Month: July 2010

The First VRM+CRM Workshop

The first VRM+CRM workshop will take place on 26-27 August, at Harvard Law School. It’s free. You can register here.

The purpose is to get VRM and CRM developers and other interested parties (such as CRM customers) together to start building out the common ground between them. That common ground is potentially very huge. CRM is already a $15 billion business. What happens when customers start managing relationships too? Let’s start answering that.

A number of VRM tools are now ready for vetting with CRM folks, and CRM interest in connecting to VRM is growing as well. Destination CRM will take place next week in New York. VRM+CRM 2010 will be a perfect place for VRM-CRM discussions started at Destination CRM to continue.

While the workshop sessions will be chosen by the participants (following opening briefings by VRM and CRM folks), here are a few of the topics and questions that are sure to come up –

  • 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?
  • 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?

I’m sure I’ve left some stuff off this list. If you want to add to it, contact me or make a comment below. Better yet, show up and participate.

Look forward to seeing you there.

More details on the event wiki page.

VRM + CRM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positioning VRM

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

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

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

Cooperation vs. Coercion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The gesture shown here —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work toward free and open markets

I just posted three long VRM pieces on my blog:

  1. R-buttons and the Open Marketplace
  2. ListenLog
  3. EmanciPay

They’re really one long post in three parts. Together they unpack the thinking behind my own development work at ProjectVRM here at the Berkman Center, and the three different components of that work. (It’s been a fun four-year-long learning by doing process.)

All this has been going on, of course, in the midst of a growing and active development community that’s also working on many other things, most of which overlap with these three.

See what you think.

Additional note… Those posts should have been on this site; but it’s past three in the morning here in Paris, where my upstream bandwidth is lousy (making the posting of graphics a glacial process) and I made the mistake of misreading my WordPress dashboard, and posting on my blog the first of those pieces. So, rather than start over I continued there. After I figure out how to cross-post the same items here, I’ll do that.

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