Who has “responsibility” for managing a relationship, and who has the most responsibility for a relationship? I think that whole line of thinking is flawed, for many reasons. The very nature of a successful relationship is the fact that it is made up of a balance – effort being put in by both parties. While the customer may be in control of the conversation, neither customer or vendor is in control of the relationship.

Even on the most base terms – customers and vendors need each other. The vendor obviously needs revenue to survive, but customers need (in varying degrees) to objects or services offered by the vendor. Basic economics, right?

But the internet changes a lot of the moving parts in the real world application of this paradigm. In the B2C world, the relationship between vendor and consumer has long been mediated, but retail operations and other intermediaries – until now. The power of the social web brings manufacturers right in front of consumers – this is scary to some but also presents huge opportunities (all of us in the social CRM world have been talking about this for years). E-commerce has allowed buyers to (if they so choose) to skip the retailer and go to the source.

In B2B – e-commerce has essentially only made existing processes a little easier. It is strange that we have no redefined B2B marketing, sales and support all that much in the age of social – simply tried to make it a lot more cost-effective and powerful. I think that is because the “relationship” aspect of B2B has been strongly in place for some time. (And this is why CRM has always succeeded most in B2B in my mind…)

Perhaps it could be argued that the internet has changed the nature of B2B relationships in that the web allows buyers (and perhaps sellers in some degree) to be as fickle as B2C buyers. The ease of research and negotiation in today’s web-driven economy has streamlined the process of vendor evaluation and decision-making to the point where relationships alone will not save a deal or secure loyalty.

But at the same time – the web enables more pricing transparency and levels the playing field, allowing vendors to differentiate on service, engagement strategy – all the things that make up a strong relationship.

Just like the old saying goes – “the phone works both ways” – relationships are not “owned” but nurtured. Both parties get out (depending on their needs and agenda) exactly what they put into them.