Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Data Science | Entrepreneurship | ..and sometimes Photography

Category: Technology Selection (page 1 of 2)

Marketers – You have too many choices

I have a little secret for everyone in the world of marketing: You have too many choices.

There are way too many technology platforms in existence today. Too many ‘tools’ and too many products.  You have too many choices when it comes to getting your work done. Let’s take a quick second to glance at Scott Brinker’s MarTech 5000 landscape:

Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2018)

I’m sorry, but that’s just too many choices; especially when put in the hands of people that don’t really understand the long-term implications of multiple technology platforms.

Sure, there may be a formal selection process (in my experience, there’s not…or at least it isn’t followed) and  rarely is there a strategic vision when it comes to MarTech. There’s a bunch of tactical ‘needs’ for why a particular type of platform is needed/wanted and even a hand-wave toward ‘strategy’ but rarely is there an in-depth review of how a new platform will make things better for the marketing team and the organization as a whole and (ahem…most importantly) help reach the strategic objective of the organization.

Too many choices can be a real problem.  Need an ‘optimization’ platform for A/B testing (or other optimization issues)?  I’m sure you can find 30 or 40 vendors out there selling some version of a platform that will do what you need it to do.  Do you take the time to run a thorough selection process or do you find the first one that fits your ‘right now’ need and your budget and push ‘buy’?  Based on my experience, people do the latter and pick the first one they find that does what they need to do.  They find a solution to the problem they have today with very little to no thought put into how that platform will integrate into their broader organization’s ecosystem and/or whether the solution will solve their problem tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I love the possibilities that these choices offer an organization, but only if proper governance is used when selecting and implementing these choices.  Based on my conversations with clients and marketing /  IT professionals over the last few years, there’s very little of this happening.

Over the last 3 years about half the projects I been asked to be a part of are projects to help simplify the  ecosystem within an organization.  I’ve seen companies with over 100 platforms being used within the marketing team with very few of those systems able to talk to each other — and the lives of the marketing team had become a living hell because they had too many systems, too little control of their data and too little insight into what they are able to do, how to do things and who to go to for help.

What’s the solution?

There’s not an ‘easy’ answer.

It will take hard work, focus and a real drive toward reducing the complexity within your marketing organization.  Think of it as putting your team on a diet – a MarTech diet.  When you ‘need’ (by the way – its rarely a ‘need’ and usually a ‘want’ in these cases) some new function that you just can’t live without – check your existing platforms before going out to buy some new tool. If you are absolutely sure you don’t have the functionality in your existing platforms, take a look at what you’re trying to do and think about if its an absolute need and not just a ‘want’.  More importantly, think about the long term vision / strategy of the organization – how does ‘MarTech Platform X’ get you there?  If you can’t easily answer the question, it might be best to try to find a way to do what you need to do with your existing ecosystem.

 

The role of IT and the CIO in Marketing

Isaac Sacolick recently wrote a post titled Dear CIO, Here’s How To Help the CMO with Marketing Automation where he talked about the need for CIO’s and CMO’s to work closely together for marketing automation projects.

In that post, he wrote:

…fully achieving “marketing automation” is no where as easy as SalesForce, Microsoft, or Oracle will sell your CMO. There is certainly a lot less coding involved to develop workflows, produce dashboards, or integrate data but some of the same problems exist such as cleaning duplicate/dirty data, developing audit-able workflows, improving the usability of dashboards, crunching large data sets, securing private/financial data, or maintaining master data.

mauMarketing Automation isn’t just about implementing technology to ‘do’ marketing…there are plenty of aspects associated with marketing technology that many people overlook.  You don’t normally just turn on automation tech and ‘set it and forget it’ like many vendors and consultants will try to advise you to do.

Marketing automation, just like every other technology, can bring quite a bit of complexity to an organization.  Many people who haven’t lived in IT and technology don’t / can’t really understand how complex technology can be. After implementation, there is  still a great deal of work to do on the operational side of things, even if you use ‘the cloud’ for your solution(s).

That’s where the CIO and the IT team come into play.  We should be involved as early as possible in any project involving technology to help other teams understand the long-term issues around technology and should be playing more of a consultative role within the organization than we have in the past. The key now is for the CIO to build relationships with other C-level executives and ensure the IT group is involved in any/all technology projects at the outset.

