Month: June 2011

VRooMing along

A quick progress report on a number of VRM fronts.

First, lots of action around TrustFabric.org, a VRM company in South Africa. To get some background on context, start with KYC: Know Your Customer. This good-sense imperative takes on official qualities when banking is involved, or holes are left for criminals to slip through. In South Africa it takes form in the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, aka FICA (not to be confused with the U.S.’s Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which shows up on personal income taxes every year). Turns out FICA is a pain in the butt for honest folks. But with problems come opportunities. Joe Botha explains TrustFabric’s this way:

“Most of us who interact with banks, mobile phone companies and ISPs have come to fear the terms FICA and RICA. We know the pain involved in scanning and faxing copies of identity documents and proof of residence invoices. The endless duplication, which in the case of FICA often has to be repeated every three months can feel pointless and like a huge waste of our time,” says Joe Botha, CEO of TrustFabric.

TrustFabric has built a free service, which lets users securely store and selectively share their FICA documents.

Users create a TrustFabric Connect account and upload FICA documents to their Document Store. They create a unique link for each business that requires their documents. Connections to their Document Store are password protected. Users have the option to define an expiry date and receive notifications when their documents are accessed.

The Document Store service is an extension of the TrustFabric Connect service. TrustFabric Connect gives users a way to define how businesses are allowed to contact them via email, phone, text message and snail mail.

“TrustFabric is a Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) service. Businesses use CRM to manage relationships with their customers, while VRM provides customers with tools to manage relationships with businesses.” says Botha. “The new service is a natural extension of this ethos as it puts power back in the hands of the customer. It relieves both the business and the customer from the frustration, duplication and bureaucratic nightmare that is common to FICA processes.”

Here’s more on TrustFabric Connect. Here’s a story on Joe and TrustFabric. And here’s another explaining TrustFabric Connect as “a do-not-contact list that lets individuals opt-out of direct marketing, makes it easy for businesses to comply with legislation protecting customer rights and update existing customers.”

Next, relevantly, two stories on MyData in the U.K.: Consumers to have access to personal marketing data held by businesses—A new scheme, mydata, plans to “empower” consumers by giving them access to personal information held by businesses in the Guardian. Mydex is involved. I am also told that the U.K. government gets how big this is, and is taking the lead.

Gam Dias brings us vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, a long and thoughtful blog post. The key excerpt:

What appears to be missing is a service where vendors (manufacturers and retailers) are able to locate individuals looking for products that they might supply.Service Magic and Elance allow seekers to find providers in the Service space, yet nothing really exists yet in the consumer-product space.

vrm and the fourth party

The Fourth Party is a concept that has emerged from the VRM movement – it proposes a fourth party that acts on behalf of the Customer in the same way that a Third Party acts on behalf of the Vendor. If the Vendors are the hotel chains, airlines and car rental companies, then the third parties are ExpediaOrbitz andTravelocity and a fourth party might be the “agent” that negotiates with the travel aggregators to find the best deal.

The advantages to the customer of a four party system are huge and easily understandable. Booking my recent trip to Las Vegas involved a large number of parameters (flight times, airline options, hotel locations and star ratings, car rental companies and car sizes and above all the price parameters) – booking the trip took 3 hours and ended up with a deal for flight and hotel from Expedia and car from Hotwire. If there had been a service to whom I could have sent all the parameters and have them take care of it, then I would have paid for that and they would have probably got me a better deal if they do it all the time.

But wait… I remember a service like that from when I was a child, I think we called it a ‘Travel Agent’. But didn’t they become extinct a few years ago? Perhaps it’s time for them to re-emerge, but not only booking travel, but also handling all sorts of complex requirements, particularly bundles of goods and services. If enough people were able to publish their requests for things and there was a fee involved in finding a solution, a human outsource agent model is likely to emerge – something like the Dedicated Assistant service.

The fourth party also gets around the problem faced by Aggregators (such asKelkoo and Nextag) – to ensure that the consumer is presented with all the offers available. With a fourth party, their value will be to ensure this.

the future state

Once this starts to scale and requests are in millions and billions, then eventually the dedicated assistants will need to be augmented with more automated service that respond faster and are perhaps able to bid at auctions or take advantage of limited time / quantity deals, then my belief is that we will see Agent Technology doing our bidding online. I’ll be watching this space closely for many reasons.

David Dorf in Oracle’s Insight-Driven Retail Blog writes a nice post about VRM titled CRM vs. VRM. He calls VRM,

…a reverse CRM of sorts.  Instead of vendors managing their relationships with customers, customers manage their relationships with vendors.

