SMB Spotlight: Content Management for Midmarket Businesses

Laurie McCabe: Hi, this is Laurie McCabe, Co-Founder of SMB Group.  Today in SMB Spotlight, we’re talking with Jeff Cram, co-founder of ISITE Design, which is a digital agency that focuses on web content management.  Jeff and the company also publish a blog series called The CMS or Content Management Myth.  Jeff, thank you very much for talking to me today.

Jeff Cram: Hi Laurie.  It’s great to be talking with you.

Laurie McCabe: Thanks.  Let’s start out with you telling me a little bit about what you define CMS as.  It seems to be kind of a blurry topic to a lot of people and it means different things to different people.  How does ISITE Design define CMS, first of all?

Jeff Cram: You’re right that it’s blurry.  Web content management has really become increasingly quite muddy over the last few years.  Its simplest definition is—we typically refer to it as—the platform and technology that manages and delivers your content on the web.

We’ve come to understand there are web content management systems that are technologies or hosted platforms that drive most of what you see and interact with on the web.  But, of course it’s not that simple because web content management is a lot more than technology; it’s a whole set of processes and people who go behind making these experiences come to life.

So, when you’re looking at it as a buyer or someone evaluating the marketplace, you have everything ranging from free inexpensive platforms that are open source that we’ve all probably seen like WordPress and Drupal, to very complex enterprise technology solutions that larger companies run.  Then you have the spectrum of everything in between.

Organizations, especially on the small to medium size, that are approaching this—when they poke their head up and start to do searches for it—it’s an overwhelming task to sort through all the information out there because the differences between how different types of organizations approach it and where folks are in terms of their exact needs are significant.

Laurie McCabe: What kind of guidance can you give to mid-market companies that are looking to implement or maybe upgrade their CMS system?

Jeff Cram: In our role as both a consultant and somebody that writes a lot about CMS on our blog at The CMS Myth, we get a lot of these calls from organizations that are in the very early stages of thinking about what’s next in terms of how do we approach content management in a better way.

What we typically see is that organizations have kind of outgrown whatever they currently have and there’s something happening in a business that has them re-approaching or rethinking web content management.  I think part of what we advise is to take a step back and understand that you’re not just looking for a technology solution.  I think that’s where most organizations are going wrong is they rush to frame this project and approach as if they need a new piece of technology.  Instead, frame it around the fact that you need to look at web publishing, content strategy, and content management as a discipline first to then figure out what your technology needs are going to be.

In some cases we find that the technology that folks currently have is completely adequate to achieve most of what they need to achieve.  They really have just failed to put in a lot of the processes and people behind making it work.  In other cases they’ve completely outgrown the existing technology and truly do need to find a new path forward.

So, it’s not a one size fits all equation, but I think because there are so many shiny objects out there and so many exciting things happening with technology, it’s truly been an exciting last few years in terms of the innovation that we’re seeing in the web content management space.  There’s that, I think, natural desire to go out and just do demos of a lot of platforms and then you’re quickly into this software-driven sales cycle that’s funneling you down a process that isn’t actually approaching the problem in the right way.

Laurie McCabe: What way would you recommend to approach the problem?  Let’s say you’re a mid-market company and you really do feel like you’ve outgrown what you’re using.  As you said, it may not be the software but it may be more the way you’re managing it and resourcing it.  So, where do you start to get a handle on that?

Jeff Cram: I think a great place to start is just having the discussion internally and figuring out what is the role of content in our business; what is the role of digital on our website in our business?  I think a lot of times, as simple as that question sounds, organizations fail to answer that or at least plan for it adequately.

What’s been exciting over the last few years is that there’s been this momentum around the discipline of content strategy.  When we talk about content strategy and you think about publishing, it’s completely decoupled from technology or even channels.  So, we’re not talking about websites, we’re not talking about mobile; we’re talking about how does the organization plan, manage, and govern content as a strategic asset.

