Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is a term used to describe tools designed for individuals and companies to manage their economic relationships. In other words, the user defines who they do business with (i.e., a “reverse” CRM system) and the “way” that they choose to interact with them. For instance, inbound marketing pitches from vendors are defined by the medium used for interaction (sales via SMS; bills via email; RFP responses via specific applications, etc.) and outbound requests for proposals are carefully managed by mediated interactions with vendors in in-house and third-party databases.
The inevitability of VRM is obvious, but we are in the interesting period where dozens of industry players are jockeying to insinuate themselves into VRM and to define the ground rules for the system that will handle trillions of dollars per day when it has finally matured. The stakes couldn’t be higher and the game has just begun.
While the safe money will be on Salesforce, LinkedIn, Google, and Facebook to help us to manage our commercial interactions (for a sliver of a percent of transaction volume, no doubt) there are those (i.e., Doc Searles and the Harvard VRM folks) rooting for an open source, “frictionless,” “fourth party” to emerge. But what about the information business? Didn’t we invent the buyer’s guide and industry verticals? Okay, VerticalNet didn’t exactly work out, but can’t we play a key role in this new ecosystem? We have the best databases of middle managers (purchasers) in every industry vertical known to man and isn’t that the one required element to making this process work?
The data content folks need to get out in front of this opportunity or else it’ll be built around national databases with massive holes in them and it basically won’t work. A cooperative model based on 100 industry-specific databases is my favorite option. Data content players who run marketplaces, publish magazines, and run conferences in their designated industries need to join forces and make this happen. Data can be contributed to the co-op and VRM systems can interact with that system in such a way that purchase request data (i.e., “I need a sign for my office” or to “I need to print 10K 500-page directories”) is delivered to the appropriate firms in the co-op’s database and then they respond to a “blind” platform with their RFPs. Who will step forward to define this model and put our industry out front where it should be? Will we miss the boat again? Let’s hope not.