Your shopping experience is not really controlled by you; rather, its controlled by the retailer and advertisers.  And unfortunately, they typically don’t give you a say in the matter.  Yes, they might tailor the content for “female age 25-35 interested in shoes” but that’s not really the essence of you, is it?  A better approach is to the let consumers volunteer information about themselves.  And why wouldn’t they if it means a better, more relevant shopping experience?  I’d gladly list out my likes and dislikes in exchange for getting rid of all those annoying cookies on my harddrive.

He adds,

The closest thing to VRM I can find is Buyosphere, a start-up that allows consumers to track their shopping history across many vendors, then share it appropriately.  Also, Amazon does a pretty good job allowing its customers to edit their profile, which includes everything you’ve ever purchased from Amazon.  You can mark items as gifts, or explicitly exclude them from their recommendation engine.  This is a win-win for both the consumer and retailer.

So here is my plea to retailers: Instead of trying to infer my interests from snapshots of my day, please just ask me.  We’ll both have a better experience in the long-run.

I should add that it’s been VRM+CRM from the start, though “vs” works in this case. (And we’re working on setting up the next VRM+CRM workshop. Hope David and some Oracle folks can make it.)

Alan Patrick writes VRM, Loopt and the Reverse-Groupon Effect. “…the thing that keeps me interested in VRM is that part of me thinks that if (i) the power of today’s web was harnessed (ii) with modular product design ansd (iii) the sheer numbers online now, it may become a reality.”

On Twitter @ScottEustace suggests that Seth Godin‘s Show me the (meta) data is a VRM post. Could be. Says Seth,

Who owns the trail of digital breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind?

Is understanding who you know and how you know them and where you visit and what you’re interested in and what you buy worth anything?

Perhaps you should own it. Richard Thaler’s provocative idea shouldn’t be that provocative, and it represents a significant business opportunity. He argues that you (not some company) ought to own your caller history, your credit card history, etc. If it was available to you as a machine-readable file, you could easily submit it to another company and see if there was a better deal available. You could make your preferences and your history (you, basically) portable, and others could bid for a chance to do better for you.

This is an idea that feels inevitable to me, and I think that entrepreneurs shouldn’t wait for the government to require it. There are already services that scrape financial pages (like Mint), but it could go further. We need software on our phones that can remember where we go and what we do, software for our browsers that can create profiles that save us time and money, and most of all, software for our email that gets ever smarter about who we are and who we’re connecting to.

Data about data is more important than ever, and being on the side of the person creating that data is a smart place to be.

Can’t get much more VRooMy than that.

In his Loyalty Blog, Mark Sage suggests that the Pizza Express app is a glimpse into the future of VRM. A long excerpt:

This is a really interesting feature that both Pizza Express and Square have in common – the provision of customer data back to the customer – and it is becoming increasingly common as customers begin to expect their data to be collected, but increasingly consider it “their” data. When I shop at Tesco I know they are tracking my purchases, however when I go online and see new products added to my favourites list it begins to actually feel like my data.

This trend of providing information back to customers and giving them access to and ownership of it is also gathering pace.

Within websites and applications for example you are increasingly given the option to login via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. While you still login, connecting via a social network provides a subtle change. You are actually granting permission to that application to connect to you rather than the other way round. At any time, I can review my relationships with different applications and simply close them down by removing the authorisation. I can also look at the permissions I’ve granted to those applications and change what information they can see.

There has been a transfer of power within identity management. It’s now my identity and I can choose who has access to it, how much access they have and when I want to end it.

Imagine this trend being extended to all your interactions.

Within a supermarket loyalty programme for example you could link your purchase history to an app from a CPG manufacture like Unilever. You’d be doing this in the full knowledge that Unilever could then access your purchases and provide you with relevant offers (or reward points). You’d be choosing how to use your information for your benefit.

This is a really amazing thought and something that has been termed VRM or Vendor Relationship Management…

Google is also ahead of this curve, with its Data Liberation Front. Says the Data Liberation team,

The Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products. We do this because we believe that you should be able to export any data that you create in (or import into) a product. We help and consult other engineering teams within Google on how to “liberate” their products. This is our mission statement:

Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.

People usually don’t look to see if they can get their data out of a product until they decide one day that they want to leave. For this reason, we always encourage people to ask these three questions before starting to use a product that will store their data:

  1. Can I get my data out at all?
  2. How much is it going to cost to get my data out?
  3. How much of my time is it going to take to get my data out?

The ideal answers to these questions are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Nothing more than I’m already paying.
  3. As little as possible.

There shouldn’t be an additional charge to export your data. Beyond that, if it takes you many hours to get your data out, it’s almost as bad as not being able to get your data out at all.

