The Intention Economy

Vendor Relationship Management – A key concept for the emerging Intention Economy

I’ve just finished the book “The Intention Economy”, by Doc Searls (Harvard Business Review Press, ISBN 978-1-4221-5852-4).

Even the best integrated Marketing Campaign, based on the best possible data, the best possible audience segementation, the best possible analysis of customers preferences, his online behaviour… it still includes a lot of guesswork. So our brilliant and personalized content may miss the point totally.


Because we still don’t know what the customer really intends to do next….

We may have an idea about his preferences, but there is still a big likelihood, that we are totally wrong with our predictions. This gets particularly embarassing, if us as Marketers, pretend to having understood the objectives, motivations or desires of the customer already. Or as the Author says: “For customers, rough impersonal advertising guesswork is tolerable, because they are used to it. Totally personalized guesswork is not.”

Business and markets are all about relationships. Personal relationships with real conversations. Typically the customer asks first and the merchant responds. Today’s Marketing organizations are better prepared to talk to customers, instead of listening to them. Not to think about  having a meaningful conversation…

In times, where many companies constantly fight for the attention of the customer, trying to “own” a customer, literally as a captive in their CRM system, Searls and the VRM community promote the concept of the Intention Economy. This busines model is going to be driven by copious signals from individual customers and users, and responses to those by vendors. Within the Intention Economy, the liberated customer is going to regain control of his own data and will have full agency for himself, in regards of the Vendor relationships he establishes, maintains or ends.

Supported by a set of new VRM technologies and tools (basically a customer-controlled set of counterparts to CRM systems), customers will actively manage their data and their relationships with vendors of their choice. They may even be in the position, to insist on their own terms & conditions, instead of having to accept today’s typical “take it or leave it” contracts of adhesion. Customers are even predicted to be in the position, to decide which services they want to pay for, and how much they want to pay for it.

A lof of the thoughts in Doc Searls book may sound like science fiction today, although it’s been published in 2012 already. When writing the book, VRM technology was not yet availalbe or had been in very early stages of development. Frankly, I am also not sure, how much progress has happened here by then.

However, I truly believe that over time, we will see a lot of the Relationship Management power will swing back to the customers. This even more, since it is a logical response to the current data privacy discussion,- that became really hot AFTER Searls published his book. Good news: Sales & Marketing Professionals  still have time, to adjust their strategies and technologies to respond to the emerging Intention Economy. Combining today’s Sales & Marketing Automation concepts with elements of the VRM philosophy is going to be a winning strategy in any case.