We have made it through the heatwave, but it is possible that this particular author has suffered some lasting effects of the heat. While I’m supposed to take an objective ‘Outside-in’ view point of CRM, writing a blog post about VRM – Vendor Relationship Management might be just pushing it a little too far, no?

If you think about it, you might believe that VRM is the mirror image of CRM? VRM is getting a little more traction these days, it does have some high quality sponsors, and supporters. The VRM project page is hosted by Harvard, and Doc Searls has a solo site as well (the super smart, and one of the co-author’s of “The Cluetrain Manifesto”) has put his energy into driving it forward. As defined by Doc Searls, this is what VRM is:

“VRM is a grass roots initiative which seeks to ‘Enable buyers and sellers to build mutually beneficial relationships by helping individuals to gather, store, share and use the information they need to go to market more efficiently and effectively’.”

While that is a powerful statement, the following gets even closer to the heart of the issue:

“In a larger sense, VRM immodestly intends to improve markets and their mechanisms by equipping customers to be independent leaders — not just captive followers in their relationships with vendors and other parties on the supply side of the marketplace.”

Where does VRM fit, or does it?

In a really nice post by Julian Gay, he builds a picture/model where Social CRM sits in between CRM and VRM. The title of the post is “Beyond Social CRM” – taken one way, this makes a lot of sense, taken another, I am not sure I agree. I have stated previously that I believe “Social CRM is based on the simple premise that you are able to interact with your customers based on their needs, not your rules.”

Therefore, I believe that VRM is a lot closer, at least from my vantage point, to Social CRM than many people think. What neither Social CRM, nor CRM provide to the customer is a simple place where they can “gather, store and use their own information more efficiently”, that is a gap which must be filled. Given this capability, Social CRM allows customers (past, present and future) to help build those mutually beneficial relationships as described.

In his post, Julian makes the following statement:

“VRM complements CRM and SocialCRM by enabling the ‘voice’ of the customer to be communicated directly to company’s ‘ears’. With a CRM and VRM infrastructure in place, we have a platform for dialogue, and ultimately a context for building scalable trust-based relationships.”

I do not agree with this statement, or it is completely possible that I do not understand it. While some might say that the current form of the relationship (company / customer) is skewed, or unbalanced, pushing it completely into another realm, making ‘me’ responsible for it may or may not work. While individual customers may not have all of the control that they want, they do have the power of the purse. There is freedom in markets and they are free to choose with whom to do business.

Like I said, I do like the format of the diagram, and placing Social CRM as a bridge between customer and supplier controls makes a lot of sense to me. We are barely out of the gate with Social CRM. By timeline, VRM actually predates Social CRM. It is possible that the existence of Social CRM is partially a response to bridging the gap between CRM and VRM. What do you think?