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Why Is It So Hard to Shop for Enterprise Software? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kas Thomas   
Technology It's amazing to me that so many of the vendors I cover in my day job as an analyst at CMS Watch still haven't figured out that the Web is about conversations, openness, and making it easy for people to find what they need. Making it hard for customers to find out about your company or your products is just plain dumb. People will route around you.

And yet, there are still WCM and ECM vendors who want to make you (the potential customer) consume their product information they way they want you to consume it, rather than letting you decide how to consume it.

Example: Say you want a copy of a white paper (touted as a free download on the vendor's home page). When you click the link, you get a webform asking for your name, e-mail address, company, job title, phone number, and sometimes a lot more. Sorry, our marketing collateral is under lock and key. You're a hundred keystrokes and who-knows-how-many mouse clicks away from getting the info you need. (I can see why you might make me register to get a trial version of some commercial software, but for a PDF? No way.)

Heaven help you if you want to know the price of a product (or read the actual terms and conditions of a license). Surely that info is on the company website somewhere? Surely I don't have to submit an RFI or endure a phone conversation with a sales person just to find out prices and terms?

Wrong. It's on a need-to-know basis.

Product documentation, likewise, is often well-hidden behind a firewall. ("It's on the customer extranet" is a commonly heard phrase in our business.) Of course, when you finally do finagle a copy of the doc (often just by Googling it, ironically), you realize why it's hidden from public view. It's too embarrassingly shoddy to post in plain sight.

Application programming interfaces tend to be yet another bit of product info that quite a few vendors keep under lock and key (some actually require you to buy the product and purchase an SDK before seeing it). You would think that if you were touting a product that's a great programming platform, you'd want to show off your APIs. But that's not often the case.

Is it just me, or are vendors who should know better not understanding Web paradigms like openness and transparency, and customer-driven marketing? Didn't anyone read the Cluetrain Manifesto?

When I wear my "customer hat" and go online in search of information, I don't like to encounter roadblocks. I don't want to be deterred from finding the information I need. I don't want to have to talk to a salesperson (or any person) on the phone, just to get basic product information. This is the Web. Give me what I need in one click.

As far as I'm concerned, the following rules should be spray-painted in fluorescent orange above the main entry door of every WCM, ECM, DAM, Web Analytics, or Enterprise Portal vendor's headquarters:

1. All links to marketing materials should be direct download links.

2. Post your prices online, unless you're ashamed of them.

3. Post sample license agreements online, unless you're ashamed of your terms and conditions.

4. Post all product documentation, including developer doc and APIs, in a public area, for free (as in free) download. Stop treating documentation as if it contains national-security secrets. (If Oracle and IBM can post their documentation, so can you.)

5. If you operate an online forum for customers, give anyone who wants it read-access. Don't hide the forum behind closed doors (unless you're ashamed of what's going on in there).

Vendors need to understand, the Web has fundamentally changed how people think about companies, products, and procurement. It doesn't matter what business you're in: Google, for better or worse, is the first layer of your self-service facade. And the social web is where your reputation lives. There's nowhere to hide now. So don't even try.

About the author: Kas Thomas is an analyst at CMS Watch, specializing in Web Content Management. He is a principal contributor to the Web CMS Report 2009 and co-lead analyst (with Theresa Regli) on the Digital & Media Asset Management Report. He also contributes to the Search and Information Access Report.

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