Imagine a World Where Opportunity Knocks and Your Door is Open

By John Butler —

Marketing has long yearned for a step change from being limited to a sales support function such as generating leads for sales and providing distilled research as analytics to improve reach and drive customer engagement.

And rightly so. Marketing yearns to serve the role it was designed for – and that is to be the pivotal strategic guide for the organization. Other departments can improve the bottom line by ensuring revenue exceeds cost, but it is Marketing’s purpose to increase profitability by focusing the organization – including sales – on the most profitable prospects and retaining the most profitable customers. Marketing knows that the only real boss is a paying customer.

So, how can Marketing focus an organization when it is anchored by its legacy role? How can Marketing focus an organization when it is drowning in so many new digital channels – channels that change over time like Myspace to Facebook? It’s juggling Internet ads, email campaigns, more and more mobile apps, and an explosion in social media, all the while weaning off traditional media – which is really about weaning off the model of broadcast approaches in favor of more direct methods simply because digital is more direct than print or airwaves. It was a CMO that told me candidly, at best it’s “spray and pray.”

But again, how can Marketing focus an organization in the Age of the Customer – where customer feedback is more telling than a compelling campaign? How can Marketing focus an organization when the Internet of Things is driving Big Data – giving everyone either data indigestion or slick doughnut charts about aggregate groups far, far away from 1:1 customer intimacy. How many organizations do you know that hope to gain more customer intimacy by hiring a data scientist?

How can Marketing focus an organization when the tools available from the major enterprise software companies are a patchwork quilt of acquisitions by its vendors – a confusing collections of tools – neatly connected in architectural slides and designed to automate a current state, that is, apps that help do everything faster and cheaper but without clear sight of effectiveness.

Imagine a world where Marketing could automatically reach, engage, acquire and retain buyers. Imagine a world where Marketing was directly linked – directly connected – to customers and their needs and wants. Imagine a world where Marketing could focus an organization on acquiring the most profitable prospects and retaining the most profitable customers.

In a world of shiny objects, it is easy to be seduced by the promise of the future. Drones ready to deliver packages that contain items that Amazon anticipates you’ll purchase – a statistical gamble that may well be financially worth the cost, time will tell. Cloud apps that let you run your business on your phone with a swipe of the finger. Marketing Automation that connects everything in the enterprise, ahem, to give you the 360 degree, single view of the customer so that you can cross-sell, upsell and survey – better, faster and cheaper.

Thanks to Apple individuals can now pay with a phone, but imagine a world where active buyers could use their smartphones to handshake with company systems to obtain the best deals and through seamless interactions over time become loyal advocates because the organization is systemically attuned to their needs and wants. Imagine a world where active buyers – “smart-enabled” buyers – were more than just a voice, as in Voice of the Customer, but were actually helping Marketing steer the organization, focusing it on acquiring the most profitable prospects and retaining the most profitable customers.

In that new world – where Marketing is strategically positioned and leveraged – new tools and models are required, some yet to be invented. The good news is that the foundation has been laid and the visionaries have shown the way (just search YouTube for Doc Searls or Drummond Reed or read Customer’s New Voice by John McKean). Smartphones have given individuals the equivalent computing power of an employee using a CRM system. The rapid adoption of Public and Private Clouds has given rise to the Personal Cloud – a structured and secure lockbox of personal information. And we all know about the data breaches suffered by retailers and celebrities so, there are engineers hard at work at securing the network – our beloved Internet needs a security patch (see XDI).

So, the individual has the computing power, the data and the secure connection. What can they do with it? Where is their equivalent of CRM? Why do individuals have to be hassled by unsolicited emails, spooky ads in web pages simply derived from their ad hoc browser history, unwanted advertising interruptions to their online experiences, freemium trial apps loaded with annoying ads that eventually require some attention and evaluation before deciding to purchase the premium, ad-free app? You get the idea, after all, we are all living it and can all cite bountiful examples.

Imagine a way to leverage that data and power in the hands of 2 billion smartphone and tablet users in a win-win scenario – a win for the organization and a win for the individual. Imagine an individual dashboard that provided summaries of buying history with drill down to the receipts, warranties and terms and conditions – you can almost hear the savings in customer support costs.

Now, imagine that dashboard also showed activity conducted automatically based on an individual’s intent to purchase that identified the best deals on insurance, cars, homes, etc. Imagine the individual – through their intent cast – gaining sight of the optimal deal with a supplier that they didn’t even know existed and then selecting that supplier based on a respected connection and a trust contract. Customers need a home or car but what they really want is: Save me money, give me more precious time back, avoid hassles and exceed my expectations when using or maintaining your product or service.

