Selling CMS vs. Doing CMS

After my presentation at eduWeb on CMS survival, one of the marketers I respect on the CMS vendor side was the first to give me feedback.

“Well, you scared the crap out of them,” he offered up.

Not exactly the glowing praise I was hoping for.

But as I talked to folks who attended my session, they seemed to get a lot out of it. “This was just what I needed to be able to take back to my boss,” one person told me.

“Are you sure it wasn’t too heavy?” I pressed, clearly self-conscious I had become the Fox News of CMS.

I was reassured by several that, in fact, I covered areas that very few venture into and it was comforting to know that yes, getting CMS right is hard and no, they weren’t the only one struggling.

Which got me thinking.

Selling the promise of web content management is very different than talking about the reality of actually making it work. And by very different, I mean the exact opposite.

To sell content management, you have to focus on the bright spots of what CMS can accomplish and a vision of how it will transform your website, digital marketing, publishing processes and overall customer experience.

For vendors this usually means focusing on some razzle dazzle: Drag and drop interfaces, inline editing, personalization, analytics, responsive design — you know the drill. Capabilities that will get organizations excited and help them envision a better place, world’s away from the current bug-ridden legacy platform and understaffed web team.

Sales gets a bad rap, but selling CMS is important work.

Organizations need better technology equipped for the modern world of web publishing. It is also of course work motivated by moving software licenses and purchase orders by the end of the quarter to meet sales quotas. Not an entirely altruistic endeavor.

Selling isn’t limited to the vendors and consultants. Organizations need to sell the value of CMS internally to skeptical stakeholders and budget-conscious executives. This requires clear business cases, return on investment numbers, executive buy-in and a strong internal champion.

And then there’s actually doing the hard work of making web content management work.

Sorting out web governance, adding new staff, training existing roles, hiring external vendors, auditing content, creating content, migrating content, fighting political fires, integrating technology, justifying budgets and setting (and resetting) timelines. Oh, and it never ends, as your sites, content and platforms need constant care and attention. Forever.

Let’s just say it’s a sophisticated piece of technology that comes with some “undocumented” organizational instructions. You can outsource some of it, but at the end of the day these are your issues to own internally.

Nobody selling CMS can or will give a full picture of what it will take to completely see it through. Partly because they don’t know and partly because it’s a serious buzz kill in trying to close the sale.

If you want to stop a CMS project from getting momentum, simply shout from the rooftop that “your website is never actually done” and its a project that will need many times the people, money and resources than they are currently committing. You’ll be the life of the party.

Vendors and consultants looking to make the quick sale can leave out some of these inconvenient truths. But we can’t put all the blame there. It’s too easy a target. Organizations evaluating CMS and starting a new project need to be self educated on the processes, people and investments required to be successful.

To be truly successful you need both the optimism of the vendor to sell the concept internally and to keep yourself motivated, as well as the realistic understanding of the challenges with proper internal expectation setting.

You have to wary of the promises made by vendors and platforms while also recognizing the real necessity of such platforms and the true value they can add.

You have to know your website is not a project but you also have to know how to carve parts of the overall effort into projects so that your organization can consume them.

You have to know what highly visible quick-win projects you can do to satisfy stakeholders while also quietly gaining the real forward progress that gets less celebrated but you know is important.

So yes, when you do talk about doing CMS to someone thinking about buying CMS, it can indeed ‘scare the crap out of them.’

But that’s not entirely a bad thing.

About the Author
Jeff Cram

Jeff Cram is Chief Strategy Officer and co-founder of Connective DX (formerly ISITE Design), a digital agency based in Portland, OR and Boston, MA. As the Managing Editor of the CMS Myth, Jeff is passionate about all topics related to content management, digital strategy and experience design.

More articles from Jeff Cram


3 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. David Hobbs says:

    Nice post Jeff. Wish I saw your presentation.

    Fundamentally I think most organizations don’t clearly think about their strategy. In my opinion a strategy needs to be: focused, possible, and ongoing. Many are none of these, starting with a kitchen sink (or castles and unicorns) mentality that cannot be implemented. Obviously much of this has nothing to do with technology, although the technology is often blamed!

    I think our challenge as an industry is how to change the way people think about their digital strategy, with perhaps the most important being focus.

  2. Jeff Cram Jeff Cram says:

    Thanks David. A lot of hopes and dreams get rolled into CMS projects. Agreed, knowing what not to include is often the most important part of strategic planning.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Most of my clients ask for a CMS but still ask me to update the content on their sites. What the customer wants, the customer gets.


Leave a Reply
  1. Fields marked with * are required.
  2. We will not publish your email.