The roles of the CIO and IT group are becoming more consultative rather than purely operational. That’s a good thing.  The CIO and technology professionals can play a much larger role within the marketing team that many currently are. Isaac’s suggestions were spot on…the key now is to make sure the CIO and CMO (and other CxO’s) are having conversations early enough to ensure that the IT group is involved in technology selection projects.

 

Stop Talking, Start Listening – Tips for Vendors and Consultants

relationship-tips-practice-vendorWe’ve all been there.

Sitting in a meeting listening to a vendor pitch their solution. They bring a team in to your organization and spend a few hours doing a song and dance about how their solution and team is the best partner for you in the long term.

This vendor explains to you how their solution is the top-rated solution in the industry. They tell you about all the awards they have won. They tell you about their great implementation and service team.

After a few hours, they stop talking and ask for your business.

You politely tell them thanks for the presentation and would like to ask a few questions.  Your questions are simple ones about who the team is that will be working with you during implementation, what type of consultants and partners the vendor works with for implementation and other fairly basic questions about their service and capabilities.

The problem arises when the room of vendor representatives can’t answer these basic questions. They can’t tell you exactly who will be involved in your implementation. They can’t tell you any real details about implementation timeline and costs.   What they will say is that they don’t work with consultants and service providers for implementation or customization.

After the meeting wraps up, the vendor packs up and leaves your building.  You feel like you’ve just been sold a car. You heard a ‘pitch’, there was a lot of talking but very little valuable information shared.

This happens all the time in the world of business. But it doesn’t have to.

Making the decision to invite a vendor in for a proposal is a big decision for any organization. The process should be open and honest. There should be a few “I don’t know’s” and/or a few “we’ll have to get back to you on that” mixed into the conversations.  But normally, you never hear those words. Usually, you only hear the ‘song and dance’ of a sales person trying to close business.

Here’s a few tips for vendors (or anyone else trying to close business out there):

  • It is OK to say “no”
  • It is also OK to say “I don’t know” (of course, follow it up with “but I’ll find out”)
  • Be ready to offer a list of other vendors/partners/consultants that you have worked with in the past for customization and implementation.
  • Be prepared to introduce the team that will be assisting the organization.
  • Be prepared to LISTEN.  Stop talking and listen to your potential client(s). You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn by shutting your mouth and listening to their problems.

The biggest tip of all is a simple one.  Be Genuine.  Don’t make your audience feel like they are being sold something. The last thing an IT professional wants (or needs) is to spend time listening to a ‘pitch’. Rather than pitching something, have a conversation and try to figure out how your organization can help solve the problems your potential client has.

Sounds pretty easy right?  It is..but most vendors (heck…most people) don’t get it.

User Personas for Technology Selection Projects

Personas By CannedTuna on flickrI’ve been playing around with the idea of User Personas for use in technology selection projects.  I’ve used user personas while building various websites and applications, but never used them (or heard of them being used) in technology selection projects.

If you aren’t familiar with the idea of user personas, go read Ten Steps to User Personas or Personas: The Foundation of a Great User Experience or User personas and how they can improve your site for a brief background on how personas are used.

Again – I’ve mostly run across personas in the web space as a way to help guide/drive design of websites and content.  I have used user ‘scenarios’ before in selection projects but never taken the formal step of creating personas.

In my thinking about the subject, I’ve come up with a few positives outcomes of creating personas for selection projects.  They are:

  • Thinking about personas forces you to think about the people first.  What type of people will use your technology? How will those people interact with it?
  • Personas force you to roleplay and gameplay your technology strategy.  While thinking about user personas, you are forced to walk through your strategy and technology roadmap to ensure it matches your organizational culture.
  • Thinking about personas forces you to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics.  Do you have the right people in place to take advantage of the technology?
  • Personas can help you think through support requirements for the new technology.

Now…most of the above are things that any good team and/or consultant should do anyway…but by focusing first on the users and user personas, wouldn’t it force to you really think through your strategy and technology from a people perspective? I think so.

Let’s take a look at an example of how user personas might help in technology selection.

Imagine you’re tasked with selecting a Web Content Management System (WCM) for your organization. The idea is to allow a large portion of users to have access to the WCM to create their own content and then push that content through an editing / publishing workflow.

Seems simple enough right? You put out an RFP and begin your technology selection process.  You look at demos and have tons of meetings and finally select the ‘winner’ based on your selection criteria.