That world is unfolding rapidly. Through Personal Cloud, customers are gaining VRM power. VRM or vendor relationship management gives individuals the equivalent power of an enterprise CRM user. Organizations that enable customer VRM connections to their CRM system through trusted handshake protocols (APIs) are able to compete in a way that the hamster in the social media wheel could never achieve no matter how fast they can make that wheel spin.

We’re not talking science fiction. Not at all. In fact, we’re offering to walk you through real-world examples and help you envision ways to leapfrog the competition using your existing instance of or other Marketing Cloud to connect directly to Personal Clouds – directly to active buyers ready to spend money. If you want to understand the implications of this new personal data eco-system or you want to know how much it will cost to assess the ROI, we have the tools, experience, expertise and thought leaders to show you and help you lead the way in your organization. Beyond that, we can build prototypes of your CRM connecting to Personal Cloud apps or devices – and transfer that know-how to within your organization.

Contact John Butler, U.S. lead for Information Answers that connects VRM personal clouds to CRM as a consulting partner and Respect Network integration partner.

Why Personal Clouds and Midata are Good for Business

I’ve long been an advocate of Craig Burton’s thesis that ‘VRM’ and the inevitable shift towards ‘personal clouds’ will be good for the organisations. His excellent overview here includes some real gems, not least ‘Baking core competency in an API-set is an economic imperative’.

And i’ve also noted the slow pace of the Midata programme aimed at helping individuals gain access to the data held on them by their suppliers in a form that they can re-use. It is clear that the majority of organisations are not exactly rushing to deliver on that, one assumes because they perceive much more threat than opportunity in doing so. I don’t see that changing in the immediate future, and note that many are now focused on how they can deliver Midata, still within their own context. The back-stop legislation being proposed is unlikely to change that stance. Similar initiatives elsewhere will probably run on similar lines, although USA probably has a strong approach in working with semi-public sector data managers whose hand can be more pro-actively forced.

Given that, i’ve tried to set out below a view on why taking a more pro-active stance on Midata would be a good thing for organisations, and merging that with some thoughts on how this will enable that focus on core competencies, and what that will look like in practical deployment terms.

I’ll do so using visualisations of a ‘CRM’ data record; how that is supposed to look, how it usually does look in practice, and what it will look like as the above scenarios deliver in the mid term.

The first visual below shows a theoretical view of what a customer record would look like in the data warehouse sitting behind the customer management systems of pretty much any large business to consumer organisation – from bank, to retail, to utility, to public sector and health provider. Having this in place allows the organisation to run all of the customer management processes they want, to a high standard. The main building blocks of the record are The Customer, The Product/ Service, The Outlet (sales channel), The Relationship between Customer and Product, The Offer (being made to the customer/ potential customer), and The Customer-Organisation Interaction(s). Each sector will have minor (10%) nuances around the detail, and differing terminology in places, but the big building blocks remain the same.

Target State

However, there’s a problem……

The second visual (built up from many deep dive assessments) is more illustrative of the reality, the colours being driven, in traffic light style, by data quality, which includes whether it exists in the system at all, along with other classic data quality metrics such as recency/ source of update, completeness, compliance etc.

To avoid too much time analysing the detail – the short version is that many organisations are running their customer management processes on very poor quality fuel.

Actual State

So what’s going to happen to change that; because the above has been the case for the last 20 years?

The short answer is Personal Clouds (aka Personal Data Services). These will enable the individual to take on a significant chunk of the data management task, and be happy to do so because they will benefit hugely from doing so. Many people will only be vaguely aware that they even have such a thing; the personal cloud(s) will be just a small component of a wider proposition, like a SIM card is to a phone. The recently launched Cheap Energy Club is a good example of the above – a mini personal cloud buried within a much more compelling customer and supplier proposition.

The third visual below is a stab at how the customer record, as we know it now, will change over time. What i’m suggesting is that the significant majority of the customer record will actually be managed by the customer. And that this customer managed portion will itself sub-divide into My Data* (volunteered personal information brought together in a personal cloud by the individual), and Our Data** (co-created/ co-owned data currently managed by the organisation and, over time increasingly made available to the individual).

* For more on this provenance based categorisation of the data around in individual see this post from a few years back covering My Data, Your Data, Our Data, Their Data and Everybody’s Data.

** Confusingly what i’m calling Our Data, calls ‘Midata‘. My Data and Midata should not be confused; the former I don’t need to retrieve from somewhere, it’s mine in the first place..

Firstly, there will be huge chunks of cost taken out of current customer information management activity. Many organisations spend tens or hundreds of millions of pounds per year managing customer information.

