Nobody cares about Plone (Plone Conference 2022 talk)

Oct 14, 2022
The average client has no idea what Plone is, and they don’t really care. They won’t trust something they’ve never heard of, and there are plenty of other solutions out there that claim to offer the same things. Designers and developers, on the other hand, do care about Plone: an elegant, powerful, secure, scalable, and flexible solution to clients’ content management dilemmas. However, clients generally don’t care about the technical stuff – they just want to be online. It’s our job to tell them why Plone is the way to go. In this talk, we share what we’ve learned about selling Plone to people who don’t care over the last 15 years.

Watch the video of the talk above, or read it below! Note: the video also contains a bonus Q&A at the end.

 

The customer journey: Buying a backpack [Talya]

I don’t know about you guys, but when I’ve got a trip coming up, I channel my excitement into thinking about packing. What will I need to take with me? How do I want to look when I’m moving through airports and train stations and hotels and museums - and a conference venue, in this case? And how do I want to feel when I’m doing these things?

As I was planning/daydreaming about this trip, I realised there was something missing from the picture I was constructing in my mind: a bag.

But not just any bag. This bag had to do three things:

  1. Firstly, it had to have specific features. It needed to be big enough to carry everything I need with me daily, on the plane and here in Belgium, without being bulky. I had to be able to move freely and easily, but still be able to access my laptop, travel documents, toiletries, book, snacks, etc. whenever I needed them.
  2. Secondly, this bag needed to look good. And it needed to look good in a specific way: it needed to go with everything else I was planning to wear throughout the trip. And I wanted its looks to say something about me: professional, but not too formal and corporate. Like: “I know what I’m doing, but I’m not too old-fashioned and stuffy”.
  3. And finally, because sustainability and ethics are important to me, I was looking for a bag that would make me feel good too, from a company I would feel good supporting.

Now, that’s a lot of requirements for something as apparently simple as a bag.

When I started looking for a bag, I actually started from the bottom of the list: the feelings. And luckily I already knew of a brand that would make me feel good to support. It’s called Sealand, and is a Cape Town-based brand that uses waste materials to hand-make durable and stylish bags. Not only is it sustainable and ethical, but it has a very strong brand and reputation. If you’re in Cape Town and see someone wearing a Sealand bag, you think, “that is a cool person, they know something about style and ethical fashion.”

So I started browsing their website. I already knew I was looking for a backpack because I wanted to carry lots of things easily, hands-free, so I went to their backpack section.

And then I moved up the list of requirements, to the looks. Immediately, one design stood out to me. And I chose black because it would go with everything, and it looks professional.

Then, finally, I moved on to the features. I checked the dimensions, number of pockets, straps, and so on, just to make sure it could hold everything I need.

So, clearly, I bought the bag. It cost a little more than other bags that would have the same features and essentially fulfil the same function, but I was willing to pay more because of the other two qualities: how it looks, and how it makes me feel.

Now, you’re probably wondering what on Earth this has to do with Plone. And don’t worry, it will all make sense by the end of this talk.

 

Who are we? [Karel]

So, at this point you know more about Talya’s backpack than about Juizi.

I’m Karel, and this is Talya, and we’re from Juizi, a South African web development company that specializes in building Plone websites. Most of our clients are non-profit organisations working in education and politics, but we have various other kinds of clients too. Mainly local to us in South Africa, but also some international.

I’m a front-end designer, and I’m the team member the clients have the most contact with. Talya has been taking care of all things marketing at Juizi for the past year or so. She’s a newbie when it comes to Plone - and programming - but has been learning a lot about what Plone is and what it can do.

The point is, we make a living building websites using Plone. So, it is important to us to be able to convince potential clients that a Plone website is the best solution to their problems. And what we’ve found is that potential clients just don’t care about Plone.

