of 17.2% that puts internet advertising at less than 1% of total media/marketing revenues. “

Ignoring this fundamental change in the market, an amazing amount of money is wasted on investing in incremental change.  For example, the race is on (reportedly, over $40 Billion a year) to upgrade CRM technology to improve predictive accuracy so that 3% will go up.

I’m all for continuous improvement process . . .  but, when the starting point is single digit success and that success may not even be among the desirable demographic who leaves the house, doesn’t it make sense to spend some of that money developing Plan B?

Hey if everyone on the team is aiming for the same corner of the goal with a single digit success rate, doesn’t it make sense to develop the skill to go after the remaining 90%+ of the goal?Until something better comes along, a market leader, P&G is quietly investing in the “new media” segment, “custom digital publishing”, to reach their target with less waste and to identify “thought leaders” to engage in their leading edge open innovation process.  Two examples are beinggirl.com and the partnership with NBCU to produce lifegoesstrong.com.

A new technology movement is creating a possibility to offer something even better: making it possible to shift the paradigm from improving Business to Customer communications to improving Customer to Business communicationInstead of wasting money on better ways to interrupt customers with messages, the customers are enabled to tell business when and what they want information. Project Vendor Relationship Management is the thought leadership evangelizing this premise and encouraging technology development.  On August 26-27, a workshop calledVRMCRM2010 introduced many of these technologies to VRM fans and receptive CRM professionals.

Media has an opportunity to use this technology to give all participants “The Freedom to be Ourselves”.   Instead of self-censuring because of uncertainty over what, with whom, or when their participation will be available for exploitation in “cyberspace”, participants may manage the release of identity, content, and information “in context”.   AND this control can be mutual – for  the “formerly known as audience”, the “formerly known as creative content producers”**, and the “formerly known as advertisers”.

Mutual benefit has the potential to breakdown the siloes which are barriers to collaborate on innovation.  Indeed, VRMCRM- like technologies offer a blank canvas of possibilities for media and marketing innovation to  disrupt ambiguity.

Next, Dan Miller’s In Spite of Investment in “Social CRM”, Enterprises are Still not Paying Attention. Dan, who led the CRM panel at the workshop, sees CRM and social CRM as a train wreck in progress:

…current solutions that are based in CRM and social CRM capture and conduct analysis on a broad set of customer generated data and metadata. Companies think they are doing a better job of paying attention but, whether they admit it to themselves or not, they continue to use their resources to analyze activity, target messages and promotions and influence future activity. That’s not listening or engaging in a meaningful conversation.

VRM involves a totally different engagement model. “Users” (be they shoppers, searchers, mobile subscribers or “other”) initiate conversations with their selected vendors through a trusted resource or advocate. They can compare notes with other shoppers/customers and, while they may be loyal to a brand, they are more loyal to themselves and their peers. In the ideal, the power shifts to the shopper in ways that will disintermediate traditional channels (like the contact center) and influencers (meaning commercials and advertisements).

The train wreck is not the result of there being too many names for the social CRM phenomenon, it is that CRM and VRM are on a collision course whereby one side seeks to grant more power to buyers while the other seeks to retain nearly all the power by pretending to do a better job of listening.

On the other hand, Denis Pombriant sees social CRM as having some promise for VRM, and writes about that in VRM’s Missing Ingredient, also posted as VRM and CRM Meet. An excerpt:

The great thing about social CRM is that it lets the genie out of the bottle.  It introduces randomness and uncertainty to the puzzle and that’s largely a good thing.  You can’t program a customer relationship, there are too many permutations and customers do things you just can’t always predict.

My big takeaway from the conference is the wisdom of crowds, the idea that since you can’t predict, take a deep breath and stop trying.  Instead, just ask the customer and, if you do it right, you’ll get amazing insights.  It struck me that the wisdom of crowds is, perhaps, one thing that VRM could incorporate with great success.

Mitch Lieberman (@mjayliebs) put up a nice summary of #vrmcrm2010 tweets through September 1. Here’s the current Twitter search for the tag.

