Choose the Right CMS: Four Steps from Vendor Shortlist to CMS RFP
Choosing the right CMS is a business-critical decision. Getting your CMS vendor selection right now will impact the success of your digital strategy for years to come. Even if you have a CMS in place, it probably a good time to re-evaluate. Why? Because the buy cycle for both B2B and B2C has changed dramatically over the last two years. With marketing-driven digital experiences projected to be the growth lever for B2B, it’s essential that your next CMS be able to keep up.
Digital transformation was already well underway, but the pandemic catalyzed it. It forced B2C sectors like retail to shift their focus online and create richer, more engaging e-commerce shopping experiences in order to attract new customers and build loyalty. The B2B sector is now following suit, recognizing that the expectations of all buyers have changed, and B2B companies are now making the shift toward a digital-first approach to selling that relies on many omnichannel and digital experience best practices learned from B2C e-commerce.
This means you need a CMS that is both customer-ready and future-proof: one that is agile enough to address today’s ever-changing business needs and is scalable to meet the high digital experience expectations of up-and-coming Millennials and Gen Zs. This has major implications for your CMS selection criteria.
Selecting your CMS vendor shortlist
According to Scott Brinker’s Marketing Technology Landscape, in 2010 there were 150 martech solutions. By 2020, that number had grown to over 8,000 solutions. That’s an increase of 5,233% in 10 years. With so many CMS vendors in the market, making the right decision for your CMS procurement can be complex.
Knowing how to select a CMS effectively is key. Whether you want to look at traditional, monolithic CMS vendors or more flexible SaaS CMS vendors there are a number of key considerations that should go into your content management system proposal.
The following four steps will give you a head start in developing your CMS vendor shortlist. Going through these steps will give you a better understanding of where you are today and what changes you need to make in order to deliver great digital experiences today and into the future.
From there you can move on to your “Request for Proposal” — RFP for CMS vendors. A CMS RFP serves as a sort of CMS vendor application for winning your business. It puts you in the driver’s seat, and it is an essential component for effective decision-making because it helps you identify the specific capabilities each CMS vendor can provide and how they map to your needs.
Here are the four key steps that will help you develop your shortlist:
1: Start with your buyer’s journey
The most important starting point is to define your digital experience (DX) vision—what your customers expect today and what kinds of digital experiences you’ll need to deliver in the future in order to be successful and stay ahead of the competition.
Understanding the buyer’s journey and how you need to interact with your buyers should serve as the foundation for your vision. Relying on your buyer’s journey and marketing strategy from 2018 won’t cut it. The rapid pace of change, and the high expectations of B2C and B2B customers for targeted, personalized customer experiences across multiple channels, means that it is absolutely critical for digital marketing teams to be able to respond rapidly and flexibly to gain a competitive advantage.
This puts the large, monolithic CMS platforms in a difficult position. They’re like giant cruise ships—they offer an enormous array of amenities (many of which you may never need or take advantage of) and they are incredibly slow and hard to maneuver. They may call themselves digital experience platforms (DXP), but their complexity means that your marketing team’s ability to deliver those digital experiences is heavily dependent on the crew in the engine room—your IT department.
Want to whip together a context-sensitive shoppable video that showcases your products in an engaging, relevant scenario that plays on a cultural moment? Wait for it… wait some more. And by the time you’ve delivered that highly socially relevant bit of marketing content, the “moment” has long passed and your brand just look behind the times.
Today’s rapidly changing customer expectations require a CMS that has the power and agility of a speed boat—a digital experience platform with a composable array of options you can add and change as needed to create just the custom cruiser you need, today and into the future. A composable DXP with a hybrid-headless CMS enables your marketing team to steer the boat and create engaging, current, highly relevant content then rapidly publish it to a wide array of channels— without having to run to the IT department at every turn.
A composable DXP supports the agility and scalability marketers need to support the buyers’ journey at every stage. Composable technology strategies are rapidly gaining traction across the digital business landscape.
Gartner® suggests that:
“By 2023, 60% of mainstream organizations will list composable business as a strategic objective and will use an increasing number of packaged business capabilities (PBCs).”
Further it states,
“By 2023, organizations that have adopted an intelligent composable approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation.”[i]
Key benefits of a Composable DXP strategy vs a monolithic approach include:
[Source: Composable DXP Buyer's Guide, CMSWire and Crownpeak]
2: Map the buyer’s journey to your CMS requirements
Once you’ve updated your buyer’s journey, it’s important to consider your CMS from the perspectives of your buyer, your technology and the opportunity cost/productivity. Some questions that can help guide this process include:
- How can you leverage digital experience along the entire buyer’s journey to differentiate your company?
- How is your current CMS meeting these needs today, and more importantly, what is missing?
- What will you need to do in the future to build trust and engage with your buyers as they shift from prospect to customer to advocate?
- How complex are the needs of your buyers, and what does your company require to meet and exceed these needs (e.g., need for personalization, multi-language, connected experiences across devices and channels, both in-store and on-line as applicable)?