 

Three questions [Karel]

So to unpack this, we’ve chosen to address three questions:

  1. Why don’t people care about Plone?
  2. What is Plone?
  3. How do we sell Plone to people who don’t care?

 

Why don’t people care about Plone? [Talya]

We’ve figured out that there are two main reasons why people don’t care about Plone:

 

1. They don’t know the name

Firstly, they don’t know the name. People are drawn to what is familiar. Like when you look at a photo of a group of people. You’re not going to pay the same amount of attention to each face. You’re going to look for the familiar ones - yourself, your friend, your family member - and spend your attention on them.

In the same way, people are drawn to the name, brand, software, and CMS that is familiar to them. Like I was drawn to a familiar brand when I was looking for a backpack to buy.

And when it comes to websites, there are many more familiar names than Plone. Like WordPress, which is like the Google of CMSs, Drupal, Wix, Squarespace, etc. Even if potential clients are vaguely aware that they can have a website built with a platform other than Wordpress or Squarespace, they may not think further than that when they start thinking: “Hey, I need/want a website”.

 

2. Other CMSs claim to offer many of the same things

Secondly, many of these other, more familiar, names claim to offer the same things that Plone does. Content management, in itself, isn’t special.

 

What is Plone? [Karel]

So, what exactly is Plone?

Seeing as we’ve flown all the way from South Africa to address a room full of people who also bought tickets to PloneConf, I think we can safely assume that everybody here knows what Plone is.

But just in case there are some newbies in the room, Plone, according to Wikipedia: “Plone is positioned as an enterprise CMS and is commonly used for intranets and as part of the web presence of large organizations. Plone’s proponents cite its security track record and its accessibility as reasons to choose Plone.”

I also realised (when finding that bit of info on Wikipedia) that there is also an electronic music band called Plone.

 

Features

From a client perspective, Plone is definitely not a unique offering. Even though the features are great, they are pretty much the features that a user would expect with any content management system they buy into.

Some of our favourite features of Plone include:

  1. Easy user management. This includes the ability to easily set up users, as well as permissions that determine where they have access, and what kind of access they have.
  2. Content workflows and rules. Content can be set at different accessibility levels (internal and external), and changing states of your content can trigger changes or alerts.
  3. Many different content types. Users can add these different types of content, and they have control over the content they’ve added (or even if other users have added it). This makes for a nice collaborative experience.
  4. And many more, like version control, change notes, image handling, social media support.

 

Benefits

That being said, what our clients are after, is a solution. Not software that can do a list of things in a certain way. They want to know: what are the benefits of Plone for them? In marketing, benefits are basically the features presented in a user-centric way. We need to think about what problems Plone solves. How can Plone make our clients’ lives easier and better?

In our experience, there are generally three things that clients care about:

  1. Will it get me online?
  2. Can my website grow?
  3. Is my website safe?

 

1. Will it get me online? (Usability)

Clients don’t necessarily even think about wanting a website first. Their first thought is: “I want to be online”. Their main concern is that their clients and customers can find them online and get their message, use their resources, or buy their products.

 

2. Can my website grow? (Scalability)

They want an updated site that reflects their business in its current state. However, in an ever-changing business landscape, they need to be sure that updates are possible, easy, and relatively inexpensive, both in time and money. More so than just regular updates, clients also need to feel that there’s a future for their site. If they want new functionality, how easy is it to incorporate that into their site?

 

3. Is my website safe? (Security)

Clients want their websites safe from hackers. Most of them don’t fully understand what that means, but it’s a scary thought. Maybe their site has been hacked before, or they know of someone who has had their site hacked. There needs to be a sense of security around their business presence.

In our years of working with Plone, we’ve found that it’s an elegant and mighty tool that offers a good solution for all three categories.

 

How do we sell Plone to people who don’t care?

 

Focus on what people do care about (the benefits) [Talya]

Firstly, we have to focus on what people do care about. We already know that they don’t care about Plone. But as Karel has mentioned, there are certain benefits of Plone that clients do care about. It’s all about looking at things from the client’s perspective.

When I was deciding to buy my backpack, I could have easily found something cheaper, that would still be a backpack with the same basic features in terms of size, shape, number of pockets, and even colour. But it was the extra stuff, the benefits - the way it looks and the way it makes me feel - that ultimately made me choose that specific backpack, and that ultimately made me pay that little bit more money for it.