Even though the workshop was well-attended by CRM folks (and some of their customers), I was struck by how widely varied that business actually is. The distinction between CRM and sCRM is but one of very many.

In fact I had already been schooled on this by my old friend Larry Augustin, whom I got to know well back when he was a major force in the Linux community, and now runs SugarCRM. You can’t have a $15 billion (give or take… I still haven’t seen any numbers since 2008) business without a great deal of variation in what is sold to whom, and how it is used.

And, of course, relating to customers is not the sole province of CRM itself. I would bet that most customer-supporting corporate Twitter entities (e.g. @BigCoCares) began as individual efforts within their companies, completely outside those companies’ CRM systems, including call centers. These as a class now qualify as sCRM, I suppose. But in any case, it’s complicated.

So is VRM, of course. It starts from the individual, but can go in many directions after that. Here are a few of my own take-aways, all arguable, of course:

  1. You can’t get to VRM from CRM, or even sCRM, any more than you can get to personal from social. But VRM needs to engage both. And both need to engage VRM.
  2. You can’t get to VRM from advertising, either. Trying to make VRM from advertising is like trying to make green from red. The closest you’ll get is brown.
  3. We have code, and were able to show some off (or at least talk about it), and that was great. Adam Marcus’ talk on r-buttons, while delayed by equipment failings (not his — the classroom’s built-in projection system on Day One was flaky), showed how users and site owners could signal their intentions toward each other with symbols that actually worked. Renee Lloyd unpacked the (very friendly) legal side of that too. Iain Henderson gave a nice forecast of the Personal Data Store (PDS) trials that MyDex will be running in the UK shortly. Phil Windley vetted the work Kynetx is doing with the Kynetx Rules Language (KRL). It also amazed me that, even when the workshop was over, many people stayed late, on a Friday, to see Craig Burton give a quick demonstration of KRL at work. (See the photo series that starts here.) Joe Andrieu didn’t show his code at work, but gave a great talk on how search is more than queries. I could go on, but to sum up: this was a watershed moment for the VRM community.
  4. It’s still early. Maybe very early. At the end of the workshop I was asked the What’s Next question. My reply was that it’s great to see a fleet of planes airborne after watching them head down the runway for three years — and that they’re all heading in different directions. Also, they’re not the only planes. Beyond that the future is what we make it, and we’ve still got a lot of making to do.
  5. VRM+CRM is a live topic. There was much talk afterward of next steps with workshops, conferences and other kinds of gatherings, in addition to a list for people wanting to follow up with focused conversation. Stay tuned for more on all that.
  6. VRM is not just the counterpart of CRM. There are VRM efforts, such as The Mine! Project, that address one-to-one relating outside the scope both of identity systems (from which some VRM efforts originated) and of CRM. These also matter a great deal, and are very close to the heart of VRM’s mission.
  7. GRM has mojo going. Two years ago, Britt Blaser was the only GRM guy at that VRM workshop, and had trouble drawing a crowd. This time he brought his own crowd, and drew a bigger one. Very encouraging.
  8. I’m still not entirely sure what ProjectVRM should become as it spins out of the Berkman Center. I want it to be lightweight and useful. I’ll be involved, obviously; and we’ll always have a kinship connection with Berkman. Specifics beyond that are forthcoming, probably in the next three weeks.

I’ll think of others, but I’m out of time right now. Please add your own. And thanks again to everybody who participated. It was a great workshop.

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First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

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 calls , 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 in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . 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 , 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 (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.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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VRM + CRM 2010

So that’s the logo for the first VRM+CRM workshop, which will happen on 26-27 August, at Harvard Law School. It’s free. You can register here.

ProjectVRM, which I’ve been running as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center has been growing nicely over the past four years, and is on its way toward becoming an independent entity. (It will exist, as always, to support a community of developers and interested parties outside of the project itself.) It’s funny, I remember Jeremie Miller, who encouraged me to choose VRM (before it had that name) as my Berkman project when I started out in late summer of 2006, telling me “it will take five years.” Meaning that’s generally how long any new world-changing development effort spends in the quiet shadows before it breaks out into the open and starts taking off. (If it does at all.) That’s about how long it took for Jeremie’s own Jabber/XMPP efforts. (He predicted five years at the beginning of that too, and he was just a kid then. Wise dude.)