We don’t think that our products are perfect yet, but we’re continuing to work at making it easier to get your data in and out of them. Visit our Google Moderator page to vote on and add suggestions on what you’d like to see liberated and why.

And that’s pretty darned VRooMy too.

Are you in charge of what you buy, or is it vice versa?

That’s the question of the day, at least for me.

Toward being in charge of what you buy, we have Buyosphere, which is a VRM company. I know that, because Tara Hunt runs it and has been working from the start to imbue it with VRM ideals.

Toward what you buy being in charge of you, we have OwnerIQ, which is about each of us being reducible to the “brands” we own, and which I just wrote about over here.

OwnerIQ’s pitch is to advertisers, basically. Also pitching advertisers are all the third parties current;y tracking you on the Web. Here’s SelectOut.org‘s list of companies currently following me in one of my browsers (with a table of html copied and pasted):

Company

Cookie Set? Opt-Out
24 7 Real Media Opt-Out of this Network
33 Across Opt-Out of this Network
Accuen Media Opt-Out of this Network
Acxiom Opt-Out of this Network
Adap.tv Opt-Out of this Network
Adara Media Opt-Out of this Network
AdBrite Opt-Out of this Network
AdBuyer Opt-Out of this Network
AdCentric (Cossette) Opt-Out of this Network
AdChemy Opt-Out of this Network
adConductor Opt-Out of this Network
Adconion Opt-Out of this Network
AdGear Opt-Out of this Network
AdInterax Opt-Out of this Network
Adition Technologies AG Opt-Out of this Network
AdJug Opt-Out of this Network
AdJuggler Opt-Out of this Network
AdMeld Opt-Out of this Network
AdMotion Opt-Out of this Network
adnetik Opt-Out of this Network
Adnologies Opt-Out of this Network
Adotube Opt-Out of this Network
Adperium Opt-Out of this Network
Adroit Interactive Opt-Out of this Network
AdShuffle Opt-Out of this Network
AdSpeed Opt-Out of this Network
AdTech Opt-Out of this Network
Advertising Opt-Out of this Network
AggregateKnowledge Opt-Out of this Network
Akamai Opt-Out of this Network
AlmondNet Opt-Out of this Network
Anonymous Media Opt-Out of this Network
AOL Behavioral Advertising Opt-Out of this Network
AOL Sponsored Listings Opt-Out of this Network
AppNexus Opt-Out of this Network
Atlas Technology Opt-Out of this Network
AudienceScience Opt-Out of this Network
BeenCounter Opt-Out of this Network
BidPlace Opt-Out of this Network
Bizo Opt-Out of this Network
BlueKai Opt-Out of this Network
brand net Opt-Out of this Network
BrightRoll Opt-Out of this Network
Brilig Opt-Out of this Network
BTBuckets Opt-Out of this Network
BuySight Opt-Out of this Network
BuzzLogic Opt-Out of this Network
BV! Media Opt-Out of this Network
Casale Media Opt-Out of this Network
Chango Opt-Out of this Network
Channel Intelligence Opt-Out of this Network
Choice Stream Opt-Out of this Network
Clearspring Opt-Out of this Network
ClickDistrict Opt-Out of this Network
Cobalt Group Opt-Out of this Network
Cognitive Match Opt-Out of this Network
CONTEXTin Opt-Out of this Network
Convertro Opt-Out of this Network
Cox Digital Solutions Opt-Out of this Network
CPMStar Opt-Out of this Network
CPX Interactive Opt-Out of this Network
Crimson Tangerine Opt-Out of this Network
Criteo Opt-Out of this Network
Cross Pixel Media Opt-Out of this Network
Dapper Opt-Out of this Network
DataLogix Opt-Out of this Network
DataXu Opt-Out of this Network
Datran Media Opt-Out of this Network
Demand Media Opt-Out of this Network
Demdex Opt-Out of this Network
Dotomi Opt-Out of this Network
Double Verify Opt-Out of this Network
e-planning Opt-Out of this Network
Think Realtime Opt-Out of this Network
Effective Measure Opt-Out of this Network
Efficient Frontier Opt-Out of this Network
Eloqua Opt-Out of this Network
EMC Opt-Out of this Network
Engage:BDR Opt-Out of this Network
eXelate Media Opt-Out of this Network
Experian Marketing Services Opt-Out of this Network
Exponential Interactive Opt-Out of this Network
EyeWonder Opt-Out of this Network
Facilitate Digital Opt-Out of this Network
FetchBack Opt-Out of this Network
