There’s nothing quite so surprising in life as the about-face. You know how it is: someone or something spends years building up a certain set of expectations, and then — seemingly out of the blue — pivots almost completely away from those expectations to behave in a totally different manner. It’s the Beatles releasing Sergeant Pepper, Vince Vaughn playing a role other than “Vince Vaughn” or the English national team lining up in something other than a 4-4-2 (yes, that’s my timely World Cup reference for this column).
When it comes to a Customer Experience and digital marketing platform for internet sites, that’s exactly what Microsoft has done over the course of the last year.
Many companies are still catching up to this news, and the idea that you can build great public-facing internet sites leveraging .NET and a SQL back-end without trying to squeeze them into the SharePoint framework (admittedly never an easy task).
Reporting From a Front Row Seat
I’m going to admit this up front: I'm one of the leaders for an extremely strong Microsoft consulting organization. Last year, the software giant selected us as their Partner of the Year for the entire United States. Credentials like those get noticed — so you can imagine the surprise when we meet with clients to talk about their internet site project, about Customer Experience, and we tell them not to use SharePoint.
And what’s more, that the best tool in the Microsoft stack for those workloads isn’t a Microsoft product.
That’s right: partner products are Microsoft’s best direction here, and for good reason. Microsoft’s been saying as much since last summer’s World Partner Conference but in many cases that message hasn’t landed with all of their customers yet.
There’s an interesting story to be told there about both about the platform itself and how the space has evolved. It has a direct impact on why we’re seeing so many companies invested in the Microsoft platform migrating to Sitecore for their internet sites.
The Foundation of Any Good Internet Site Is …
There’s only a two-to-three year lifecycle for most major companies’ internet sites. Within that timeframe you typically see at least one major visual redesign, and quite possibly a migration to another CMS. All that redesigning and migrating can really take a toll on the technical team charged with supporting the sites. For that reason, it’s typically very important to IT that some common baseline be established from a development, maintenance and infrastructure perspective.
Not coincidentally, many companies have a major investment in the .NET framework and an IIS / SQL Server infrastructure. It doesn’t make much sense for a firm with Microsoft skills to look at Java-based solutions for their next website upgrade, so admittedly powerful tools like Adobe’s are a hard sell for them. What they need is a platform that can match Adobe feature-for-feature while allowing their technical teams some level of familiarity with the code base and infrastructure. In other words, they need a Microsoft solution.
What Was that About SharePoint for Internet Sites?
Up until early 2013, Microsoft’s answer for that was SharePoint. Between the web content publishing framework developed for that tool — which is used successfully for many corporate intranets — and the ability to build predictive, search-based applications with the former FAST Search server, it wasn’t a bad one. There was even a separate SKU for internet-facing SharePoint sites called “SharePoint For Internet Sites.”
Unfortunately, the high cost of that “site license” SKU combined with the lack of any specific customer experience features effectively wrote the death sentence of SharePoint for any meaningful digital marketing usage. SharePoint’s heritage as an all-in-one, Swiss Army knife for internal applications and collaboration meant it didn’t ship updates very often. The technology for CXM was there, but you had to build your own solution. Coupled with that aforementioned pricy licensing, that proved a tough sell.
In the digital marketing and customer experience arena, that put SharePoint at the mercy of smaller, more agile solutions that weren’t encumbered with things like document collaboration, records retention policies, business process management or enterprise social networks (to name just a few).
At the same time, some of those smaller, more agile solutions were really starting to exploit this weakness in the SharePoint offering. Companies like Sitecore and Ektron, Microsoft partners all, increasingly found themselves in “coopetition” scenarios where they’d be bidding against (and beating) SharePoint-driven solutions for corporate internet sites.
This wasn’t good for anyone. And when Microsoft made the decision to invest in other workloads for the next version of SharePoint — cloud friendly workloads that could translate far better to the Office 365 space than complex public internet sites — the table was set. The group charged with evangelizing and selling digital marketing and customer experience (in Redmondese — DPMG or Digital Platform Marketing Group) was disbanded and the partners were invited in to dinner.
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