Professional Services: Do you know what you are really buying?

by + on February 10, 2009

Professional services are the other half of any CMS implementation, but could the services company you selected pass the same scrutiny your CMS endured during its selection process?  From some of the implementations I have walked into I would say the answer would be a resounding NO.   For every CMS platforms out there, there is an order of magnitude more companies willing to help you implement (or at least try).  So how do you pick one?  Should I just pick one off the partner page and hope for the best?

The truth is that for some CMS vendors becoming a partner requires little more than filling out a form.  Some might require a fee, and even fewer require actual training. For the ones that require training most do not follow up to ensure those trained personal are still on staff.  Often the goal for the CMS vendor is have the appearance that they have a large and vibrant development and partner community ready and willing to implement their product.  You will notice very few will go as far to certify or rate their partners.

Now that you know that not all service providers are created equal you need to better understand what you are asking of them.  This is often tough after coming out of CMS selection process.  More often than not you are just ready to implement, not create more requirements and dig into another potentially lengthy selection process.  You will also need to consider all the other technology that will be in play during the implementation.  This might be your CRM, email marketing, analytics, an ecommerce system, or existing custom systems.  Finding a partner that can handle that plus the CMS?  Well the bad news here is that there is no shortcut.  You have to do your homework, check references, gather quotes and have more meetings.  But it is in this process a good service company will quickly separate itself by asking a lot of hard questions, and often they are questions about things you have not even thought about yet or might not have answers to yet.

On the other end no questions could be a sign of trouble and this is often where things go wrong.  We have seen more than one service contract being awarded because, to quote “They said they could do everything for X dollars and on our timeline”.  All without any real questions being asked or any real scope of work being defined.  In truth most people suffer some degree of sticker shock at this stage or are under a tremendous time crunch and will leap at someone telling them what they want to hear.  The fact is it almost always costs more and will take longer than you want it to and a good services company will tell you that upfront, not when the project is already two months late and 2x over budget.

The moral of the story here is that you want to take the time to find someone with a proven track record, trained staff and experience with the type of challenges you will find in your specific implementation.  Also you want to find someone who is willing to tell you the things you don’t want to, but need to hear before a single dollar has changed hands.  CMS implementation projects can be stressful and more than a little confusing if you have never been through one before.  Finding a capable partner to help guide you through it can make all the difference in the world.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Chris Haddad February 12, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Hey George,

I love how you’re shining a light behind the curtain of vendor/partner relations, but I’d also like to play devil’s advocate a little bit.

I’ve been on my share of pitches to "potential" partners that would basically culminate with "how much is it going to cost to get us on your Partner page, and do we really have to meet your requirements?".

As for the follow-up, I don’t feel that you can simply place blame on the vendor side of the equation. If I were Sitecore Certified, Paperthin Certified, or Ektron Certified, and let go from your agency, would you call up Vendor X and let them know? I know Microsoft performs yearly audits, but not every vendor is going to have the resources to stay on top of things.

One other segment that I felt might be missing from your post – what about the internal service departments at the vendor? Just a few weeks ago CMS Watch made a post about <a href="http://www.cmswatch.com/…/1485-Is-your-vendor-becoming-a-fine-young-cannibal">Ektron and Sitecore essentially cannibalizing their partner programs</a> to make more money on each engagement, at the expense of expertise brought in by external firms that, frankly, specialize in implementations.

I truly feel that the best way for a customer to approach the whole process is that services and product are part of the selection process – can’t just give up when one side or the other is fulfilled. And from my experience, the most success has been realized when the services are secured first, and part of the engagement is selecting the platform.

2 George Ross February 12, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Chris,

Devil's advocates are welcome, I mean that is what we do as well after all.  I hope what people get out of this post is the fact that there is no shortcut for selecting your CMS or selecting professional services (outside services or CMS vendor internal services).  It requires that you dig in, ask hard questions and make sure that who you select has 'the right stuff' in terms of completed work, satisfied customers and skilled staff.  And you are right, there are service providers that stretch the truth or outright lie to get business.  There is plenty of blame to go around here.  By talking about this stuff in a candid manner I hope that I can help people to start asking the right questions of those wanting their money.

3 Elaina February 24, 2009 at 3:35 am

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Elaina

http://www.craigslistpostingtools.info

4 chris June 5, 2009 at 8:10 am

I think these are some great thought on selecting the right vendor for your CMS. We all agree that not much thought goes into choosing the right vendor and this leads to much hardships further into the implementation . One of the things a company needs to remember when choosing a vendor is whether the vendor has adequate domain expertise in CMS implementation or is simply offering it as one more of their products. Companies like CrownPeak have been in the business of CMS for years and have built up rock solid reputations. It might be safer to opt for companies like CrownPeak than be sorry later. For details about our CMS you might want to visit – http://www.crownpeak.com

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