You’ve developed your requirements for the technology. You know what you want the WCM to ‘do’…but do you know what users will be using it and/or how those users will interact with it?  Does the new WCM align well with your organizational culture? Is the chosen platform usable and useful to the people in your organization?

Sure…you want a platform that is ‘easy to use’, etc…but ‘easy to use’ for you is different than ‘easy to use’ for Janice, the 65 year old user from Group X who’ll be the one responsible for updating the content for that group.    Will Janice be able to use the content editor screen of the WCM to input or edit content ?  Will she have to know HTML to do her job?

Does the WCM you’ve chosen allow a user like Janice to do her job without some serious customization?  If not, what work will be needed to make it easier for Janice to embrace this new platform?

The answers to these questions are strictly dependent on how you develop your selection criteria….and I think user personas will help. By crafting user personas that covers the broadest range of users, you ensure that the people using the technology are considered. Building a set of user personas for your internal user groups will help you not only craft a good technology strategy but also help in selecting the right technology platform for your organization.

Personas have been used for years in the application development and web design/development fields…but I’ve never seen them used for technology selection projects.  I’ve seen some consultants use user stories and user scenarios for technology selection and strategy projects but I haven’t seen personas …..have you?

If you’ve used personas in technology selection projects, I’d love to know how they worked out for you.

Image credit: Personas by CannedTuna, on Flickr

Done Never Is

Never By Olivier H on flickrLast week, David Aponovich from ISITE Design wrote a nice piece titled Avoiding the CMS Death Spiral on ISITE’s CMS Myth blog.

If you don’t know who ISITE Design is, you should…especially if you are in the digital marketing space. Those guys are top notch. I tried to hire them many times when I was working at the Boy Scouts but could never get the projects funded (might just be why I’m not there anymore).

Note: I tend to use “CMS” to mean “Web CMS” or “WCMS” – in this article these terms/acronyms are interchangeable to match what David originally used it in his post.

In Avoiding the CMS Death Spiral, David writes a nice piece that anyone looking at choosing a Content Management System should read.  In the article, David offers up a few pieces of advice, with one being:

Realize too that if you invest in a CMS, you’re now in the software business – whether you like it or not. A CMS project is never “done”. Staff accordingly for post-launch maintenance and support, or be prepared to pay an agency to maintain the platform for you (to one degree or another).

A CMS project takes on a life of its own, much like any other software project. That said, most organizations undertaking a Content Management System project fail to understand that real underlying issues that they will face during and after the project. Most people think a CMS project is as simple as selecting, paying for and implementing a CMS….but it isn’t.

A CMS project is everlasting.  There will always be ‘something else’ to do.  There will always be a new feature or some functionality that will be needed for some new web feature or function.

Done never shows up on a CMS project.  Done never is.

Of course…there are times of ‘done’ according to a project plan.  The goal of a project can be reached.  There is a point when a CMS is ‘implemented’. But…there will always be changes  and there will always be new items to add.

That’s what organizations need to understand. Many think a Content Management System is something you buy and install and use.  But, I’ve never found that to be the case.  There’s always something more to be done.

So…if you are currently looking at implementing a Web Content Management System, think long and hard about how you are staffed today and how you will be staffed in the future.  Don’t make the mistake a former client made in thinking that after the purchase and implementation of a CMS, he could reduce headcount. In fact – he needed to increase headcount or at least move headcount around to ensure proper staffing.  That particular project was never staffed properly for the long term from the IT group’s side.

I’ll leave you with part of my comment on David’s post. I wrote  (I noticed a typo in my original comment – I’ve left it here for completeness – but should be buy):

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen with CMS projects is the failure to staff. Most clients but [sic] a CMS platform, pay a vendor to implement it and then expect ‘done’ to arrive one day.

That day never shows up because there are always constant changes coming. Always new features and functionality for CMS driven websites. Done never arrives so clients always feel like they are spending way too much to ‘implement’ their CMS…when in reality they are just seeing the reality of the software business. Done never is.

Image Credit: Never By Olivier H on flickr

Sitecore or Sharepoint – which is the better CMS platform?

Apples & Oranges - They Don't Compare By TheBusyBrain on flickrI’ve been talking to quite a few folks recently about Sharepoint 2010 to get feedback and insight into the product’s current acceptance and usage rate.

