Fire, Ready, Aim! How Not to Choose a New Web Content Management Solution

It’s been a busy few weeks since we published “The Forrester Wave: Web Content Management for Digital Customer Experience, Q2 2013,” in which we assess the technical capabilities and strategic direction of 10 WCM solutions.

A question I hear frequently from Forrester clients:  “Which WCM is the best for our organization?” My nearly universal response: “Tell me your priorities.”

Rarely is there one “best WCM” that meets all of a firm’s objectives for web content management and digital experience, so let’s dispel that myth right now. Instead, it’s a trade-off where your specific requirements should influence your investigation, direct you to a shortlist, and help you make an informed choice.

The WCM Wave Report (and the accompanying Excel with detailed product capabilities) is a powerful tool to help enterprise buyers compare solutions. It’s helpful only if you have some idea of the problems you’re trying to solve and the strategic opportunities you need to focus on.

Priorities matter. Or, more accurately, your priorities matter. Your priorities are different than those of the company across the street. It’s a big and confusing market, too. Although we cover 10 WCM solutions in the Wave, there are many additional viable solutions.

WCM selections can hinge on any number of facets. (You’d be surprised at how often WCM buyers, after doing deep product comparisons, vendor demos, proofs-of-concept and other research, tell me they picked their WCM “because it had the easiest interface for our marketing team to use.”)

Fact: WCM providers have mastered the art of selling you a menu of capabilities -- even if you’re not sure what or when you’ll do something with them. It’s a fool’s errand to go into this morass looking only at technical capabilities of competing WCM solutions.

Instead, I insist that clients think critically about several key things when seeking a new WCM system. Some thought-starter questions I ask:

1.       Can you describe your company’s strategic digital plan and define success for web content management and digital customer experience at your company? If not, go back and get some answers before you go big-game hunting for WCM. Try assembling a cross-silo team to help get the answers.

2.       Can you define what your customers and prospects (i.e. B2C, B2B, business partners) want and need via digital channels to have optimal digital experiences and engage with your business or brand? If not, start by asking them. A simple website survey is one of many ways to get smarter about this stuff.

3.       What pains and perils must internal staff (i.e. marketers, business/brand, IT pros, web developers, technical architects) and agency partners suffer through today to keep your websites, mobile sites, mobile applications and other multichannel customer experiences running? At what cost to the enterprise? At what cost to marketing? At what cost to your customers’ digital experiences? Understand this, and you’ll understand at least some of what a new WCM must deliver by way of capabilities, ease of use, and specific functionality.

To be blunt, WCM initiatives frequently fail not because of technology but because buyers don’t start by answering some fundamental questions around challenges, opportunities and needs. WCM software and the application ecosystem that surrounds digital experience delivery is complex. Simply throwing software at the problem isn’t the answer.

So let me ask a different question than the one we started with: What has worked for your organization in selecting a new WCM solution?

What steps did you take to do it right?

Or what didn’t you do that caused you trouble? We’d all love to hear your comments below.


Has the Forrester WAVE gone 'Top Gear' on us ?

Its a catch 22 of the Forrester (and Gartner) reports that by selecting predominantly 'expensive' CMS solutions - you have the world thinking we all need a Ferrari to drive to school in. You plead the case above one way - but then sell a report that abandons anything but the 'club' you have chosen for evaluation.

There was an interesting tipping point about five years ago where the reports went from 'supporting materials' in an evaluation process as you suggest you would like it to be to 'a mechanism to limit the number of CMS solutions we even need to look at' - given that most analysts admit there are too many CMS solutions to look at in detail - it follows that the customer finds the same challenge - and wrongly (imo) uses the likes of the Wave to 'look no further' - alas inadvertantly these reports have become the defacto short list for consideration for a lot of 'lazy' companies. Great if youre in the club - not so great if you are not.

More significantly is that a bizarre consequence of this was that a market that had started to commoditise due to the number of CMS solutions on offer (traditional market forces at play) - started to get more expensive as the 'club' only contained expensive solutions. So you guys are effectively helping CMS stay expensive !!