I’ve liked keeping VRM in the shadows, because I felt that code mattered more than anything. Code talks. Buzz walks. And I say that even though I’m not bad at generating buzz when I need to. Now the code base is growing enough that many of us feel a need to start talking about it. Especially to potential partners in the business world.

We’ve described VRM as the “reciprocal” of CRM at various times. It’s much more than that, actually. Its tools that give individuals independence from others, yet useful means for engaging with others — especially organizations, and among those especially sellers. But the core elements are individuals and independence.

I’ve also seen VRM from the start as fundamentally an open source effort, not a commercial one. I also saw open source tools, with their high use-value, having enormous leverage into sale-value for any company selling products or services based on those open tools. This would include, among other things, many fourth-party services — itself another whole new category.

CRM in the meantime has grown to become a $15-billion business. It has also lately enlarged its intrest to include Social CRM. Our friend Paul Greenberg has written extensively on both, and is the driving force behind Destination CRM next week in New York. (Which I hate to miss, but have a prior commitment elsewhere.) Since VRM will be a topic at Destination CRM, and we can get space here at Harvard before the students come back, we put together the workshop to follow at the other end of the same month.

The workshop is for VRM and CRM developers and other interested parties (such as CRM customers) together to start building out the common ground between them. The nature of relationship is to exist between and apart from both parties. Neither controls the other. Both work together, in a common space between the two. We haven’t had that space before. The default on the CRM side (and one that predates CRM itself) is for vendors to control relationships with customers. What VRM proposes is that neither controls the other, but both manage the space between them, in mutually beneficial ways.

The workshop will mostly be an unconference, though there will be some opening briefings by VRM and CRM folks, to set the stage for sessions to follow. Here are a few of the topics and questions I expect will come up. (These are copied over from a post I just put up over on the ProjectVRM blog.) –

  • Terms of service. How can we get past the legal hurdles and shackles that inconvenience both buyers and sellers when they get acquainted?
  • Privacy policies. How can we reduce the suspicions and frictions that these involve?
  • Personal data. What tools, methods and services are being developed for individuals to keep track of data they generate or is being kept by sellers and other parties? What means do we have for sharing or exchanging that data in secure and trustable ways?
  • Signaling. What new methods will both individuals and organizations have for notifying each other of interests, intentions, policies, preferences, or changes in any of those? How can we make these common across the industry, rather than different for every organization?
  • Self-tracking and personal informatics. What vendor-independent means are being developed for individuals to keep track of their own personal data, and manage it?
  • Interactive shopping. The Live Web we saw coming in 2005 is here. So is the mobile one. Combine those facts with the ability to issue personal RFPs (or just to publish your shopping list to trusted retailers and fourth parties), and what do you get?
  • Search. What new paradigms for searching are being developed, especially in the context of all the topics above?
  • Non-coercive loyalty. What ways are being developed for individuals to express and manage their own forms of loyalty to sellers and other organizations? How can this improve existing loyalty programs?
  • Personal RFPs or Advertising in Reverse. How can individual customers notify whole market categories of their intent to purchase a product, safely and securely, without inviting a torrent of promotional jive in response?
  • Leveraging base-level protocols, standards and tools. There are hundreds of thousands of free and open source tools, protocols and other goods already in the world, ready to serve as free building materials and guidelines. What can we use of these, and what new ones do we need? What new ones are in development on the VRM side?
  • Reducing MLOTT — Money Left On The Table. In our current system, a huge sum of demand goes un-met because of the the means for communicating interest and availability are on the supply side. How (including the means listed above and others) can we equip demand to notify supply of money ready to be spent? In the old days this was seen as “lead generation” by suppliers. But now it’s time to get past that.
  • Tie-ins with SCRM. Social CRM is the hottest topic in CRM. How can VRM connect with and through social networking? Important question: Should “social” be restricted to just what can be done through Facebook, Twitter and other commercial services?
  • Patient-driven health care. How can individuals be the collection points for their own health data, and the point of origination for what gets done with it?
  • API symphonics. The commercial world is increasingly building around a collection of interconnected APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. Many CRM systems are built around their own APIs. VRM will surely connect into many APIs. How should we be thinking about and guiding evolution here?
  • The oppposite of cookies. Sites and companies of all kinds have been keeping track of customers through cookies since the mid-’90s. How can customers do the same with their suppliers?

