Be prepared: This is going to be a bit of a rant.
Earlier this week, I saw a relatively new entrant to the CMS space—a company who repositioned after their initial, unrelated product offering failed, and who shall remain nameless—write up a lengthy post about how their platform is the “best CMS for 2018.” I was thus inspired to contribute a post this week with our opinion on the matter.
Now, you’re probably just expecting me to say that a custom CMS is the best choice. While satisfyingly self-serving, I will be the first to admit that this isn’t always true.
Even as a custom CMS advocate and expert, I know it’s silly to say any one solution is the “best” for all scenarios. In reality, the “best CMS” is the one that meets your specific goals and objectives in the most efficient manner possible, with minimal headaches and the freedom and flexibility to scale or expand as your requirements shift.
It’s almost malpractice to say with any certainty that a single CMS is the best choice in all cases. Most likely, this new player just wanted a quick SEO win and figured this was a term people would be searching for. And honestly, it’s a fine strategy for a new vendor looking to build their profile and attract eyeballs.
But for you, the CMS consumer, you’re probably more confused now than you were before you began searching for solutions. Much of the confusion people like you experience is due to the fact that so much noise is coming from so many different parties in this space, all motivated by different things.
There are two major sources of information when it comes to potential CMS solutions:
- Vendors of CMS packages, including open-source projects with vocal fan-bases
- Implementers, such as agencies and consultants who integrate platforms for a living
Each of these parties is often motivated to respond to the question of the “best CMS” with an answer that best suits their own goals and objectives. This is why you can ask a lot of so-called “experts” what they think the best CMS is without any qualifying variables or scenarios and most of the time, they will jump forward with a solution without contemplating what “CMS” even means to you.
How can these people diagnose so quickly without any sense of the actual problems? Imagine going to the doctor for a shoulder ache and having them sell you a brain scan. Is that a good, professional practitioner?
These snap evaluations happen for a few reasons.
For average implementers, they only want to implement the solutions they know how to implement well. Agency services are becoming more and more commoditized, after all. Because of this, it’s a fight for business and clients. Every lead is so valuable—and for many agencies, so infrequent—they will fight to the death to convince you that their preferred tools are the best and they are the guys to use them.
For CMS vendors, it’s a similar story. They are being crushed by open-source projects, which are basically free. They need to get their product sold, so why ever contemplate answering the question of the best CMS any other way than by saying their system is #1 in ALL situations?
Hopefully, by now, I have piqued your interest in this dilemma. So, while I have your attention, I want to spend some time clarifying the difference between the folks who are selling you products and those who are offering services, because the waters between these two parties are muddier than they should be.
As I mentioned, product-based organizations (vendors) are interested in one thing: selling you license fees, and then selling you additional services—preferably with an ongoing monetary component. The more tightly they can handcuff you to their software, the more control they can exert over the relationship. They can make sure it’s a nightmare to leave by making migration from their platform a disaster. They will create a marriage between your company and their product/services—a marriage that will be expensive and messy to dissolve.
Does this sound like a service that has your best interests in mind?
Even worse are “one stop shop” agencies that peddle their own solutions as an assembled product—often the only product they will work with, a product of which you will never own.
How is it possible for an agency to be expert practitioners AND a software company?
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Software companies make software that matches the majority of use cases their target customers will encounter. Therefore, an agency excludes itself from the category of “expert practitioner” when all they can do is prescribe one solution: their own. In this case, they aren’t truly a service provider, but rather just a group of people that charge for the implementation of their own product.
In this scenario, you are handcuffed in two ways. First, you are stuck with a proprietary solution that, again, you don’t own. And now you are also stuck with the only folks who can work with it. How does that make any sense for you?
The better solution is a true expert.
A true expert practitioner will dig deep into your situation like a doctor analyzes a patient. They won’t focus on how they can mold your requirements to fit a particular solution or what they’d prefer for you to use. They will tunnel into the depths of your organizational workflows, expose any challenges that exist, and make a diagnosis. That diagnosis will be made specifically for you.
Above all else, this system of diagnostics must be performed via a tried and true process, the results of which they should be able to show you in advance to set your mind at ease.
The result of this diagnostic is called a treatment. And that treatment plan must be tailored to you. Custom CMS? Maybe. Could be WordPress or Drupal, if the situation calls for it. Or it could be a headless CMS installation. Different solutions apply to different situations, but at the end of this process, you should feel confident that the solution prescribed will work for you, and that your risk in pursuing it is minimal.
Why should you trust an implementation partner over a productized agency or vendor?
Because the expert implementer actually has your best interests at heart. They’ve considered all the possibilities and have proposed solutions that they are not only certain will work, but they can show you the case studies and background to prove it.
Best of all, they will recommend solutions that make sense for you in the long run. For example, licensing a CMS isn’t bad, provided it allows for a few things: freedom to define your own unique content model, flexibility to power a killer distribution channel, ability to manage content cleanly and in a future-proofed way, and of course, be scalable and secure (sounds a lot like headless and not monolithic, right?). Or maybe an open-source platform is the right fit, provided it can be secured and have a strong basis of support. And yes, you may even fall into the zone where customization from the ground up makes the most sense. The possibilities are endless!
How do you know you have a true expert versus some cheesy sales person?
It’s actually pretty easy: True experts say “no.” A lot.
Ever have a sales guy say, “no thanks”? I didn’t think so.
Real, honest experts turn down more work than they accept. They are quick to ask themselves if they are indeed the right fit for a given situation before offering a proposal. They may identify that you are not the right fit for their services and send you on your way with a list of referrals to contact.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have an introductory call with someone who, within five minutes, spares you the spiel and tells you outright that perhaps it isn’t a match made in heaven?
Maybe I’m being too blunt in this post, but the topic is too important to sugarcoat. The CMS space has too much noise. The line between vendors and implementers is muddy, and the line between implementers who know what they are doing—the true experts—and those who really haven’t a clue is much too fine. It’s nearly impossible to discern unless you are an educated prospect with a good eye for detail.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Our role as practitioners is to reduce your risk. It’s to actually accomplish your goals in a way that is cost-effective, practical, and will offer a future of safety, scalability, and longevity with the platform you end up utilizing—whatever it may be. It’s in our best interests for you to succeed. No hidden license fees, no ulterior motivations.
My expert advice to you: No one size fits all, and anyone who claims that it does is lying to you.