Secondly, data (fuel) quality will be much improved, enabling the option to run much more efficient and effective customer management processes – across all aspects of the customer lifecycle. To bring this to life, this becomes the mythical ‘360 degree view of the customer’; i.e. the customer has data from across their supply base, not just the single organisational silo view that is the current fuel.

Thirdly – look at what’s left for the organisation to manage…, the data about their products/ services, their outlets (channels), their product/ service offers, and their marketing campaigns. i.e. their core competencies. That’s a scary but ultimately winning proposition for organisations – ‘give up control of something that you value highly but has a high degree of toxicity (customer data), in order to focus much more on that which you do best’.

To round that off, and return to the core point from Craig, we have a fourth visual. The API’s….Each of those three buckets of data thrive on being connected to each other in secure ways, much more so than they do when they are combined. And thrive further still when ‘apps’ and utilities can be pointed at then, or used to bridge them.

If these API’s are designed and deployed well, then the personal data eco-system thrives, and the individual genuinely becomes the point of integration and origination for data about them. In turn, this architecture is also the only really viable one for ‘The Internet of My Things’, which will further turbo-charge the individual and their personal data capabilities.

There’s much more to write on this, including which ‘apps’ are on their way, and how organisations can enable their processes in this way. I’ll save that for another day.



The First Large Scale CRM Plus VRM Business?

Nice to see Cheap Energy Club from MoneySavingExpert make it out the door, having worked on that for a big chunk of last year.

At first glance it might look like another comparison site, but there’s lots more under the hood – data built on the individual side, automated checking, mi-data ready, and a few more interesting bells and whistles….

Will this be the first service built somewhere between CRM and VRM to run at large scale? It certainly has the possibility to do so; I saved £135 per year on my switch, and others much more. And MoneySavingExpert have a big subscriber base of people who trust their advice.

No doubt this will be a story to follow up on….

A CRM plus VRM Venn for 2013

I spent most of 2012 with head down consulting on a couple of big ‘CRM plus VRM’ propositions – more on those when they show up in the wild. So i’ve been pondering on where to focus on in 2013.

I put together this Venn diagram to help think through which areas of our work might reach tipping point in 2013. It looks at the intersection between our three areas of interest – CRM, VRM and Personal Data Services.

Hot in 2013 Venn

The key points I took out from sketching this out were:

1) As an overall theme, I think 2013 will be the year that large organisations with lots of individuals as customers will wake up to the option to build rich, data-driven propositions around volunteered personal information. Critically, this data will being plumbed directly into existing operational CRM systems from ‘something outside’ (whether that be a personal data service, personal cloud, ‘midata’ or some variant thereof) ; Yes CRM plus VRM for real, and built for large scale. The UK midata project, and equivalents elsewhere, will help in that, although more as the spur that makes organisations think about the issue and build their own propositions with the data they hold than about data actually flowing anything like freely.

2) Whilst many/ all of the items on the venn are on their way to a tipping point, some are more ready than others.

3) Offers management, a perhaps obscure, behind the scenes/ yet to really emerge function, will see significant change this year. The current modus operandi of ‘get a contact point and some input data and push offers to it’ has largely run out of road in many key sectors and demographics. The critical aspect of making this happen is that it requires work from both demand and supply sides, i.e. both buyers and sellers. Without both acting together we just get what we have now. We’ll see a number of ways in which I can pull relevant offers via a channel of my choice emerge in the first half of this year, and if well implemented, get momentum in the second half.

4) VRM/ Personal Data Service Hardware. One can get so far with software, but when one adds genuine customer-side hardware to the mix then we get a lot further. So look out for prototypes and then products in that space.

So that’s my target for the year – a hardware device that pulls in offers that I have personalised. No doubt it will tackle some other VRM issues along the way.

Anyone else want one?




A Classy Way to Go…

The 31st of July marked the end of my favourite online transaction manager service – Wesabe (

I’ve been using the service regularly for the last few years. I did not rely on it, just liked quite a lot about it, such as that:

– It moved financial transaction data from the supplier side to the individual side, and allowed a whole set of tagging and reporting options

– It thus allowed the individual to build a more complete view of their finances than available anywhere else

– It offered a range of security options around the data movement, to suit individual preferences

– It enabled data portability from the start

Unfortunately this last point proved key, because Wesabe announced that they had to shut up shop; I guess the business was not financially viable (yes, that is somewhat ironic….). The viability of genuinely individual-centric internet businesses is a post for another day, but it was the way that Wesabe managed the shut down that impressed:

The key features of the shut down that I think were handled well were:

– Communication, users were given plenty of advance warning; none of this ‘here one day and gone the next’

– Export options, yes that built-in data portability came into it’s own, a range of competitors emerged with ‘import your wesabe’ data propositions to ease the service transition pain

– Enabling and encouraging an open source project to emerge from the ashes

– Complete deletion of data after closure; how many times have we seen the customer list treated as an asset that can be sold off to the highest bidder?

