We've all been to that conference. The vendor is announcing a new feature in their Content Management System (CMS). They pull up a screen shot or a recorded demo that is very pretty, touting how easy the feature is to use. Everything everyone has ever wanted in that feature is there in crisp, shining detail.
What isn’t shown is the level of effort to make that demo a reality.
Long processes have to be mapped and set up. Integrations to external systems taking weeks to get working, much less correct. Assuming that all these hurdles are successfully handled, people realize that the new system has added an additional burden to their jobs.
The vendor doesn’t care. The check has already been cashed and the customer’s information is already becoming locked in the CMS. The vendor has moved on to their next
victim client. In a few years, the customer will look to do a change because no amount of training has made the CMS usable.
For this to change, vendors need to stop prioritizing their product development by how shiny a feature is and focus more on how their products can make people’s lives easier.
Make It Shinier
Back in college, we were required to work over multiple semesters to create a working system for a local company. Two weeks before graduation, each team showed our finished systems to everyone else in our graduating class.
My team’s system was voted the worst system.
There was one minor detail: My team developed the only working system that was deployed and used by the local firm. All the other systems were very pretty and seemed to work well, but none worked well enough to be used.
It didn’t matter. Pretty sold the class on the other systems.
This was a lesson that I used as a consultant and product manager when selling CMSs to a wide variety of clients. As each sales process advanced, there would invariably be a demo showing how the software could be used to meet the requirements.
No matter what the business problem was, the same demo features were always prioritized.
- Add the prospect’s logo and change the application’s color scheme to match.
- Use two browsers to enable switching back and forth, minimizing complicated application navigation.
- Show a large workflow diagram showing the entire process that can be easily changed.
- Design an executive dashboard with lots of graphs.
The focus on the shiny objects would pay off for the team. When mixed with an error free demo showing an understanding of the requirements and an ability to answer random questions, these elements would often lead to a sale.
Change the Focus
The discussion needs to shift to how people use the system. How will the everyday employee who spends their day using the system do their job? Will they want to use the system or will they dread it? Will their life become easier or more challenging?
The harsh reality is that pretty features sell products and vendors know it. There have been too many deals closed for them to ever believe anything else. Until buyers start focusing on how systems will function as part of their daily process, this will not change.
Consultants need to step in and assist in making this change. They need to make sure that when they are helping organizations select systems, or selling the systems themselves, that there is a focus on usability. Pretty features mean nothing if people don’t actually use the system.
As we look forward, successful vendors will be those that make sure the path to pretty is paved with features that people really need and are easy to use.
Easy for people is the key to sustainable CMS success.
Editor's Note: This is part two in a three part series on our infatuation with technology as a panacea for all ills. Be sure to read part one, and return for the final installment, which will examine IT turning software purchases into science projects.
Title image by jennyt (Shutterstock)