Whilst products that are much more widely used like wordpress and Drupal dont even make it to the reports (unless you are including the cloud services from Acquia) - niche products with a few hundred customers get 'lauded' as leading the world in content management - go figure.....

It would be great to see a wave or quadrant that ranked providers based on the actual PROVEN number of customers using a solution (NOT self elected figures) - and then evaluate who is on top - a number of the so called leaders wouldnt even feature on such a table - especially if they had to prove their customer base.

In its current form it could be argued that both Forrester Wave (and Gartner Quadrant) have become the equivalent of a high performance car wish list with everyone thinking they need to aspire to a Bugatti when in fact most websites are requiring nothing more than a peugot to get from A to B. Alas I am old enough to remember the Rolls Royce attributed slogan "if you have to ask the price, you can't afford one" but ironically thats what has been created to a large degree with price being a closely guarded / shrouded secret amongst the club - with cheaper solutions ring fenced out of the analyst reports giving the impression that content management has to be expensive - can you imagine Clarkson test driving 'Drupal' and being anything but elitist ?

To be fair to both Forrester (and Gartner) you do keep pleading the case for looking outside the list - albeit in small print - at the same time as selling your report that excludes the same (said with a smile) - but a product used by a few select wealthy blue chip companies is a 'Bugatti CMS' - to be owned by a few, admired from afar ...... and watched on 'Top Gear'........

Re: Has the Forrester WAVE gone 'Top Gear' on us ?

Thanks for your point of view on our web content management report, and cheers for weaving the rare sentence that includes reference to both Jeremy Clarkson and Drupal. Anyone who can make that metaphor fly can’t be half bad.

But to the point: my finding here is that you’re making reference to the wrong “club”. I don’t agree with your angle that our report creates a de facto club consisting of Ferrari-grade WCM solutions to which its readers can only aspire.

The “club” we write this report for consists of Forrester’s clients – generally the largest enterprises in the world, with substantial and complex needs – who are using, asking about, and making buying decisions among these solutions. We look at many vendors to determine Wave inclusion, but it comes down to which solutions go beyond core web content management and support “manage, engage and measure” for digital experience for clients like ours.


Still sounds a club to me....

Hi David - alas......

"consists of Forrester’s clients – generally the largest enterprises in the world"
From the Wave criterion for inclusion:
"Vendors included in this evaluation have aproven product and generate approximately $35 million or more in annual revenue"

....especially if you divide the number of customers the 'club' produce each year in order to reach >$35m - that makes for some pretty expensive technology used only by large wealthy companies - so would suggest the 'expensive toys for rich boys' anaology still holds true.

"it comes down to which solutions go beyond core web content management and support “manage, engage and measure” for digital experience for clients like ours." - are you saying that wordpress isnt used by large enterprises ?!? as there are a few I could put forward - some of whom have replaced 'club' solutions to achieve the same - same for Drupal.

Recent WCM usage data

From our most recent digital experience survey (2013): Adobe is used by 26% of enterprises within Forrester's client base; WordPress by less than 4%. We've done hundreds of WCM interviews with large companies over the past few years, and have not spoken with any significant number who are using WordPress to the extent (engage, as opposed to just manage and publish) as similar organizations using Adobe, SDL, Autonomy, and others.

If anyone has contacts at $1

If anyone has contacts at $1 billion+ companies using WCM products (regardless of inclusion in our Wave) for interactive multichannel experiences (opposed to informational websites), please feel free to forward to David or me at the email addresses listed in this blog.

You can contact me

We fit the bill, and we use Drupal. Couldn't find your email address, so you can contact me if you'd like.

Steve, This is often the


This is often the perception of smaller vendors that are frustrated when trying to break into the Wave. I've worked with Forrester for many years, both when you and I worked at RedDot, and now at Sitecore. I can tell you from personal experience that it takes time and perseverence, and an enterprise grade product to make it into the Wave. It doesnt' happen overnight, and you certainly have to pay your dues in the enterprise sector before you can be acknowledged. Having a small department site, or country site doesn't cut it either, these have to be enterprise wide product adoptions, and neither wordpress, nor many of the small vendors have acheived that to date. My advice to you is simply to keep delivering excellent results for your customers in the Fortune 1000 and you'll get there.