Feel free to add your own, correct these, or make other recommendations.

More details on the event wiki page.

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VRM meets CRM

CRM Magazine has devoted much of its May 2010 issue, including its cover and lead stories, to VRM and the growing power of individual customers, within which VRM is one vector.

Naturally, is also covered, since it pointed in this same direction, long ago.

This is an impressive move on the part of the CRM Magazine folks, and I hope the industry it covers follows its lead.

I put up a longer post about this over at the ProjectVRM blog. Read the rest there. And if any of ya’ll have a hard copy of the magazine, please save it, since I haven’t seen one yet and would like to collect a few in any case.

Meanwhile, a high five to Tara Hunt, who introduced the CRM Magazine folks to VRM, and got the ball rolling with then.

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First, read Dave‘s The Mother of all Business Models. The money grafs:

Want to get a message to Dave while he’s on the BART riding under SF? $5. Want to get a message to him while he’s walking the tradeshow at CES? That costs more.

If you’re important enough you shouldn’t even pay to use the mobile device. They’re going to make so much money from your attention. If you’re really important, thinking Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mike Arrington, they should pay you — a LOT — to use their device. Wow.

That got me excited. That’s what they have to be thinking at Google. And why not Twitter. Trying to think of a title for this post, I came up with The Mother of All Business Models. This is as far as I can see. A new economy. Nobodies pay, but important people are paid to use your brand cell phone/mobile device. I’m sure that’s the future. Might be horrible but we’re already almost there.

This is great stuff: a whole new frame for the sell side.

Now let’s look at the buy side, and how to keep the sellers from being horrible moms. What do we want there? Or what should we want there, if we knew we had the power, independent of advertisers and their media? I mean native power here: power that each of us has — not by grace of some company or government agency, and not limited to a company’s “platform”, which is almost always the floor of a silo or the lawn of a walled garden (and worth less or nothing outside of it).

We already have some of that power, thanks to protocols, formats and code that (essentially) nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. One of the most widespread of those, thanks to Dave, is RSS — Really Simple Syndication. Look up RSS on Google. You get 3,210,000,000 results, as of today. Much of that huge number owes to RSS’s nature as essential builing material for the Web that anybody can use, easily.

RSS is easy to make yours, personally, as your tool. Thanks to RSS (atop the Web’s and the Net’s other supportive standards, formats and protocols) anybody can produce, edit, update and syndicate pretty much whatever they like. You don’t have to go to Google or Twitter or Facebook. That independence is key, and has been there from the start, as a founding premise.

Now, what else can we create, to help assert our sides of commercial interactions and relationships — which is the central concern of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) community? In the Markets Are Relationships chapter of the 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I wrote this about the purposes of VRM efforts:

  1. Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual’s control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.
  2. Make individuals the collection centers for their own data, so that transaction histories, health records, membership details, service contracts, and other forms of personal data are no longer scattered throughout a forest of silos.
  3. Give individuals the ability to share data selectively, without disclosing more personal information than the individual allows.
  4. Give individuals the ability to control how their data is used by others, and for how long. At the individual’s discretion, this may include agreements requiring others to delete the individual’s data when the relationship ends.
  5. Give individuals the ability to assert their own terms of service, reducing or eliminating the need for organization-written terms of service that nobody reads and everybody has to “accept” anyway.
  6. Give individuals means for expressing demand in the open market, outside any organizational silo, without disclosing any unnecessary personal information.
  7. Make individuals platforms for business by opening the market to many kinds of third party services that serve buyers as well as sellers.
  8. Base relationship-managing tools on open standards, open APIs (application program interfaces), and open code. This will support a rising tide of activity that will lift an infinite variety of business boats, plus other social goods.
  9. The Intention Economy.