In a world full of website builders and CMSs, in order for a client to make the decision to say “Yes, build me a website in Plone”, we have to appeal to what is important to them. This is slightly different for each client, but Karel covered the main ones: clients want to be online (where their target audience is), they want the freedom to grow their business and its online presence, and they want to feel that their online presence is safe.

Notice how, from their perspective, these are all abstract qualities: presence, freedom, and safety. We know how to use the features of Plone to give them these things, which are all benefits.

 

Solving problems rather than building new things [Karel]

So it is clear that clients respond to us listening to what they want, addressing their needs and solving their problems.

 

Thinking inside the box that Plone arrives in

Even though clients might think that their website challenges are unique, they generally aren’t, so it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel.

Plone has good native objects that cover a lot of our clients’ needs. News items can be used for news, events can be used for events, pages for pretty much everything else. These items can easily be repurposed for different use cases. We have built numerous websites using only these simple, native content types. So, Plone offers a simple starting point without the need to immediately resort to customisation.

 

Listening to wants and addressing needs

Good solutions don’t always start with custom development, but rather from understanding the client’s problem well enough to decide where custom development will benefit them. That way, we avoid building over-engineered sites and help the client funnel budget to where it is actually needed.

A good example of this was when a client wanted a way for users to export a brochure-style PDF from their website based on a product or a selection of products. According to the spec they gave us, this turned out to be quite a complex request, that fell outside of the budget they had available. What we did instead included their current brochures as downloadable items when users were viewing these products. This meant that nothing new needed to be developed and they could use the materials they had developed already - and that those materials looked exactly the way they needed them to.

In the brief, we realised that the nice to have of a PDF generator wasn’t necessary, as their products were not dynamic enough to warrant an on the fly solution. So we gave them what they wanted, but in a way that saved them some money, but also made them see the strength in the materials they’d already developed.

 

Never say never

Custom development can, however, give excellent results. These results can come from something as simple as a custom content type through Dexterity, or something as complex as making your website jump through flaming hoops on command.

But it definitely isn’t what you’re building, but how it addresses the problem, that is the most important for the client or the user.

We’re not just building things. We’re solving problems… by building things.

Again, viewing things from the client’s perspective is what helps us sell Plone to people who don’t care.

 

Our team is our USP [Talya]

In marketing, there’s this concept of the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). It’s the things that set your business apart from the rest, the thing that only you can offer, the reason your clients should choose you over the others who can do something similar.

As is the case with a lot of open-source software, those who are making money from it are not selling the software (because Plone itself is free), but we’re selling our expert ability to use the software to solve clients’ problems. If it weren’t for us, they’d need to learn how to use Plone to its fullest potential, which, as you may know, can take a long time.

For us, our team is our USP. We don’t just say “We know how to use Plone”. We highlight our years of experience, our knowledge of Plone and our ability to use it to its fullest potential to solve our clients’ problems.

We also highlight our previous work and positive testimonials from previous clients. Many of our clients have been with us for years, and a lot of new business comes in through word of mouth. That is the most valuable form of marketing, and because of that, we work hard to keep clients happy so they’ll recommend us.

 

So, back to the backpack. I’m sure whoever designed and made this backpack - actually, the person who made it is called Joseph, the name is on the label - cares about each type of fabric and where it came from, each pattern piece, and each seam.

But that’s not what I care about. In a sense, I didn’t even buy this backpack, this collection of different materials put together in a certain way to make this physical thing. I bought the ability to have all my things with me while being able to move freely and use my hands. I bought the look of professionalism with a bit of personality. I bought feeling cool and fashionable and good about supporting a local, ethical brand.

In the same way that Joseph cared about each seam as he put the bag together, we (and I think we can safely say you guys as well) care about Plone.

But our clients are not buying Plone.

Remember what clients are buying: Presence, freedom and safety.

And if you ensure they get this, they’ll buy you.

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