• May 11, 2010
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

The Rise of the A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.

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When I heard that this month’s issue of CRM had as its theme VRM—vendor relationship management—I felt a distinct sense of loathing. Not that VRM is a bad idea: As the power dynamic in the vendor-customer relationship shifts ever more in favor of the latter, it’s only sensible that an acronym comparable to “CRM” would come along to connote the individual’s ability to manage interactions with the brands vying for her attention.

However, if there’s one thing this industry doesn’t need, it’s another TLA (three-letter acronym). We have enough trouble keeping CRM safe from those who feel that CEM (customer experience management) or CIM (customer interaction management) deserve pride of place. It doesn’t help that “vendor relationship management” isn’t even the only application of “VRM”—there are more than a dozen alternate meanings, including:

  • Variable Rate Mortgage (a sure sign your mortgage broker hates you)
  • Vehicle Registration Mark
  • Venus Radar Mapper (not common, but cool)
  • Voltage Regulator Module

Clearly, none of these has anything to do with the VRM we’re dealing with—though the voltage regulator module might be handy in a “Don’t tase me, bro” kind of way. Yet even within business technology, “VRM” still has too many players on the field (to borrow an NFL phrase). At least four pre-existing uses of this TLA have the weight of business behind them:

  • Value Reference Model (Value Chain Group)
  • Vehicular Radio Modem (Motorola)
  • Virtual Resource Manager (IBM)
  • Virtual Rights Management (VMware)

Mainly because of space considerations, let’s not even start on the countless ETLAs (appropriately enough, an extended, three-letter acronym that stands for “extended three-letter acronyms”) we could deploy here. (Letters add up, after all.)

Instead of providing TMI, acronyms often provide too little, becoming a barrier to communication when they cause confusion. We end up living in fear that some grumpy EVP at IBM or IDC will want to defend her turf—one complaint to Legal and it’s Cease and Desist letters for all of us as our terminology quickly ends up DOA.

To be fair, VRM isn’t the only TLA causing confusion. “CRM” itself has more than 250 definitions listed at AcronymFinder.com, several of which are variations on the definition we use—with the “C” standing for client, citizen, contact, constituent, or crew. Other alternative-universe CRMs refer to some kind of resource management, marketing, or something more bizarre. My personal favorite at the moment is the Canalith Repositioning Maneuver, a medical technique that cures vertigo by shifting small calcium deposits in the inner ear.

Speaking in acronyms stops being a useful shorthand once the field is too crowded, and focusing too heavily on identifying the “right” one sidetracks the important part of the discussion, which in this case is how businesses and their customers can achieve the greatest mutual benefit. Worst of all, fighting over the use of CRM, VRM, CEM, CIM, or xRM doesn’t benefit either side of the equation. Labels may make for an interesting mental exercise, but not necessarily one that’s helpful in the long term.

While it’s my hope that this examination of TLAs and ETLAs will cause you to LOL, it’s entirely possible that some of you are asking, “WTF?” If you’re a member of that group, I strongly recommend you GWTP PDQ, if for no other reason than to CYA. IMHO, anyway; YMMV. 

MFL, BTW, is the HBIC for Third Idea Consulting, which runs well despite his not having an MBA or Ph.D. Contact him ASAP via the WWW at marshall@3rd-idea.com or follow his tweets FTW at www.twitter.com/Lager.

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