All these will also give rise to:

The latter is the title of the following section of the chapter, where I  explain that advertising is a bubble, and “so is the rest of the ‘attention economy’ that includes promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and other ways of pushing messages through media.” I then explain,

The attention economy will crash for three reasons. First, it has always been detached from the larger economy where actual goods and services are sold to actual customers. Second, it has always been inefficient and wasteful, flaws that could be rationalized only by the absence of anything better. Third, a better system will come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. In other words, when the “intention economy” outperforms the attention economy.

Some context:

The attention economy will not go away. There will still be a need for vendors to promote their offerings. But that promotion will have a new context: the ability of customers to communicate what they need and want—and to maintain or terminate relationships. Thus the R in CRM will cease to be a euphemism. This will happen when we have standard protocols for all three forms of market activity: transaction, conversation, and relationship.

Transaction we already have. Conversation we are only beginning to develop. (Email, text messaging, and other standard and open protocols help here, but they are still just early steps—even in in 2009, ten years after we said “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.) Relationship is the wild frontier. Closed “social” environments like MySpace and Facebook are good places to experiment with some of what we’ll need, but as of today they’re still silos. Think of them as AOL 2.0.

Now, what do we need to create The Intention Economy? (That link goes to a piece by that name written almost four years ago.) What’s already there, like RSS and its relatives, that we can put to use? What new protocols, formats, tools and code do we need to create?

Improving selling is a good thing. Improving buying is a better thing. And improving how buyers and sellers relate is better than both. Those last two are what VRM is about. (And the last one is what CRM has always been about, though it hasn’t had any reciprocating system on the buy side, which is what VRM will provide.)

If you want to see some of what we’re up to, or to contribute to it, here’s the wiki. And here’s the list.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a book titled The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. If you’re interested in pointing me to helpful scholorship, research and stories for the book, feel free to weigh in with those too.

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An IT Conversations interview on Framing the Net. At eComm 2009.

On how free customers are more better than captive ones. At The Ideas Project. I spoke in closer to final draft than usual here. A transcript. Some samples:

  • What we’ve had since companies won the Industrial Revolution is the belief that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We never knew what a free customer was. We never encountered one. The Internet makes that possible; the Internet sets customers free. Free customers are far more capable of providing intelligence to companies than captive ones are.
  • …’free range’ customers are going to be coming at companies, telling them things that the old dairy-system cattle chutes never allowed customers to say before. That’s going to be good for companies; it’s going to be good for CRM systems…
  • …it would be really great if we had our own terms of service. When you walk into a store, you have great terms of service. You look like a good customer; you’re wearing a blazer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing jeans; you might actually buy something. They don’t want your identity. They don’t want you to become a member, or anything else like that, in order to spend your money and be a loyal customer. In fact, you’re more likely to be a loyal customer if they don’t interrogate you and make things difficult for you. The way CRM systems tend to work, especially online; they want to scrape up as much data about you so they can spam you later with guesswork about what you might want. It’s almost always annoying, and give you surveys which are almost always a bad guess at what you want.
  • VRM, which is vendor relationship management, (is) the reciprocal of customer relationship management. It’s where the customer controls their information. We become, as a customer, the integration point for our own data, our transaction histories, our credit histories, our preferences, and then the origination point for the way those are used.
  • Advertising is fundamentally flawed. It’s flawed because it’s guesswork. It’s flawed because it’s monologue. It’s flawed because the systems in place are predicated on a whole bunch of assumptions that elevate guesswork to an art. In the meantime, the customers are out there with actual demand, money on the table, ready to buy, for something.

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Over at the ProjectVRM blog, two posts: Who in CRM 2.0 will help VRM 0.1? and What’s completely screwed about this picture?

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