So, Marc et al at Wesabe; thanks for the service and the learnings while it lasted; and thanks for such a classy shut down; and good luck with your next venture.

Filling in the Empty Space – The Personal Data Store

I said here that at present there are very few genuine VRM tools available right for use right now, and that the main reason for that is that the underlying plumbing is not yet in place at any kind of scale.

By ‘plumbing’, I mean that ‘personal data stores’ and all that they imply are not as yet deployed en masse, or with any degree of robust functionality.

Before we get into what it will take to change that, let’s take a look at what I mean by the term ‘personal data store’, because obviously that is open to interpretation, and indeed this has been the subject of much debate in the Project VRM community. To get to the heart of that, I think it is useful to draw a parallel to the deployment of data warehouses within organisations, a process which began some 30 years back, and continues to evolve and extend today. The raison d’etre for a data warehouse within an organisation is normally to pull together the data from multiple operational sources (silo’s), organise that data, enhance it and make it available for use – whether that be for analysis within the warehouse, or via applications that will tap into it. Pulling data in from multiple operational systems is the key, because what is being acknowledged is that no one operational system can pull together a data set that is sufficiently rich, deep and broad to enable all of the functions required to run the organisation. That is to say, we need to distinguish between systems that are there to fulfill a specific task (an operational system such as a CRM application, an ERP instance, or a web site), and those whose main purpose is to generate knowledge, enable understanding and enable sharing information built across multiple business functions.

A further defining characteristic of the data warehouse is that it runs on ‘atomic level’ data, that is to say data that is stored at the lowest level of detail available  from the feeder system (e.g. line item of a receipt). When data is stored in this way, it can be aggregated and summarised where appropriate or necessary for use. This then enables a further defining characteristic of a data warehouse….that one cannot predict in advance all of the uses to which the data might be put which storing at an aggregated level would limit. The same will apply in the personal data store.

So what else is involved in data warehousing that might inform our thinking about personal data stores?

Firstly, i’d suggest there is a (mainly manual) ‘discovery’ phase in both that is about identifying and engaging with valid data sources (i.e. inputs to the store). In practice the data to be sourced is driven by the prioritised functionality sought by the user. For example, if my main purpose for the personal data store is to help me manage my health, clearly i’m going to need my health and my health care supplier data, or links to it, in the store.

Next, we need to consider the personal equivalent of the ETL processes and tools deployed in data warehouses; ETL is short for Extract, Transform and Load. In recognising the likely need for ETL equivalents, we imply that:

a) the personal data store will have its own target data schema (design), with greater of lesser degrees of flexibility built in dependent on technical choices. I think there will necessarily be open standards around personal data store design. That’s not the case in the data warehousing world (Oracle, SAP, Teradata, IBM are all largely proprietary), but I don’t think that approach is sustainable for the personal variant which needs to run at greater scale and much lower cost.

b) most/ all of the data sources will not hold data in precisely the same format/ design as the target data schema.

Extract, Transform and Load usually consists a set up phase, and then automation; many ETL tools exist in the data warehouse world and it is reasonable to assume that the same will emerge in the individual space (indeed they already are tactically with data exchange formats like OFX) in the banking world for moving transaction data around. Note that ETL may only be a precursor to a direct feed from a source system into the warehouse, whether they be batch, trickle or real time feeds.

Now that we have data in the warehouse/ store the task lies in organising the data and preparing it for use; there are a range of technology candidates in this area from standard RDBMS to NoSQL databases. At this point, it may be worth diverting briefly to a harsh reality, because it is pretty certain that this same reality will apply within personal data stores. This reality is that many data warehouses actually become ‘digital dumping grounds’ into which data is put ‘in case we need it later’ (note the clash with data minimisation principles in privacy law), and/ or it is not organised/ optimised for use. That does not make them a complete waste of time necessarily, it just means that they are not providing maximum value; ……the well worn phrase ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ springs to mind. My colleague John McKean tells this story much more eloquently in his first book, The Information Masters, which dates back to 1999 but is as valid today as it was back then. His research amongst the 30 or so ‘Information Master’ organisations sets out what differentiates the tiny percentage of organisations that get mega-returns on their information investments, versus those that just plod along or suffer regular failure to get a return on investment (hint….the master’s don’t regard the issue as something that ‘the IT folks do’).