Given how hot content marketing is and given how hot the role of content is in lead acquisition and nurturing and just doing business in general, it’s something that a lot of organizations are indeed taking a step back and saying, “How are we going to approach publishing?  What is the role of mobile in our customer experience?  How are we going to look at how all this content meets the needs of our prospects and customers across their entire journey,” and that reframes the approach to understand how you should approach the technology.  It’s just something that I think a lot of folks don’t do until a little bit later in the process, if at all, when you’ve already made some of the technology decisions that will box you in.

Laurie McCabe: Right.  So, given what you just discussed, it also sounds relevant to the blog series you guys publish about the myths of CMS, what do you see as some of the biggest myths maybe particularly that SMBs might have around content management systems?

Jeff Cram: That’s a good question.  On The CMS Myth, the whole origin of this blog—I started this five years ago—and when we started it, it wasn’t at all meant to be negative about web content management.  We’re incredibly bullish about the opportunity and role of web content management in businesses.  But, the overarching myth—what we’ve just been discussing—is that it’s not just the technology consideration and discipline, and there’s a huge expectation gap that happens.  I think it happens a lot in enterprise software but it happens a lot specifically in CMS with just the way that it’s positioned and sold.

All the expectations that come from thinking about this new CMS platform, when you actually put that into action and what comes out the other end in terms of when you implement it and when you put it to work, there’s a huge gap that exists.  And that gap, that expectation gap, is what we call the CMS myth.

So, a few things come out of this when we start to look at what exactly are the myths.  One is that overwhelmingly people are under invested and organizations are under invested in the people that they put behind the platforms.  This is increasingly something that we’re seeing as a challenge.  We’re talking with a smaller organization over the last few weeks and they were looking for a new CMS and they didn’t even have one single person internally that they had allocated to managing and thinking about content.  If you don’t have at least that in place, any CMS you pick is going to be unsuccessful.  So, a lot of what we do is making sure organization have the right commitment to the people that they need to have in place to be managing content.

Laurie McCabe: Right.  So, it sounds like a lot of firms and smaller companies are just under-resourced and understaffed and maybe they don’t put enough value on doing content management well and how big an impact maybe it has on their business.  Would that be fair to say?

Jeff Cram: Absolutely, and it’s understandable especially for the small to medium-sized business that doesn’t have all the roles required to manage a web or digital team in today’s day and age, and certainly content is one of those that they probably have somebody that’s thinking about content but it’s not someone’s sole job, it’s what they do after they get the rest of their job done.

I think what’s happened is that the world we’re living in now, from a digital and marketing perspective, requires new roles and new skills that didn’t exist two or three years ago and sometimes six months ago.  I think it does require more of a people investment than they made in the past.  So there’s a need to make a bigger business case for the investment in people than they have in the past.  I think it’s an opportunity to do that at the same time that you’re making the case for technology.  I think that’s the missed opportunity a lot of times is that they’ll rush through a technology decision-making process without framing it with the overall picture in mind.  They kind of miss an opportunity to sell the business on the change that’s needed or the support in investment that’s needed to make this change that the business knows it needs to make.

Most people know that content is important now.  Everybody is talking about content marketing.  You have folks like Hubspot that have really created this whole category of inbound marketing and have put platforms out there for people to use and I think it has reached the highest levels of the organization where executives are looking at this and saying, “We need to be successful in this,” and they want to know how they do it.

I think it’s an opportunity for anybody to say, “This is an opportunity to get it right.  Here’s how organizations are approaching it, and here’s how we need to be approaching it over the next three to five years.”

Laurie McCabe: Right, and that segues into ISITE_Designwhat kind of best practice guidance can you give SMBs and mid-market companies as they think about reevaluating what they’re doing in the CMS space.

Jeff Cram: There are a few things happening that are really interesting.  One is that it’s hard to even define what CMS is anymore because there’s been this whole convergence of platforms and tools.  It’s no longer just about content management and content delivery.  When you think about the role of a content management system, it’s not only responsible for content management but it is also responsible for the delivery of all this content.  As marketers more own CMS as a strategic discipline inside organizations, what that means is this is personalization, this is analytics, and this is testing.

So, I think one of the things to recognize is you’re not likely looking at one single platform.  In fact, while there are platforms that do a lot of the assumptions, and CMS is adding more bells and whistles to be able to cater to them even for the small to medium size business, they probably have at least four to five—if not more—separate platforms that are all part of this marketing technology ecosystem.

