The CMS Demo Myth

Selecting a new web content management system can be a long process full of internal politics, vendor negotiations and pushy sales types.

The coveted CMS demo is one of the lone bright spots in the journey. It can hold all the anticipation of Christmas morning for web teams anxious to get beyond piles of RFP documentation to finally see some enterprise software in the wild.

The CMS vendor will typically have a sales representative and a sales engineer presenting a walk-through of the software to the end client. More formal selection engagements may have an agreed-upon script with specific scenarios and a room full of end users, executives and technical stakeholders.

This is a very important event for vendors who don’t get many shots to present in front of the extended team. It’s well known in the CMS world how much weight the demo carries and how important first impressions of a user interface can be.

I met with a prospective client a few weeks ago who had discounted a perfectly well suited CMS platform because he didn’t like the initial high-level demonstration.

While it’s a necessary step in the process, the myth lies in the overinflated value placed on the demo in the decision making process.

Platforms can be voted on or off the island for subjective reasons, and the vendors often come unprepared to address core requirements. The larger the group the more the demonstrations get blown off course with questions that matter very little in the overall evaluation process.

Independent CMS consultants often boast about getting vendors off their script, but demos on autopilot are only a small part of the problem. Companies simply put too much stock in the demo itself as part of the decision making process and in turn underinvest in researching the areas that really matter.

I’ve watched selection processes unfold where the team gets a matrix to fill out after each demo and the tabulated scores from the team carry the most weight in the final decision. It’s a dangerous way to pick a platform where success comes down to factors that can’t be uncovered in a 90-minute point and click demonstration.

Platforms are evaluated on ease of use, but usability can be in the eye of the beholder and the slickest interfaces aren’t always best equipped to handle unique requirements. The stakeholders responsible for the final judgment are also often disconnected from the requirements and overall strategy.

All of this contributes to what we call the CMS Selection Myth where organizations rush into technology selection and forgo the strategic planning actually necessary for success.

Once an organization is well prepared for a technology selection process, getting a first-hand look at a new CMS in a demo is vital. But it shouldn’t replace or outweigh even more important steps in the process. These include:

  • Talking with end users who recently went through an implementation with the platform
  • Meeting with integration partners who work with the solution frequently
  • Finding organizations that have switched off the platform and understanding the reasons why
  • Sending developers to vendor training to get hands on with the platform
  • Developing an implementation plan and high-level system architecture based on your actual needs
  • Conducting a proof of concept with the chosen CMS (or a few finalists)

Kicking the tires on new platforms can be fun, but getting a ‘CMS lemon’ has little to do with how much the team likes or dislikes the WYSIWYG editor.

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


2 responses… read them below or add one.

  1. Gabe Sumner says:

    Great post as always! I’ve been that guy you’re showing in the comic, blathering on about pasting from MS Word; I know the whole spectacle gets a bit silly at times.

    However, a good demo/presentation says something about the CMS vendor. This stuff doesn’t come together by accident. It takes a lot of time to understand your audience, create features that connect with their mindset and then effectively tell your story. When CMS vendors can’t do this (effectively describe why their product is good) it’s legitimately cause for some concern.

    I wrote a lot more about this on my own blog:

    Keep the articles coming! I always look forward to reading your take on our industry.

  2. Sonja Wraith says:

    I can only second your advice regarding selection steps. I think the most important one is a well defined proof of concept. I am surprised by how many CMS Selection processes still don’t do a PoC. Especially in large enterprise environments, the benefit of doing a PoC on some client specific use cases will always outweigh the risk of getting a “CMS Lemon”. (love the term)

    I will agree with Gabe, that a demo is a good way of seeing if a CMS Vendor understands their audience. And I would also worry, if a sales rep cannot articulate the value of a product.

    But: At the end of the day, all serious CMS out there are platforms. And the sales demo is just ONE implementation of that platform. The question is not only does it look good on the feature check list but also how quickly can it be implemented AND how much am I able to grow the implementation and innovate my online experiences AFTER that first implementation.
    That you won’t see in a sales demo but only in conversations with partners and existing customers.

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