To what extent are potential content management customers able to separate a content management platform from a finished Web site? Let me give you an example —
I was running a demo of EPiServer the other day to a group representing a city government. Blend’s own Web site — blendinteractive.com — is built in EPiServer, so we often use this as a demo site to show them what the system can do.
What I was intending to show them was our site as a simple example of what EPiServer can be configured into doing. But, unbeknowst to me, they were looking at Blend’s site as the literal manifestation of what EPiServer was.
Part way through the demo, one lady asked me, “How would we add a link to that menu bar?” Thinking she was talking about navigation in general, I launched into a discussion of EPiServer’s implicitly-menued content structure.
Silence. Then, “Can we change that image up there in the corner?”
That’s when I realized that this particular group hadn’t separated (1) EPiServer the platform from (2) the Web site I was showing them right now.
I wonder how often this happens? For an end-user — someone who is not a developer and doesn’t build content-managed sites — the demo they download or interact with is the product as far as they’re concerned.
With a CMS product, you really have four levels of implementation:
- The raw product.
- A generic (sample) site built with the product.
- A vertical-targeted generic site built with the product.
- A client-specific site built with the product.
My demo audience was thinking they were getting Level 3, and they thought that’s what I was showing them. Sadly, in my head, I was showing them Level 2, and they were really buying Level 1.
In general, the further up the scale you go, the easier it is for laymen to understand and relate to their own situation. It also follows that the further up the scale you go, the easier it is to sell the product and your services.
Every vendor sells Level 1, obviously. On the other end of the scale, only integrators can provide Level 4, since that’s necessarily custom. But what of Levels 2 and 3? There are holes there where the vendor and the integrator meet and where either or both should provide some options.
This speaks to a few needs:
- Vendors need to ship with solid sample sites (Level 2).
- Vendors and integrators need to consider building vertical-targeted sites in advance of client needs (Level 3).
- Integrators that demo these platforms need to be able to somehow explain the difference between the platform (Level 1) and a particular site built with the platform (Levels 2+).
EPiServer does ship with a sample site, though we’ve never used it, and it’s just as generic as the Blend site, so it probably wouldn’t have helped us.
Ektron has been a little more aggressive in this area. They have a series of what they call “Starter Sites” which are pre-built Ektron sites for particular verticals (Level 3). They have Starter Sites for:
- City government
They all have specific themes, of course, but they go deeper than that into actual functionality designed around that vertical. For instance, the hospital site has a “Find a Doctor” feature pre-built. The city government site using Ektron’s mapping tools to provide a map of, say, construction projects.
Referring back to my list above, you’re now moving up the scale from Level 1 (raw product) to Level 3 (vertical-targeted site), so it should be conceivably easier for the prospect to understand, and easier for the integrator to sell.
There’s also an opportunity here for integrators. We can take raw products (Level 1) and massage them into intelligent demo sites for particular verticals (Level 3).
For instance, Blend could define a vertical (hospitals, for instance), then really examine it in terms of what specific needs that vertical has in a Web site. Then, once we’ve settled around a common set of needs, we could take an existing CMS product, customize it to meet that vertical, then go sell it.
By doing this, we’ve built-in two advantages.
- We’ve obviously pre-built functionality that vertical might need.
- We’ve positioned ourself well from a sales standpoint. We have a “conversation opener” we can use to cultivate business from hospitals, and we (hopefully) come across as experts in the field of hospital Web sites.
Both of these points are exactly what Ektron is trying to do with their Starter Sites. I have no idea how well this is working for them (but some people at Ektron follow this blog, so perhaps they’ll comment…).