The further functions of the data warehouse/ personal data store beyond getting data in, and organising it are:

– Data maintenance, i.e. refreshing data as appropriate, and having processes to keep it up to date, whether that be static data, dynamic data, or reference data.

– Data enhancement, either through combining existing data via queries into new attributes or meta data, or by bringing in further external data (e.g. my credit rating or verification via a third party that a data attribute is accurate at that point in time, or otherwise). This verification piece is a key issue, if I can prove for example that I am a gold level flyer on British Airways, or that i’ve not had any speeding tickets in the last 5 years, or that I do have a specific illness to manage then that ultimately takes a vast amount of guesswork and waste out of the current modus operandi.

– Make available for use; i.e. providing a data access layer that enables the data to flow onward to those entitled to it, in the way that they wish  to receive it.

– Archive, there comes a time in the life-cycle of a data attribute, that it is no longer useful. This situation, which will certainly apply in a personal data store, can lead the database manager to either physically move the data elsewhere/ onto back up media (usually after building summary histories that do remain), or just leave it within the warehouse on the basis that storage cost may be less than removal costs.

Two other aspects of data warehousing are probably worth noting

– whilst initially, a data warehouse was most likely to be a single computer (perhaps costing £1m upwards to buy and install), these days the concept of a virtual warehouse is also a perfectly viable option, with data stored physically in different places and brought together as and when required.

– the concept of a data mart has emerged, which means the carving off of a specific set of data to support a subsidiary warehouse tuned to particular task (e.g. a retailer may choose to set up a mart for the team managing the loyalty scheme). Typically the link to the main warehouse remains in place for maintenance and update purposes, but the mart acts more independently in terms of access and use.

So what does all of that mean for the ‘personal data store’ then?

Firstly, I would contend that there is a terminology point to be taken on-board. The data warehouse is a short, fairly well understood term (perhaps because it is 30 years old). But it actually covers a lot of ground, and is much more than just a storage facility. It covers ‘identify relevant data types and sources, enable processes for bringing that into the storage facility, keep it clean and up to date by looking back to the source and other other cross-reference files, aggregate and summarise data where appropriate, enhance and add meta data where useful, and make available for use in a controlled, auditable manner via a range of output mechanisms and formats. That’s a lot functionality to pack into two words….. I think that a personal data store will do pretty much all of those same functions, so the users of the term should ideally aligned with that description, or seek to agree different terms for each of the system components and functions.

Secondly, there should be a recognition that functionality will continue to emerge and evolve over time, rather than all turn up in one big bang deployment.That said, there is clearly a huge upside to deploying with the technology we have available now, than that of 30 years ago. Cost of storage and back up is very low, connectivity is solid, access routes/ devices are many and the range of things that will be enabled by them using the internet/ mobile internet as the main place where this user managed information will be deployed.

Third, my working assumption is that there will be both self managed, and hosted options and that people will chose the options that best suit them and their likely uses. It is probable that stand alone personal data stores might not be that common as the market evolves, and indeed the individual buys into a wider set of personal information management capabilities (e.g.  a personal data store, a set of key applications, and a hosting/ back up service).

So, after all that, here’s my working definition of a personal data store:

A personal data store helps me gather, manage, enhance and use information from across multiple aspects of my life, and share that information under my control with other individuals, organisations, or with applications or subsidiary data stores that I wish to enable.

The key, as per above, that this is a multi-life aspect data management platform that is infinitely extensible, and not constrained by the need to operate within a silo-ed context.

Here’s a diagram that seeks to illustrate the personal data store that I think will emerge over time.

One of the big issues around data warehousing is ‘the business case’ for what is typically regarded as a behind the scenes, not very sexy investment. I think the same will apply to the personal data store, but i’ll save that post for another day…

The Customer – Supplier Engagement Framework

Over the past few months, The Information Sharing Work Group at The Kantara Initiative has done a bit of a deep dive into an end to end ‘car buying and using’ scenario. We used the diagram below, summarised in this post, to give us context and structure and allow us to break the backwards and forwards interaction between customer and supplier into digestible chunks within an overall framework.

Note: Those studying the model closely will see that i’ve broken out the previous ‘Relationship Servicing’ box into two (Product Delivery/ Service configuration, and Relationship Maintenance); when I was reviewing that area it became clear that there was more detail in there than the one high level heading could support, and that significantly different processes are going on in those areas).