- What is your vision for a digital experience ecosystem/tech stack that will give your company a competitive edge (i.e., which applications will your CMS need to integrate with and how easy is it to integrate)?
- What has prevented you from transforming your digital business, and how can a CMS vendor help you overcome these challenges?
- Which other applications are you considering replacing in addition to your CMS?
- Which applications will you likely need to purchase in the future and how will they integrate with your CMS?
- What are your needs from a security perspective?
Opportunity cost and/or productivity perspective
- Who is involved in the content orchestration and delivery process today, and which teams do you envision partaking in this process in the future?
- What is the greatest impact (positive and negative) on your team’s productivity today as you are delivering digital experiences to your customers (i.e., where are the greatest opportunities for improvement, how reliant is your marketing team on IT support and development resources, what processes or delays are increasing your time-to-market for deploying new designs or provisioning new applications, channels, or devices)?
- What added value could your marketing and IT teams be generating if less time was spent managing your CMS (i.e., if your marketing teams were empowered to manage content and campaigns directly without IT support, what gains could be made in terms of productivity and time-to-value across both teams?)
3: Do your decision-support research: top three sources
While poring over CMS and DXP vendor websites and marketing material is important for gathering broad information, vendors will cast the brightest light on their own solutions. So creating your shortlist should involve a bit of unbiased 3rd party research as well. Top sources include:
- Analyst firms’ selection matrices: Industry analyst firms publish signature reports that provide their assessments and insights about the top vendors in a specific space. For DXPs, this includes reports like Research in Action’s Vendor Selection Matrix for Digital Experience Management and The Forrester Wave™: Agile Content Management Systems (CMSes), Q1 2021. These assessments will give you more objective, expert opinion on the quality and capabilities of the various software vendors and platforms and which vendors are innovating and leading in the market (which are not always the same). (e-Spirit is now integrated into the Crownpeak DXP)
- Peer contacts: Gathering opinions from your peers is the most direct way to build your data around different CMS and DXP vendors. While going to your direct competitors may not be a viable option, seeking the opinions of trusted friends in related, but non-competing industries and markets can be of tremendous value.
- Online customer reviews: B2B online software reviews on sites like Gartner Peer Insights, TrustRadius, G2, Capterra are particularly valuable. These user reviews provide you with perspective on real-world experiences of companies like yours that are using the solutions you are evaluating.
4: Develop your RFP process in 10 steps
At this point, you have a good idea of your buyer’s journey and your requirements. Whether your potential vendor list is long or short, it’s now time to start the weed-out process by asking vendors to complete a request for proposal (RFP).
Your RFP process is as unique as your business, so it must be honed to meet your needs. Here is a list of steps that will get you started:
- Identify the key stakeholders both within and external to your organization, including what role they will play in the selection process (e.g., executive sponsors, marketing, business owners, content editors, IT/developer professionals, procurement, legal team, external agencies, or service providers).
- Meet with the team(s) to determine the key selection criteria that should be used for the RFP, identifying corporate or business-level criteria as well as criteria from the perspective of each functional area and staff role (e.g., business users, editors, designers, developers).
- Agree on a project description, and more importantly, what the key indicators of success will be for deployment of the selected vendor’s application from launch time and beyond.
- Map out the scope of the project (e.g., site redesign by a design firm, CMS software procurement, need for professional services for software deployment, integration, and customization costs).
- Develop an RFP timeline with key milestones.
- Determine the budget required for the project, and complete the budget approval process.
- Create the RFP template (download our easy-to-use template to get started now).
- Send out the RFP template for completion by your shortlist of vendors, clarifying timelines.
- Interview your top 2-3 vendors, including meeting their team, understanding their strategy for project completion, and receiving a demonstration of their solution, preferably customized to your situation and needs.
- Finalize agreement with selected vendor (e.g., negotiate pricing, check references).
CMS RFP Template
A rigorous request for proposal (RFP) document is key to cutting through the noise and ensuring the right questions are asked as you assess and compare your top vendors. Whether you call it your enterprise content management RFP template or your content management system RFP template, getting it right at this stage will not only guide you to the best-fit solution for your organization, but it will get you there faster and ensure you avoid nasty surprises down the line.
Download our free RFP Template for Content Management Systems - covering 150+ core requirements - for a complete and easy-to-use template that will get you going fast.
Key features of the template include:
- RFP Information (about your company and your project)
- Vendor information
- Basic information about each vendor
- An opportunity for your vendor to share their company’s background, core competencies, and competitive differentiators
- Business requirements
- Technology requirements
- Security requirements
To get started, download your ready-to-use CMS RFP template now.
As you build your RFP you can reach out to our team directly with any questions - our solutions experts are always on-hand to advise.
[i] “Adopt a Composable DXP Strategy to Future-Proof Your Tech Stack.” Irina Guseva, Yefim Natis, Mick MacComascaigh, Mike Lowndes, Gene Phifer, 16 December 2020.
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