Remember, No One “Owns” a Relationship

I was going to continue the comment thread in Mitch’s last post on VRM but I think it warrants its own post. Mitch hints in the title about the “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.

5 thoughts on “Remember, No One “Owns” a Relationship

  1. Martin,
    I do enjoy it when a friend, colleague and long time peer calls my whole line of thinking “flawed”. But, that is ok, healthy debate makes us all better, and hopefully we can learn from it. I do not think that the logic is too far off, but it is temporal. What I mean is that over the course of time, a good relationship has balance, equality etc.,… But, there are times when things fall out of balance, I need you more than you need me.
    Take for example AAA – my car breaks down, I really need you. Will the customer really nurture that relationship during the other 363 days of the year? Maybe that is not such a good example, but one to illustrate the point. It is an interesting conversation, and what keeps popping into my head is that very few relationships are truly equal – rather they are balanced. Is that the same thing? I do not think so.


  2. Martin,

    Great point. I was going to make the same on Mitch’s post, but I’m glad you started a new thread. I agree that the notion of ‘owning a relationship’ is fundamentally flawed. Healthy relationships exist through mutual consent of the involved parties. One doesn’t ‘own’ a relationship with a friend or a spouse!

    CRM/SocialCRM gives companies the mechanism to manage their side of the relationship, but there aren’t equivalent tools on the customer side, which is why VRM tools are needed. Without them, ‘relationships’ aren’t as rich as they could be – to the detriment of all parties.

    An example of where ‘relationships’ are critical, are Location-Based Services. Customers aren’t going to accept messages from businesses on their mobile devices without their explicit consent, and with the proviso that the messages are useful! – think context sensitive coupons. This is a really basic form of VRM, but it’s an example of where a customer controlled interaction can lead to opportunities for both parties. A nascent example of this is people sharing their location with Starbucks via Foursquare.

  3. Solid points by both Julian and Mitch. Perhaps we should say – who is the most responsible for “nurturing” the relationship at a given point in the life cycle?

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