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Section 3

Choosing a CMS platform, and the right provider

Read time length: 4-5 minutes

The process of choosing the right content management system can be just as complex as the software.

Choosing a CMS is complicated for many reasons:

  • The digital environment is rapidly evolving
  • There are more CMS providers, with more complex and niche offerings, than ever
  • There’s a growing number of internal stakeholders (and breadth of competing use cases)

That’s why it’s important to approach your decision making in a deliberate and structured way. The full-length guide includes 14 steps to help guide your selection process.


The definitive guide to choosing a content management system

Choosing the right CMS can be really complicated, and really important. So we wrote a guide to getting it right.

Download the full-length guide

Here are a few of them:

Build the business case

There’s no getting around it: Moving to a new CMS is an investment, and it’s important to formally justify the costs to the business as early as possible.

That means telling the right story to the right people: features and benefits to content and development teams, and a compelling return on investment (supported by a watertight business case) for financial gatekeepers.

Investing in a new CMS can generate a multitude of benefits. But it’s helpful to group CMS ROI into three core pillars: Business impact, operational efficiency, and technology savings.


Business impact
Operational efficiency
Technology savings

We cover each of them in detail in chapter 3 of The definitive guide to choosing a content management system. The short version is this: You need to explain why (and how) the right CMS will:

  • Produce individualized customer experiences that visibly increase conversions, customer loyalty, and revenue
  • Support a more agile content operation that can move from concept through testing to production much faster
  • Integrate and connect many capabilities to provide a lower-cost, extensible, and future-proof platform
Start with clear, deliberate reasons for change

It’s a good idea to build a strong, deliberate business case for choosing a new CMS solution right from the beginning. This will be helpful to refer back to as you become immersed in the selection process.

Some potential reasons might be:

  • Your current CMS doesn’t integrate well with other technologies such as CRMs, experience platforms, and commerce solutions
  • You want to consolidate multiple websites under one CMS, to lower the management costs and increase efficiencies
  • Your CMS might be too difficult for non-technical content team members to use
  • Your CMS might not be extensible enough for your developers to quickly react to market developments

Don’t try to manufacture these reasons in isolation. Go out to the business and ask for input from a variety of stakeholders across the business, including from content teams, developers, IT leaders, and an executive sponsor.

Draw out specific requirements from real use cases

Once you’ve got a compelling list of reasons to move, think about what you want to achieve with your new CMS. Frame your thinking around specific use cases and draw out specific feature requirements from them.

Think about use cases like:

  • The last campaign you ran, from inception, execution, to evaluation. Who was involved? What were their roles? What would they need to input to the CMS? What channels (and additional roles) were involved? How did you measure success?
  • And then think about your future ideal state; would you like to incorporate testing/optimization, more granular personalization? Better metrics that would help you define success?
  • And finally don’t let your current software and processes box you out of a better way of achieving your objectives; whether as simple as getting a press release live, correcting an error in the content, or as complex as a multichannel personalized and adaptive experience.

From these use cases, draw up a requirements checklist to reference against what specific solutions deliver. Take a look at the full-length guide to see an example of what comprehensive requirements checklist looks like.

Secure references from real customers

If you’re looking at a few preliminary CMS solutions that meet your initial requirements checklist, try to secure some direct references and testimonials from actual users.

Find businesses of a similar size (and with similar needs) and have a frank discussion about their experiences to date.

  • What’s been working well and what are the main drawbacks?
  • What’s been pleasantly surprising, and what’s been an unexpected limitation?
  • How much of the platform are they actually using?
  • How are technical aspects like scalability and security working out?
  • What do the end users think?
Get aligned with IT early

Your choice of CMS is probably subject to some IT restrictions that won’t be immediately visible—incumbent technology frameworks and chosen application infrastructure are most common.

Don’t forget business fit

Try to think about your prospective vendor relationships strategically, rather than transactionally. Look for someone with a sense of responsiveness, and the ability to manage an account like yours. Think about factors like:

  • Does their management structure work for you?
  • How do they respond to support requests?
  • Is it a good cultural fit?
  • How do they respond to difficult questions?
  • Are you an important customer?
  • How much influence do you have with them?
  • What kind of training and professional services do they offer?

Investigate how effectively any prospective CMS integrates with the tools and systems you use—not simply whether it’s possible, but how easy (or difficult) those integrations actually are, how well they function, and what type of resources or skills the integrations require.

Future proofing

A CMS should be viable for at least five years.

You need to ensure any prospective solution will remain reliable, secure, and relevant to your needs from both a technology and a content production standpoint. Consider:

  • How will your content output grow in the next one, three, or five years?
  • Is there a chance of big spikes in visits?
  • Will you need to manage hosting in different regions?
  • Is flexibility to rapidly expand (and, if needed, scale back) important?
  • Are your availability requirements likely to change?