As we have worked with that methodology, it has stood up to the test – so it’s about time it had a name, and a bit of a deeper dive description. So here goes, let me introduce……(drum roll…..), The Customer-Supplier Engagement Framework…..

…So what does that mean then? In essence this work is a built out from many years of work on customer management issues in which colleagues and I used one model in particular (the CMAT model) to describe the big picture of how an organisation manages it’s customers. That model is excellent, has been tried and tested in 600+ organisations worldwide, and has fuelled many a good CRM deployment, but when I think about it with a ‘VRM’ hat on I came to realise that we need not only an equivalent model of what the buyer/ customer on their side of the process, we need a model that shows the inter-relationship between the buying process and the selling process. That’s what The Customer – Supplier Engagement Framework is about; it sets out eleven steps of the combined buying/ selling process and shows the flows within and across the two.

Now clearly we’re not building that framework to show how wonderful the current state is; because it’s not. It’s full of waste and missed opportunities for added value…FROM BOTH PERSPECTIVES.

There are two main reason that this eco-system is full of waste and missed opportunity in my view:

1) One side (the selling side) is fully kitted up with the tools of their trade….data warehouses, web sites, CRM systems, and an army of people paid to do the work. The other (the buying side), has nothing more that some self-assembled, amateur tools….and their brains. They don’t get paid to do it, and they typically don’t have a lot of time set aside for the process (my wife shopping for shoes aside….). That imbalance between the ‘have’s and the have not’s, as in any walk of life, leads the ‘have’s’ to take advantage, and the ‘have not’s’ to rebel against this in whatever way they can, or (more often) they just don’t engage as they might in a more balanced and equitable relationship.

And it’s not as if the individual can just walk away from the imbalanced relationship, in many product/ service categories part of the supplier kit bag is the tactics of ‘lock-in’, and the individual typically does not have the resources or the time to invest in breaking out..

2) Overall supply outweighs overall demand across many categories…so the net position is that there are a lot more suppliers losing out on pitches than there are who are winning the business…., with all that marketing and selling effort being wasted.

So this framework is about enabling us to isolate potential improvement areas without losing the overall context. It’s main impact, I would hope, would be on the buyer side; that’s the area where most time is wasted and where least work has been done to date. But it will also enable much improvement on the seller side, which is where most money is wasted at present.

The build below seeks to illustrate the current situation in terms of the capabilities that sit behind each of the parties. Those on the buyer side have been most actively built out over the last 20 years, beginning with the data warehousing boom of the  late 1980’s, and then through the CRM and e-commerce fuelled growth spurts. The spend on this side is enormous, CRM software applications alone are thought to amount to a $10bn a year market, and that’s only a tiny proportion of the spend overall represented on the diagram. On the seller side, there’s clearly a lot goes on, but in terms of capabilities able to engage on anything like a ‘peer to peer’ relationship with the seller side, then it’s pretty much empty space right now. But the good news is that there are lots of people working away on that. It’s tough, no doubt about that, because just as on the seller side, the base level data management capabilities that span in-house silo’s are key; we’ll call them ‘personal data stores’, although this a generic term for a fairly wide range of personal data gathering, managing, analysing and (optionally) sharing processes and tools. Just as in the data warehousing area on the organisation side, there is no real business case for the personal data store  as a stand alone entity; but when it is tied to the applications that tap into it, then the potential value/ return on personal investment is enormous.

I guess that’s enough complexity for one post, so my plan from here is to take each key area in turn (either capability or improvement opportunity), targeting one per week – and building out that story. I’ll kick that off with a deep dive into the personal data store, the base level plumbing for the buyer side of the framework.

Sales Process… meet Buying Process; and why context trumps segmentation

I’ve been doing some thinking in advance of getting stuck into the development of open standards for User Driven and Volunteered Personal Information. That work is being done here if you are interested in joining in. I’ve been thinking mainly about how best to explain what happens to buying processes and sales processes when volunteered personal information is added to the mix (underpinned by the personal data store/ My Data as set out here).

Here’s my stab at that explanation. I need firstly to set out a view of how things currently work – that’s in the first diagram below with individuals/ high level buying processes on the left, and organisations/ high level selling processes on the right. In short, at present, buyers and sellers largely do their own thing/ practice non-automated selective disclosure prior to engaging in an actual customer/ supplier relationship. That is structurally the best option for a buyer, certainly in terms of reducing complexity and protecting negotiating positions for more expensive/ complex purchases – but it does lead to a lot of guesswork; the buyer typically evaluates multiple options before deciding on one – that’s part of the guesswork referred to in the diagram below. This ‘one step removed’ approach is not the best option for the seller – which is why they try a wide range to tricks to have the potential customer engage with them. That would appear a sensible practice, but in reality it tends to fill up the ‘sales funnel’ with many potential customers who actually have no right nor reason being there – and why direct marketing conversions from prospect campaigns are often well below 1%. That’s the the other part of the guesswork in the diagram. At the relevant point in the process, the customer chooses one of the supply options and decides to commence the customer-supplier relationship; the other suppliers fall by the way side/ wonder what’s happened. But those who lost out, because they don’t have the information to do otherwise, keep on turning the marketing handle – lot’s of waste comes from that area.

