How Sales Prospects View CMS Platforms vs CMS Implementations

By Deane Barker on April 5, 2009

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:

  1. The raw product.
  2. A generic (sample) site built with the product.
  3. A vertical-targeted generic site built with the product.
  4. 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:

  1. Vendors need to ship with solid sample sites (Level 2).
  2. Vendors and integrators need to consider building vertical-targeted sites in advance of client needs (Level 3).
  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:

  • Intranets
  • City government
  • Hospitals
  • Etc.

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.

  1. We’ve obviously pre-built functionality that vertical might need.
  2. 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…).

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Comments

  1. Deane,

    Ektron has always been known as a company with a horizontal marketing approach and a horizontal product platform. About a year and a half ago we made a ‘hybrid’ switch where we still maintain solid levels across all verticals – but dive deeper into several one in particular. For some organizations these starter sites can act as their corporate web presence without much customization (some slight look and feel changes) for other organizations the sites really act as a ‘jumping-off’ point to allow them a foundation from which to build their more powerful, and more customized site.

    I would say that there are three specific areas to date where Ektron has had significant success in a more vertical-ized approach. Healthcare, EDU and Corporate (Global) Company Intranets.

    In healthcare, we have even gone as far as hiring a healthcare vertical lead and expert. Richard Brown joined Ektron after spending over 20 years in the HCA network to provide out healthcare customers with the expertise and knowledge that we need to make them specifically successful. You can expect this approach, which has worked tremendously well with new and existing healthcare customers to follow suit in other very specific verticals.

    The other one that I will briefly touch on here is how Ektron is helping people with their intranets. We launched over the summer a ready-to-ship portal called the eIntranet (basically a shrink wrap of what we use internally at Ektron to support all 6 offices and 225 employees). The portal comes ready to go with such USEABLE Intranet features as social networking, groups and group work spaces, document collaboration and workflow and a logical pre-built taxonomy. In today’s economy where an Intranet makes organizations lives easier but does not necessarily directly correlate to dollars on the bottom line, the eIntranet has been a huge seller for Ektron.

    Everyone wants an Intranet and everyone knows that they need an Intranet – but this is one of those corporate ‘do-it-laters’. From our internal use and literally hundreds of hours of research (combined with analyst collaboration) a good (if not great) Intranet can significantly optimize the productivity within your organization.

    Without going ‘comment-overboard’ I will leave it there. Anyone who is interested in chatting healthcare with Richard, or curious to see how the eIntranet portal (which by the way is free with the purchase of the CMS) can reach directly out to me at david.maffei@ektron.com.

    -DM – Director, Sales & Partner Development @ Ektron

  2. As someone who worked at Ektron earlier this decade, I can tell you that at the time, they also did #4 in your list (“A client-specific site built with the product.”).

    We would actually take a portion of a clients site, get it running locally, and set up a few pages where the content and navigation were managed through Ektron’s CMS.

    I was a Sales Engineer at the time, and was responsible for both setting up these sites (we could set one up in a couple hours) and also demoing the site to the customer.

    What a difference this made! As you stated, potential clients have trouble separating the concept from the actual site they are seeing, so seeing their own website being updated live in front of their eyes usually struck a chord.

    I have no idea if this is something that Ektron still does, or if anyone else in the industry has ever done it or does it now, but it was definitely a nice sales tool at the time.

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