Get your CMS vendor off their script!
In the last month I have talked to a lot of people at the beginning of a CMS selection process. For the most part these are relatively informal discussions to provide high level guidance and some help about next steps. I typically get these calls after the first round of product demos and people are frankly a bit unclear on how to get to the next level in their selection process. The thing I have been 'hearing between the lines' as I talk to people is that these very scripted dog and pony shows CMS vendors can conduct only end up confusing the potential customer more than help them towards a final selection. What they often get is a solid hour or so of product greatest hits and shiny toys with only a passing reference to anything that is relevant to the customer's actual needs. The other big factor here is that most of the time vendors know who they are up against and instead of selling to the customer needs they often end up selling against the other product(s) or spend time trying to up sell to the next level of the product or sell in-house services.
What I have been advocating to help keep everyone focused is that internally the customer comes up with three critical requirements that the CMS implementation must nail, and then provide these to the CMS vendor one week in advance of them coming back to present a second time. This time they should present on those three items using only real world examples. The point here is to get them off script about the exhaustive feature list, ease of use, the promise that the CMS can become anything you dream and get down to how the CMS can address the real world challenges customers face. The added benefit of using existing customer examples is you can ask potentially uncomfortable questions about how hard it was, how much customization was involved, how hard is it to manage for end users and most importantly did it meet customer expectations.
This is only one suggestion of how to get CMS vendors off script, but what I hope is that this gets you thinking about how to focus your selection process and product demos on the things that really matter to the success of your implementation. Truth be told most customer use only about 20% of the total feature set a CMS offers anyway. Your job is to make sure that the 20% you do use works really well for you.
I am also very interested to hear any stories about how you got a CMS vendor off script, so please comment. I also highly recommend you check out this recent post by Seth Gottlieb called Death to the Features Matrix. It has some great advice on how to shake up a selection process as well.