Moving through the process, commencing the supply relationship in the current mode means interacting on a supplier run platform, and signing up to supplier generated terms and conditions (or going elsewhere to another supplier silo/ get the same result). What that then does is put the organisation unilaterally in charge of processes and process improvement around relationship management. As a historical note, in my view this is where CRM ‘went wrong’ in the widest sense – at least in part because many deployments occurred during the economic downturn in the early 2000’s. It moved from a having been brought in as a platform for driving improvements in the customer experience, to being run as a platform for cost cutting and for risk managment; e.g. the drive to automated processes such as web based customer self-service, offshoring contact centres. Sometimes this automation worked for customers (e.g. online banking), in many cases all it did was move the waste/ inefficiency onto to the customer. Of course what then happened was that customers took their business elsewhere, where they had that choice/ a better option, or stayed but with reduced levels of satisfaction – crazy in that customer retention and satisfaction improvements were almost certainly key drivers for the original CRM business case.

go to market space

So, the current process does not work that well; the sales process cannot be optimised much further within the current tool-set . But options for improving upon this are now emerging – and not through pedalling faster within the organisation/ the selling process; it comes from building capability on the buyer side/ enhancing the buying process. (note the clear parallel with how selling professionalised in the B2B world when professional procurement and its processes emerged, and also that in the B2B world deals are often concluded and managed on the customer side systems).

The first thing to note in the updated diagram below is what the individual brings to the party (via their personal data store/ user driven and volunteered personal information. They bring the context for all subsequent components of the buying process (and high grade fuel for the selling process if it can be trained to listen rather than shout). By ‘context’, I mean the combination of a wide range attributes that describe the individual and their specific buying situation. This would typically include their needs, their current understanding of how their needs relate to products/ services, their location, their existing supply relationships, their preferences (brand, colour), their role in the decision-making process, their timescales, how much they wish to/ are able to spend, when they wish to buy. In other words, the individual’s context bundle is what much of the early part of the sales process is actually trying to figure out – but can’t get access to as the individual has no current incentive to release it in full. The best an organisation can do at present is strategic segmentation of their market (differentiating products or services based on aggregated customer requirements), and tactical segmentation of their messaging content, communications channels, sales outlets or pricing. Then it’s over into guesswork mode – can we put our messages out in the right places to attract our potential customers and suck them into our sales process…..

The other adds to this second diagram are the ten numbered boxes, reflecting that the improvements we make to the buying process through user driven and volunteered personal information will impact differently at different points of the buying/ selling process. These ten areas are substantive enough to each require a post of their own, so for now i’ll list them out at the high level below the diagram and come back to them in more detail as the standards work unfolds.