Laurie McCabe: Could you give me an example of what those might be in a typical business?

Jeff Cram: Sure.  In addition to content management, often times you’re going to have some kind of an analytics platform in place which, while it isn’t directly tied to management content, it is increasingly tied to understanding how content is delivered.  A big trend too is tools to help with testing and personalization.  So, there’s a whole range of standalone tools out there.  Google has some free ones.

Laurie McCabe: You mean like A/B landing page tests and all that?

Jeff Cram: That’s right.  There’s another really kind of inexpensive one that we use for our clients called Optimizely, which allows organizations to A/B test anything.  This isn’t a content management system but it layers on top of a content management system.

For the B-to-B organizations, they’re looking at marketing automation systems so you’re probably familiar with like Marketto or Eloqua.

Laurie McCabe: Yes, and companies like Infusionsoft in the small business space.

Jeff Cram: But these are really interesting because they are also part of the content management picture. They are managing landing pages, they’re managing forums, and they’re managing the email that comes off.  So you see two things happening.  One is larger content management vendors saying, “We can be all things to all people and we’re actually going to start to build a suite of tools that is integrated and can start to add these different capabilities into one.”  And they suddenly don’t like to be called web content management platforms because they’re now customer engagement platforms or marketing suites, right?

So you see a lot of consolidation and a lot of feature expansion in the traditional WCM vendors, but you also see just this explosion of new tools and new companies that are best of breed solutions in these very specific areas.

I met with a company that was a larger enterprise.  We met with one last week and when we added out all the different pieces of their marketing technology they had a couple dozen different individual tools and platforms that were managing part of their customer experience.  So, I think for the small to medium size business it’s really important to look at the overall marketing technology ecosystem, understand what the role of content management is and where the organization needs to differentiate and have an impact.

Laurie McCabe: It comes back to that soul-searching every time, right?

Jeff Cram: Yeah, and I think just having a plan for knowing.  One of the mistakes we see organizations make is if they’re evaluating a CMS and it has a specific feature, they check that box saying, “Hey, got it, it has marketing automation,” but they haven’t taken the time to say, “This is what marketing automation means for us and this is what we need to accomplish,” and then it turns out they may have been better suited with a standalone marketing automation platform.

Thinking of it as an ecosystem, there’s a great resource out there.  There’s a blogger by the name of Scott Brinker who runs a site called The Chief Marketing Technologist and he’s a fantastic resource for helping to explain what this marketing ecosystem is all about and kind of how organizations need to think about it in a different way.

Laurie McCabe: Great.  Well, I think you really covered a lot of ground and it’s been really educational for me, and I’m sure a lot of the folks that will tune in or read the blog will also get a lot of benefit from it.  Before we go, can you just provide your web address, which we’ll also post up on the podcast and on the blog, but just incase anyone is listening to it.

Jeff Cram: Sure.  Our agency is ISITE Design and that’s www.ISITEDesign.com.  We’re in Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Oregon.  The CMS Myth blog that I mentioned is just at The CMS Myth which is just www.CMSMyth.com.

Laurie McCabe: Jeff, thank you so much.  We appreciate your insights and look forward to talking to you again soon.

Jeff Cram: Great, thank you Laurie.

Dell’s Boston Think Tank: Big Ideas for Small Business

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to participate in Dell’s Boston Think Tank for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (#smallbizboston) at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Dell billed the session as a chance for business owners, startups and others to come together to listen, learn, collaborate and share.

dpictInstead of talking heads, the day was interactive from start to finish, with speakers who realized that they have as much to learn from attendees as the other way around. And instead of PowerPoint slides, dpict.info’s scribe captured the story as it unfolded, building this great infographic to sum up the day’s key conversations and insights.