One key area that interests me is around content management and content management systems. I’ve worked with a lot of them in the past and my two favorites right now are WordPress and Sitecore.  WordPress is a no-brainer for individuals, small businesses and is a very good platform for medium / large businesses with a bent toward open source software / LAMP.

For those organizations that have a .NET focus, Sitecore has done well for itself over the last few years and is great for those businesses some money to spend for Sitecore licenses and development efforts.

Lately, I’ve been hearing from friends and colleagues that Sharepoint 2010 is being hailed as the next great content management system (and/or collaboration platform and/or search platform and/or …). Of course, those touting that are Microsoft and their sales / partnership channel for the most part.  I say that partly in jest, but also because I haven’t found many developers, content specialist or marketing person to echo that statement…none have been impressed with Sharepoint as a pure Content Management System (CMS). Does this mean Sharepoint as a CMS is bad? No…just means that its features haven’t been enjoyed by end-users.

For those of you out there with any history in IT, you’ll know that Sharepoint has been around for quite some time and there have been many iterations and foci of this platform. Its a document management system, a work-flow system, intranet system, security management system and has been used for much more.  The new 2010 version is being touted as “collaboration software for the enterprise” by Microsoft….which isn’t a bad marketing approach.

Sharepoint is a great platform for collaboration and community. I’ve seen some wonderful systems built for those functions….but is it a great content management system? Can it really compete with pure CMS platforms like Sitecore?

Sharepoint 2010’s new content management features are impressive, but anyone with experience can see these new features for what they are – a classic Sharepoint reorganization and reuse of functionality plus some new features to bring out this ‘new’ CMS  functionality.  I don’t mean this in a bad way…this is one of the strengths of Sharepoint…it can do most anything.

Sitecore, on the other hand, is built to be a CMS from the ground up. There’s no pretense that Sitecore is anything more than a CMS.  That’s why I like it so much. Is the product perfect? Nope…but no product is.

So…which is better as a CMS….Sitecore or Sharepoint?

For a pure content management system, I’d pick Sitecore hands down. The system is built to be a Content Management System and has a focus on communications & marketing.  Sitecore is focused on delivering content to external audiences and improving insight into website visitors and user experience via new products like the Sitecore Online Marketing Suite.

Of course, Sharepoint can be used as a CMS and is now being touted as one, but I currently find it hard to recommend Sharepoint solely on its CMS capabilities alone.  Of course, very few IT shops are going to look at Sharepoint for a CMS only…most are already using Sharepoint for other functionality like internal collaboration, document management, security, etc and their focus may soon move to using Sharepoint for external focused content delivery.

I’ve implemented Sitecore and Sharepoint and used both products.  I like some things about Sharepoint and some things about Sitecore.

So…how do you choose between the two?  I’ll never tell a client or company that one technology or platform is better than another…but I do like to point out differences.  Here’s a quick list of things that I would think about when choosing between the two products:

  • For an external content focus, choose Sitecore.
  • For a marketing driven platform, choose Sitecore.
  • For a platform to customize the web user experience based on non-authenticated users, choose Sitecore (and the Sitecore OMS)
  • For an internal content focus with enterprise level security requirements,  choose Sharepoint
  • For a collaboration platform, choose Sharepoint
  • For an IT driven platform, choose Sharepoint

Some IT shops will argue Sharepoint should be chosen over Sitecore for some of the above reasons (namely security for content delivery, etc) – but those arguments can be countered easily with Sitecore’s extensibility and features.  I can plug modules in that allow me to use the same security systems that Sharepoint uses.  Of course, there are modules that can be plugged into Sharepoint to get different/more functionality as well

At the end of the day, comparing Sitecore and Sharepoint as CMS platforms is like comparing apples and oranges – they are different products targeted at different uses.  Sharepoint can (and is) used as a CMS – but Sitecore has a more robust CMS feature set for marketers.

If you are looking for a .NET based CMS, either product will work – but right now, I would lean toward  Sitecore when looking for a pure CMS that provides fast development times, stable platform and ease of use for non-technical content creators.

Of course, each organization is different…don’t take my word for it…check out both products and run them through your technology selection process to determine which is best for you.

Image Credit: Apples & Oranges – They Don’t Compare By TheBusyBrain on flickr

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