context equals segmentation build

User Driven and Volunteered Personal Information Enabled Improvements

  1. Search/ Target (sometimes referred to as the Personal RFI, i.e. Request for Information) – through the individual bringing much richer context data to the table, suppliers prepared to engage with these new buying support tools will find that their targeting becomes much more precise, better enabling them to find potential customers whose needs closely match the unique selling propositions in the organisations product/ service offering. In turn, individuals will find that the options made available to them have been pre-qualified to fit their context (to whatever level of detail they have shared). Note – at this stage my assumption is that individuals will be engaging anonymously/ pseudonymously as there should be no need to share personal data in this part of the process. It is likely that new inter/ infomediaries will emerge in this space, acting as the individuals buying agent (4th party/ user driven services).
  2. Find (engage)/ Enquiry Management (sometimes referred to as the Personal RFP, i.e. Request for Proposals)  – through having brought richer data to the table in the preceding phase the individual will now be talking to pre-qualified suppliers (and vice versa), with the qualifying data from both parties available for use in the interaction. Typically this interaction will be about having a more refined/ detailed discussion about a need/ requirement/ solution axis – potentially involving either or both parties asking for more detail, including possibly verification of data asserted in the search/ target phase. It is likely that new inter/ infomediaries will also emerge in this space, quite possibly spanning the Search and Find requirement for individuals and done from the perspective of enabling the individual to buy solutions to their needs rather than the components which they subsequently stitch together themselves.
  3. Negotiate – In this stage the individual is talking to one preferred solution option and getting down to the actual proposed ‘deal’ and the terms and conditions around that – provided by either party. Improvements in this area are likely around improved transparency of terms and conditions, initiated by the individual being much clearer about their requirements, and having access to comparison tools earlier in the process. ‘Reputation’ management tools will also come into operation as the individual shares what they find out about suppliers.
  4. Transact – I would expect payment intermediaries/ financial services providers to find creative ways to engage with/ be driven by VPI enabled services; there is certainly much potential for reduction in credit card fraud and card related identity theft from using the much higher levels of identity assurance that will become the norm in a VPI enabled data-set.
  5. Welcome – This ‘relationship set up’ phase is typically about both parties getting to know each other, i.e. getting products/ services bought set up and configured, ensuring any ongoing account management/ billing is up and running smoothly. In the VPI enabled world this phase won’t change too much in the short term as it will still run mainly on supplier systems – but in the mid and long term i’d expect it to shift to a genuine user-centric architecture which will see the individual ‘welcome’ the new supplying organisation to their personal supply network/ federation.
  6. Relationship Servicing – This is what would typically be called customer service, i.e. fixing basic operational/ service delivery problems and dealing with ad hoc issues that come up such as change of address/ change of contact details/ change of payment details. As VPI enabled tools increasingly emerge, i’d expect this whole ‘change of’ to migrate to the ‘my suppliers follow me’ approach rather than the individual have to run around updating silos as per the current model.
  7. Relationship Development – This typically includes the ‘cross-sell/ up-sell’ much beloved in the CRM business case. This stage will change in the VPI enabled world, much for the better. Customer service will be provided within the context of the individuals existing solution set rather than that little snapshot of it that the supplier currently sees/ is interested in. In turn that will mean that cross-sell and up-sell will be not only be much more informed, but it will also be much more welcome from the individuals perspective – because it is now laser sharp, and running within a more equitable customer/ supplier relationship (partnership).
  8. Manage Problems – This stage is only reached if a significant problem emerges in the customer/ supplier relationship; typically this involves escalation beyond tier 1 customer service (and an increasingly frustrated/ angry/ upset customer). I don’t expect the VPI approach to have a high impact in this area, although improvements further up the process might have a knock on effect rendering this stage less painful if/ when it occurs.
  9. Manage Exits – Exits can and will happen, either permanently or for a period of time. They may be caused by significant problems that emerged, or by a change in the customer need, or in their circumstances (their context has changed). Less frequently, a supplier will wish to leave a market or terminate a product/ service line and thus exit those relationships affected. In the VPI world, i’d expect there to be more information around impending exits and reasons for them – some of which will enable creative supplier responses. Along with relationship development, i’d expect improved customer retention to be one of the major wins for the supply side in the VPI world – but the plumbing and mechanics for that have stilled to be worked out.
  10. Re-engagement – This stage might be known as ‘win-back’ in CRM speak, and involves the lost customer being targeted with appropriate offers to return. For the individual this return to the fold might be as a result in a time-driven change of context, or that the ‘grass was not greener on the other side’ – as is often the case in utility service swaps away from an incumbent that has retained quasi-monopoly advantages. In any case, the point being made here is that in the volunteered personal information scenario, the individual would be in position to retain and share the knowledge of the prior relationship – which many current CRM architectures fail to deliver on.

So there we have it. Time to get back to working on that VPI plumbing!!!

Who Said Privacy Was Dead…..?

BT decides against deploying Phorm behavioural tracking.

The mobile phone directory Connectivity/ 118800 shut down by pressure from individuals who did not want their details scraped and published.

Facebook found to be in breach of Canadian Privacy law.

So, what have Phorm, Connectivity and Facebook got in common? Referring back to the Personal Data Eco-system framework – you’ll see that all three have reached out and surreptitiously tried to grab data from one of the other categories and move it into ‘Your Data’ (that owned by the organisation in question) in order to make money from it:

– Phorm tries to grab the web site use data from where it currently resides (un-structured, difficult to access ‘My Data’) and move it into their own domain (Your Data – both Phorm and BT variants in this case)

– Connectivity scrapes data from a range of ‘Their Data’ direct marketing files and turns that into another ‘Their Data’ data-set/ domain

– Facebook fails to put adequate processes around ‘Our Data’ (keeps it for an unlimited period) and thus attracts the attention of a regulator.

Exposing these various data grabs is now much more common – because there are now enough people watching and willing to act on it.

Privacy is on the way back…..albeit almost from the grave….