Dell_Boston_2013_printDell’s Entrepreneur in Residence, Ingrid Vanderveldt (who I spoke to in this video interview) kicked off the event some interesting stats about how Boston small businesses view the current business environment and their ability access to capital, talent and technology. Whitney Johnson (@johnsonwhitney), Author of Dare, Dream, Do and Harvard Business Review Blogger and event moderator, introduced the 4 different themes for the day, each facilitated by a local small business expert:

Dell sessionFrom my perspective, some of the most interesting takeaways from the day were that small business owners:

  • Struggle to find qualified people who are also a good fit for the company’s culture. Although small business owners believe that talent and expertise are the most important contributors to business growth, they find it difficult task to access the talent they need. The investment required to recruit, hire and train someone looms large for small business, and the risk of hiring someone who doesn’t work out is a big one. While people have had success outsourcing smaller jobs to contractors via sites such as Elance, TaskRabbit and Zirtual, “you reach a point where you need talent that you can trust, commit to and hire.” Practical advice included to “go where the talent is,” for example, check out http://www.meetup.com/ and go to meetups where you’re most likely to find the types of people you’re looking for, and learn some of the lingo they use so you can engage in a meaningful conversation. Other suggestions included writing down and codifying your corporate values so that you can clearly articulate them to the candidates you interview. Finally, look for people with complementary skills to yours, and those who can do the job as well or even better than you can.
  • See technology as both a blessing and a curse. One the one hand, the Internet and mobile solutions have made it much easier for people to collaborate and connect. On the other hand, small business owners are in information overload when it comes to sorting through all the thousands of available technology solutions and determine which can really help them achieve their business goals–growing revenue, being more productive, and operating more profitably. Dell’s survey indicates that 41% of Boston small businesses see technology needs as becoming increasingly complex, yet only 1 in 10 have full-time dedicated IT people. This mirrors SMB Group’s North America research findings. Most small businesses see the value of technology in making their businesses successful, but need a lot of help to identify which solutions will have the biggest impact on business results.
  • Believe telecommuting and working remotely enables productivity. Sorry, @Yahoo Melissa Mayer, but I think its fair to say that you are swimming against the tide. The general sentiment seemed to be that although live, face-to-face meetings are ideal for some things, the ability to work remotely has given small businesses more flexibility and access to talent. For instance, Sharon Kan, an entrepreneur with four successful start-up exits, kicked of the Access to Technology session by saying she runs her businesses with “a phone and a laptop.”
  • Typically pull their businesses up with their own bootstraps. Only 3% of Boston small businesses relied on venture capital and angel investors to get off the ground. Personal savings are the top source of funding at 44%, followed by banks and credit unions at 23%. Amy Millman of Springboard Investors, which has funded a raft of innovative start-ups, including Zipcar, iRobot and Constant Contact, gave business owners insights into what investors are looking for. First, you must be able to clearly articulate how your company is going to make money, and “learn the language of funders and investors”. More pointedly, when a prospect says “wow”, take it a step further. Find out the “why and how of the wow” and use that in your pitch to investors.
  • Need to get more strategic about using social media. According to Chris Brogan, who led the social media breakout, all businesses must think like “fledgling TV stations and create their own media” and “build trust at a distance.” The challenge is how to do this effectively. SMB Group’s 2012 Social Business survey indicates that of the 53% of small businesses using social media, less than half use it in a strategic way. According to Chris, small businesses need a home base, such as a web site or blog, and two “outposts.” One outpost should be the social media site that’s the best fit for your story and how you want to tell it (I would add that it also needs to be a place where your prospects hang out) and the other is email marketing: bad email marketing may be dead but good email marketing isn’t. Don’t try to spread yourself too thin–concentrate on using these three to help you “articulate, reach, trust, engage and echo” to meet your business goals.

dell session 5Overall, the interactive format, access to experts and eclectic mix of small business owners added up to an event that gave attendees information and inspiration, and new connections with people to get help from and vice versa.

Dell put a lot into the event. In addition to Ingrid and a number of Dell marketing and AR staff, Dell product strategy, management and technology teams were also well represented. With its listening ears on at events such as this, Dell is taking the right steps not only to help small businesses succeed, but to also ensure that it has the insights it needs to provide small businesses with the solutions they need to move ahead.

The Boston event was the last stop on Dell’s inaugural Think Tank tour of nine cities, but I’m told that Dell intends to follow-up with a new tour schedule soon.

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