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A guide to selecting your next CMS

As the popularity and benefits of the cloud have emerged and matured, applications are now under pressure to adopt a cloud-first approach. CMS platforms are following this trend by moving away from traditional on-premise installations to the more adaptable Software as a Service (SaaS) approach.

Digital Experience Platform (DXP) backed CMS platforms are also coming under pressure to adopt more of a microservice architecture in order to keep up with newer headless platforms. Whilst the headless CMS space is growing rapidly with numerous vendors entering the market offering their own feature set and way of working. With all this change going on, it can be a challenge to decide which CMS is right for your organisation.

I’ve worked on a variety of CMS vendor selection projects in my time for a wide range of clients. Some were looking for a classic “lift and shift” approach to get to a newer platform whilst others were looking for something more specific such as a step change or a proof of concept and change of direction.

Throughout these selection processes I’ve come to find the following key principles help guide clients on their next CMS choice.

1. Think in terms of "business outcomes" not "features"

When you’re looking for anything new, be it a car, latest iPhone or something else, it’s exciting to explore all the new features you will get access to, a CMS is no different. Some CMS platforms offer an ever increasing feature set, certainly in the world of Digital Experience Platforms (DXPs) you get a CMS bundled with a plethora of marketing features. The promise of an end to end omnichannel marketing platform that will personalize the experience for every visitor can sound extremely appealing but very few organisations actually use all those features.

However, when you are comparing CMS platforms, you need to focus on what you really need it for, managing content. By thinking in terms of business outcomes you really get to focus on what you need and which platform will support you the most in delivering your vision.

For example, for enterprise organisations (certainly those in the financial industries), it's often essential to be able to see an audit trail of changes. Whilst this may seem like a straightforward requirement, not all audit trails work in the same way. If you need to be able to show what a web page looked like at a specific point in time, then that’s a much more complex outcome than just an “Audit trail” feature.

The same can be said about governance, accessing a platform and having some roles or permissions is a feature most would take for granted. But if you need to be able to provide a workflow that includes clear quality gates and checkpoints for sign off, then your outcome becomes much bigger than just a role-based access feature.

When you have your list of outcomes, try to group them together into themes, this will allow you to find topics that can be presented to vendors to give them a steer on what you need to see as part of your evaluation.

2. Involve the people that will use the CMS

I’m sure we’ve all been there, you’re told your getting something new, you get excited, you know what you want, you know all the bad things about the way you currently do things, how you can improve your ways of working and are exciting to know that all those dark days are behind you only to be told that the platform choice has already been made. It’s bad times.

If you want to introduce people to a new system, then the best way to do it is bring them along with the change, let them be involved and input to the process. When I'm running a vendor selection process, I typically run a number of sessions with different teams and stakeholders. The sessions include technical ones with the engineering teams (those that will be consuming the content) and DevOps (Those that will need to support or manage the platform. Content authors (those that will need to create and edit the content on a regular basis) as well as marketers who may be using the platform to run campaigns.

By including a range of stakeholders you can ensure you have decent coverage on what you need to get out of the platform and those outcomes that everyone needs to deliver. you‘re also more likely to get real insight into where efficiencies can be made and more importantly avoid the dreaded route of being in a worse position than you were to begin with.

There is however one caveat with this recommendation, if you’re an enterprise, you can’t include everyone in the organisation in the discussions, therefore you need to be lean in the selection process of who will take part and look to people that will provide real insight and not be afraid to be honest with the way things currently operate.

I’d also recommend that you keep the number of attendees to any session to a maximum of seven, anything more and you’ll have people that aren't engaging or just too much noise that you can't get the input and information you need.

Focus on your business outcomes, not just a list of features. This helps you stay focused on what you are really trying to achieve rather than be distracted by shiny new things.

Steve Shaw - Technical Director

3. Create an easy to understand scoring framework

One of the most difficult aspects of carrying out a vendor selection is working out how to compare like for like. To make this comparison easier, we use a very simple scoring mechanic.

For each of the outcomes that you’ve identified, score each platform with a number from 0-3 according to the following criteria:

  1. Platform did not demonstrate the ability to deliver the desired outcome
  2. Platform demonstrated basic capabilities that would allow us to deliver some of the desired outcome
  3. Platform demonstrated good capabilities that would allow us to deliver the desired outcome
  4. Platform demonstrated excellent capabilities and would easily allow us to deliver the desired outcome.

Once you’ve scored each platform in a good old spreadsheet you can then start to total up the scores for comparison. It can be useful to roll up the scores by topics to get an overall score in that area or convert to percentage totals which can also make it easier to visualise. For those that like a Red, Amber, Green (RAG) visual, I typically use anything over 75% to be green, anything between 50 and 75 to be amber and less than 50% score in a topic is red.

If you want to get really interesting and complex with your scoring you could also produce a weighting to each of the outcomes in terms of their priority, this can be worthwhile if there are a lot of outcomes which appear as more of a nice to have than critical to success.

4. Be realistic and pragmatic

I’ve seen Request For Proposals (RFPs) attached to a spreadsheet of thousands of requirements, the usual culprits such as “personalisation”, “ease of integration” and “future proofing” often make an appearance, and the processes themselves just run on for months or sometimes never complete.

It can be really tempting to list everything under the sun and see which platform ticks the most boxes, but this will rarely pay off. There isn’t a single platform that can do everything you ever wanted and more, so you need to work out what is right for your organisation by being realistic and pragmatic.

One of the easiest ways to apply this to the process is by using value modelling. This is asking yourself would implementing this feature bring value to your organisation? This could be efficient to your internal team or could be something of benefit to your customers or end users.

If a feature of the platform can bring value, you also need to consider could you actually realise that value? A good example of this would be "Personalisation". I’ve spent a long time setting up customers with platforms that can provide personalised content to visitors but very few of those clients actually carry on with it and see long term value delivered.

There can be lots of reasons that clients fail to get the value from a platform, it might be too complex once they actually get into it, or they don’t have the skillset to implement it appropriately. Sometimes the cost of getting a team together to implement a new feature can outweigh the actual value it would deliver.

5. Avoid the pitfalls of feature parity

One of the biggest costs to organizations when they come to replatforming, is the process of trying to reach “feature parity” with their existing platform. Feature parity is a way of listing all the features and functionality of the current platform and then trying to recreate them in the new platform without carrying out the previous key steps.

There are lots of research pieces from various sources such as Gartner or Forrester that show that features within a platform are often under utilised or not used at all, sometimes to the scale of 80%. That means if you spend time rebuilding these features you’re spending your investment on getting to where you are now, rather than pushing the boundaries and focusing on where you can improve, drive more value or push for innovation.

One feature that I would highly recommend isn't prioritised is a “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) editor. It’s often the first thing that people think they need when considering a CMS platform, however in nearly all of the enterprise implementations I’ve done, the editors that use the platforms every day rarely get into a WYSIWYG interface. They go straight to the section of the site they need (either by searching or within a content tree type interface) and make the edits.


The CMS sits at the heart of the marketing stack, therefore is essential to make the best choice possible.

Every organisation is different, they are looking to deliver different outcomes and value different things, this is why there isn’t a single CMS that meets every need. By following the advice in this article, you will hopefully be on the way to understanding what really matters to your organisation and how you can make the best use of your investment.

Hopefully this article has been useful for those considering a change in CMS platform and if you would like to discuss how Kin + Carta can help you choose your next CMS then get in touch using the link below.

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