Fireclick Opt-Out of this Network
Flashtalking Opt-Out of this Network
Forbes Media Extension Opt-Out of this Network
FOX Audience Network Opt-Out of this Network
Freewheel Opt-Out of this Network
Full Circle Studies Opt-Out of this Network
Glam Media Opt-Out of this Network
Google Opt-Out of this Network
Groupon Opt-Out of this Network
Hurra Communications Opt-Out of this Network
i-Behavior Opt-Out of this Network
Infectious Media Opt-Out of this Network
Inflection Point Media Opt-Out of this Network
Insight Express Opt-Out of this Network
Intent Media Opt-Out of this Network
interCLICK Opt-Out of this Network
Invite Media Opt-Out of this Network
Jumptap Opt-Out of this Network
Keyade Opt-Out of this Network
Lijit Opt-Out of this Network
LiveRail Opt-Out of this Network
Lotame Opt-Out of this Network
Lucid Media Opt-Out of this Network
Magnetic Opt-Out of this Network
Maxpoint Interactive Opt-Out of this Network
Media Innovation Group Opt-Out of this Network
Media6degrees Opt-Out of this Network
mediaFORGE Opt-Out of this Network
MediaMath Opt-Out of this Network
MediaMind Opt-Out of this Network
Mediaplex Opt-Out of this Network
Meebo Opt-Out of this Network
Microsoft Advertising Opt-Out of this Network
Millennial Media Opt-Out of this Network
Mindset Media Opt-Out of this Network
MindShare Opt-Out of this Network
Mixpo Opt-Out of this Network
Monster.com Opt-Out of this Network
MyBuys Opt-Out of this Network
MyThings Media Opt-Out of this Network
Navegg Opt-Out of this Network
Netmining Opt-Out of this Network
Newtention Opt-Out of this Network
Next Performance Opt-Out of this Network
Nextag Opt-Out of this Network
Nielsen Opt-Out of this Network
Nugg.ad Opt-Out of this Network
Omniture Opt-Out of this Network
OpenX Opt-Out of this Network
Optimax Media Delivery Opt-Out of this Network
Outbrain Opt-Out of this Network
OwnerIQ Opt-Out of this Network
OxaMedia Opt-Out of this Network
PeerSet Opt-Out of this Network
PointRoll Opt-Out of this Network
PrecisionClick Opt-Out of this Network
PredictAd Opt-Out of this Network
Proximic Opt-Out of this Network
Publishers Clearing House Opt-Out of this Network
Pubmatic Opt-Out of this Network
Pulse360 Opt-Out of this Network
Quantcast Opt-Out of this Network
QuinStreet Opt-Out of this Network
Quisma Opt-Out of this Network
RadiumOne Opt-Out of this Network
RapLeaf Opt-Out of this Network
Red Aril Opt-Out of this Network
Reedge Opt-Out of this Network
RewardTV Opt-Out of this Network
richrelevance Opt-Out of this Network
Ringleader Digital Opt-Out of this Network
Rocket Fuel Opt-Out of this Network
Rovion Opt-Out of this Network
Safecount Opt-Out of this Network
SageMetrics Opt-Out of this Network
ScanScout Opt-Out of this Network
Smart AdServer Opt-Out of this Network
Snoobi Opt-Out of this Network
Specific Media Opt-Out of this Network
SpongeCell Opt-Out of this Network
Struq Opt-Out of this Network
Switch Concepts Opt-Out of this Network
Tapad Opt-Out of this Network
Target Opt-Out of this Network
TargusInfo Opt-Out of this Network
Tatto Media Opt-Out of this Network
TellApart Opt-Out of this Network
Teracent Opt-Out of this Network
TidalTV Opt-Out of this Network
Epic Marketplace Opt-Out of this Network
Traffiliate Opt-Out of this Network
Travel Ad Network Opt-Out of this Network
Triggit Opt-Out of this Network
Tumri Opt-Out of this Network
Turn Opt-Out of this Network
Underdog Media Opt-Out of this Network
Undertone Networks Opt-Out of this Network
ValueClick Media Opt-Out of this Network
Veruta Opt-Out of this Network
Vibrant Media Opt-Out of this Network
Vindico Opt-Out of this Network
Visible Measures Opt-Out of this Network
VoiceFive Networks Opt-Out of this Network
Wall Street on Demand Opt-Out of this Network
Walmart Opt-Out of this Network
Weborama Opt-Out of this Network
Webtrekk Opt-Out of this Network
[x+1] Opt-Out of this Network
XA.Net Opt-Out of this Network
XGraph Opt-Out of this Network
Xtend Media Opt-Out of this Network
YuMe Opt-Out of this Network
Ziff Davis Opt-Out of this Network

I’ll find a better way to paste that pile in later. Meanwhile, it says enough.

