Having gotten my feet [soaking] wet with briefings from Web Content Management vendors, I’ve come to a realization: the Customer-Vendor feedback loop is one of the strongest keys to long-term success for all parties. A blinding flash of the obvious? I don’t think so.  Let me explain…

I have seen, and written, a lot of RFPs seeking “the perfect” WCM product. The natural tendency in these “quests for the holy grail” is for the tool-seeker to list as many WCM features as one might possibly use […maybe…at some point in the future… if only…] and for the vendors to respond, in turn, by listing all of their capabilities and feature sets. As one might imagine, this scenario typically results in responses which provide the decision-maker minimal product differentiation information.  Why? Because like it or not, most WCM products offer similar feature sets, and if they don’t offer a particular feature today, one can be sure it’s “on the roadmap”.  [I’ll spend more time in a future post describing how one can craft an RFP to elicit valuable responses which actually help one decide which product(s) align most closely with needs of the author.] But today’s capabilities are tomorrow’s old news, so how can one be sure they’re selecting a vendor whose product will meet tomorrow’s needs? Take a look at the vendor’s track record and approach to collaborating with customers to expand and hone its offering.

As I delve into some of the top-rated [by users] WCM vendors, I see a consistent “customer-is-key” theme being played out in the form of both formal and informal feedback channels.  These “conversations” with customers can be either synchronous or asynchronous, direct or indirect, two-way or multi-way…or all of the above.  The point is that successful vendors [pro]actively engage their customers, and then respond in a meaningful manner to enhance their offering in a way that ensures that the product’s “roadmap” is *always* aligned with the needs of both current and future customers.

In a recent briefing with a vendor [who I feel has a great approach to managing this feedback loop], the last slide in their presentation listed four of their key differentiators…but all of them were technology-related and failed to mention my aforementioned favorite. Why not?  Is it because they aren’t proud of this factor? Absolutely not…they are very proud of it and have worked hard to create such a valuable dialog with their customers. My sense is they left it out because this subject is not yet a key criteria in the minds of decision-makers.

We are failing to ask the right questions.  Why wouldn’t customer service and engagement be the key in such a huge purchase decision? It should.  Innovation is essential, but I believe it is critical that we, the customers, ensure we have a place at the table to refine the direction of such innovation. After all, innovation without purpose or utility is useless.

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