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For years, uncountable, yet, oddly engaging years, I have made my living and my piece and my “ommmm” on the mantra “when you buy the application, you buy the vendor” In fact, it was the very first thing I taught as a CRM guru – of the non-Bob Thompson variety at the time, was that same idea – “when you buy the application, you buy the vendor.”

What I meant was that the relationship with the vendor, be they the software provider or the services provider was every bit as important if not more so, than the features & functions of the software that you were buying or the implementation skills of the systems integrator or consulting firm.

It was that simple.

But what rested behind that one sentence was a complex idea – that you had to be diligent, in a “due” sort of way, with your digging into the cultural life of the vendor because that culture would have a direct impact on your dealings with them. Meaning, for example, because Siebel was known for the harsh treatment of the employees, it was natural to assume and what turned out to the be the case, that the shark’s culture would create the kind of hammerheads who would do the same to the customers.

And we know how often THAT happened – all the time.

So as we progress through the 21st Century, what shows up on the land…something called Vendor Relationship Management, endorsed by some serious players like Chris Carfi, blogger supreme with The Social Customer, Doc Searls, one of the chief instigators of the 2.0 phenomena around customers with the publication of the book he co-authored about 6 years ago, “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and a host of others.

In fact, this has gained such rapid credibility that even the folks handling cyberlaw at Harvard are running a wiki for VRM called Project VRM that has deep coverage of everything from the technologies, taxonomies, and workflows, to the blog entries on VRM.

One thing about this whole evolving area I find kind of peculiar are some of the juxtapositions that are being made betwixt VRM and CRM.

Betwixt, Bothered & Bewildered
The problem I see is that often, even despite the entreaties of Doc Searls, there is a tendency to make VRM the shoe on the other foot of CRM a.k.a. the reciprocal side. Doc S. says that VRM isn’t the reciprocal of anything and he’s right about that. But he also sees CRM as the definition that’s in Wikipedia, which is:

“Customer relationship management (CRM) covers methods and technologies used by companies to manage their relationships with clients. Information stored on existing customers (and potential customers) is analyzed and used to this end. Automated CRM processes are often used to generate automatic personalized marketing based on the customer information stored in the system.”

In other words, the definition that I find so utterly repulsive and that I’ve been fighting against for years.

He also defines VRM as something entirely new and making it a science might be – but its not particularly original as a concept. Keep in mind I’m a proponent of VRM, but I need to make sure it sits in the right context because I don’t want to see CRM counterposed as the evil twin. VRM and CRM go together like a horse & carriage for those of you who know who Perry Como is. They are complementary.

I think the work going on in VRM needs to be supported because it is another facet of the science and tools that a customer needs to improve the overall experience they are having with the vendor. The customer has the advantage of sitting at the captains helm right now and if VRM can provide them with the wheel to steer then I’m going all out in support.

That said, VRMers, make CRMers your natural allies. They are. Remember when you buy into VRM, you buy into the customer’s ecosystem.

Paul Greenberg
The 56 Group, LLC
Paul Greenberg, the president of the 56 Group, LLC, is the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century, 3rd edition. Greenberg is co-chairman of Rutgers University's CRM Research Center and executive vice president of the CRM Association. His blog PGreenblog won both of the only two awards ever given to CRM blogs.


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