We are at a choice point, right now. Either we’re in charge of our lives, and of what we do in the marketplace, or the guesswork mills are.

Free customers are more valuable than captive ones. That’s why VRM will succeed, sooner or later.

Personal RFP

Terry Heaton just pointed me to . A couple paragraphs:

Any wasting asset–a restaurant table, a seat at a conference, a wasting box of fish–can be efficiently used instead of wasted if we use technology to identify and coordinate buyers.

Synchronizing buyers to improve efficiency and connection is a high-value endeavor, and it’s right around the corner. It will permit mesh products, better conferences, higher productivity and less waste, while giving significant new power to consumers and those that organize them.

Seth’s talking about aggregation here: people getting together in groups to assert demand. This is a good idea, but I don’t think it’s VRM. Not exactly, anyway.

VRM starts with one customer, expressing demand in his or her own ways, rather than in aggregate, or in ways provided by one commercial system or another. (For example, this blog is my own way of publishing. I’m not using Facebook or Twitter or anybody’s system.)

We don’t yet have a single, canonical VRMmmy way to issue a personal RFP, or to have it heard. Rather than explain what a personal RFP is, let’s just lift the whole entry from the page by that title in the ProjectVRM wiki:

Personal RFP

An RFP is a buyer-initiated procurement protocol used by businesses, governments and other large organizations. It is, literally, what the letters stand for: a Request For Proposal. Among a suite of similar TLAs (three letter acronyms) that begin with “Request for” — RFI (Request for Information), RFQ (Request for Quotation), RFT (Request for Tender) — RFP is the most familiar.

RFPs, however, are about as personal as heavy construction. They’re something only big organizations do.

In a VRM context, however, an RFP is something an individual should be able to do in the open marketplace. An individual should be able to issue an RFP that says, for example,

- “I need a stroller for twins in Glasgow in the next three hours.” – “I need a ThinkPad T60 power supply near SFO this afternoon.” – “I need to rent a minivan that seats six and has a roof rack in Salt Lake City next week.” – “I need wheel rims for a 1967 Peugeot 404.” – “I need a 200 watt 220-110 volt power converter in Copenhagen this afternoon”

[Scott Adams calls this] “broadcast shopping.”

The customer can also provide a sum he or she is willing to pay. He or she should be able to do this in a way that is secure and involves minimal disclosure of personal information.

There are many ways this can be done now, through non-substitutable websites and services. Craigs List and eBay both provide means for requesting products. Twitter does too. And Etsy.

What makes a personal RFP a VRM protocol is the substitutability of the services answering the request. The customer should be able to express demand in the open marketplace rather than only within a single intermediary’s silo or walled garden.

Personal RFPs can be thought of as a form by which demand advertises to supply, rather than vice versa. It involves no guesswork about what the customer wants, or whether there is money on the table.

As matters currently stand, there is an enormous sum of demand — such as the RFPs mentioned above — that can result in MLOTT (Money Left On The Table) if the supply side fails to hear the demand and complete a sale. There is no equivalent of the RFP, RFI and RFQ for individuals. Yet the demand exists. Money is there. What we need is the table.

That table is a set of protocols, rituals and systems for routing requests from demand to supply, and responses back. Setting up that table is a primary challenge for VRM.

There are sites that do this. RedBeacon is one. But can we imagine issuing a personal RFP without an intermediary like RedBeacon?

We’ve visited this question before. Wondering what we’ve learned in the (nearly) two years since then.

What makes a VRM tool VRM?

‘s just came to my attention, thanks to this tweet by , who adds “Needs more symmetry of power for consumers though”.  All due respect to Andrew’s efforts (and he deserves much), I think the only way to get symmetry of power for consumers is by turning them into full-power customers—with their own tools. That’s what we’ve been working on in the VRM development community.

Several years ago I put up a list of ten principles of VRM. That was before we had most of the tools in development today. So now I’d like to post instead a list of characteristics that define VRM tools. As usual, these are provisional:

  1. VRM tools are personal. As with hammers, wallets and mobile phones, people use them as individuals,. They are social only in secondary ways.
  2. VRM tools help customers express intent. These include preferences, policies, terms and means of engagement, permissions, requests and anything else that’s possible in a free market (i.e. the open marketplace surrounding any one vendor’s silo or walled garden for “managing” captive customers).
  3. VRM tools help customers engage. This can be with each other, or with any organization, including (and especially) its CRM system.
  4. VRM tools help customers manage. This includes both their own data and systems and their relationships with other entities, and their systems.
  5. VRM tools are substitutable. This means no vendor of VRM tools can lock users in.

So, tell me how to improve the list, or suggest a better one.

 

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