In this episode of The Digital Exec, we sit down with Mark Zeitler, CTO of Accrisoft, to discuss Content Management Systems (CMS for short).
If you want to know more about Content Management Systems, then this episode is for you. We cover topics ranging from what a CMS really does to how to get the most from them. If you want to know how to choose a CMS or systems integrations, you'll want to listen!
If you're a visual person, you can watch the video of our Hangout. Or if you'd prefer the audio version, it's available here. You won't want to miss this opportunity to be entertained by two professionals while learning how to effectively use your CMS.
Michael: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Digital Exec number 14, I'm here with Mark Zeitler from Accrisoft, and we are talking about content management systems. Specifically, getting the most from your CMS. Mark, how are you today?
Mark: Good. Mike, how are you?
Michael: Doing great. Glad to have you on the show. Mark, you are the CTO and founder of Accrisoft, correct?
Mark: That is correct.
Michael: Okay, great. And you're in Sarasota, right?
Mark: Sarasota, Florida.
Michael: You said it was cold today?
Mark: It's actually in the 40s today.
Michael: What does cold mean?
Michael: Forties? Oh, I feel so sorry for you. It's 19 degrees here in Indianapolis, so my heart bleeds for you. Yeah, we're talking about content management systems, so here's just a little bit of a disclaimer: There's a lot of bias going on here in this interview because you are the CTO of a company that makes a content management system, so obviously you think it's the best. SpinWeb, my company, uses your content management system exclusively for our websites. We're a solutions provider for Accrisoft, so we also think it's the best content management system that we could possible use for our clients.
There's all the bias out of the way, so if that bothers you, stop listening now. Hit stop. Wait until number 15, come back and join us later, but we will try to keep it somewhat objective if possible because we do want to offer some information that can be useful to our listeners as they select a content management system, as they figure out how they use it properly, things to watch out for, general information, etc. We'll do our best to keep it somewhat objective, of course.
Mark, give us a 30-second intro on what you do at Accrisoft before we get started.
Mark: I'm the CTO of Accrisoft. I've been here 13 years, and I run the day-to-day operation here at Accrisoft. I have a team of very, very smart PHP programmers and system administrators sitting in the room here next to me, and we just write the best software we possible can. We've been doing it for a long time. We have 90+ modules, and over a million lines of source code, so we've been very busy.
Michael: All right. I see you've got your Red Bull or your coffee.You're well known for high-caffeine drinks, so I hear you guys stay up long hours writing code.
Mark: It's warming me up.
Michael: Let's just start off. Some of us already know what a CMS is, but some of us may not, so let's just kind of level the reference point here, and let's have you define it. What is a content management system, Mark?
Mark: Over the years, it's kind of changed. Originally, you have a website, and you allow people to log in and update the website. Over the years, users have become more sophisticated. Content management means more than that today. It means allowing you to do your inbound marketing. It allows you to do your Internet marketing. It allows you to do your project management, your sales tracking. It does much more. It really allows you to run your business. I would say it's closer to an ERP system nowadays. It allows you to do your billing and all those things.
Content management in its simplest form means you can have your employees log in to the website and update it, and make it fresh, so you don't rely on some third party, some derby guy sitting in a room somewhere updating the content for you. A lot of times, nowadays, people hire people to do their content, so you have bloggers, or you have professional content copywriters that'll do the content for you.
I think it was actually one of your articles, or it was somebody that said that it's actually a good idea to hire a journalist to write your content because it makes it very engaging, and it's not as dry as maybe something we would write, or I would write anyway.
Michael: Yeah, journalists do make great content developers because they write with that kind of inverted pyramid style. You get the bulk of the action very quickly. Because our attention spans are really short nowadays, especially online, so you want to make sure that as you write, you really capture someone's attention right away.
Mark: Yeah, we have that too. For instance, if I write articles, it's actually quite boring. It's very technical. It's very dry, but if you somebody that has a journalism degree, obviously, they understand how to engage somebody. It's much more effective that way.
We have the same problem with video production. I know you do a lot of video, and we do a lot of video. We find you're trying to evoke an emotional response out of people. That's really tough to do sometimes.
Michael: Yeah. Well, obviously, we can tangent onto content very quickly here, but I'll try and get us back to CMS, at least for now. Between one and gazillion, how many CMSs do you think exist out in the world today? I know it's a lot.
Mark: Yeah. It's funny.I think I remember 13 years ago, when I first started with Accrisoft, I did a search and it was for PHP-based content management sitting on the linux platform using my SQL. At that time, there were like 500. That was 13 years ago. What I did find is there were 500 really bad ones, so we decided to write our own.
Nowadays, there are countless. I think that when we interview new employees, we see everybody's written their own content management systems, so literally every single person out there, it's almost like microbreweries. Everybody makes their own. I would say there's a countless number of content management systems out there because in the simplest form, it's just allowing somebody to log into a system and update the content.
I think in the real world where you start to get into professional content management systems, the players are much smaller. There are two groups: There's the group of what they consider proprietary, which are like the Ektrons of the world. They're very expensive, and they're considered high end, and then there's the open source ones, the ones that everybody knows. The big ones are the biggest by far that we see is word processing.
Then you have, you know, Drupal's not so much content management. It's more of a framework. You have Joomla, but that doesn't seem to be very popular any longer. ExpressionEngine gets out there from time to time. There's some other players like Business Catalyst from Adobe. That's a pretty big player out there.
It seemed to me that the open source ones weren't being taken very seriously for a long time, but I think over the last four or five years, that's all changed. The open source ones are being taken very seriously, and they're being used for proper installations.
I consider Accrisoft to be kind of in between the two. I think that we're almost like an open source system, but we pay a little bit of money for it.
Michael: Actually, that's what I tell people. I say on the low end, you've got the open source, like the Wordpresses, that kind of do some things, and on the high end, you've got the Sitecores, the Ektrons, six-figure CMSs, and Freedom does have that nice sweet spot.
Just want to point out what I really like, which is the difference between a proprietary CMS you've built in house, or a retail CMS that you can apply to different situations.There are lots of marketing agencies that have built websites. Sometimes they've built their own CMS that only that company maintains and builds, or sometimes they use a third party CMS, like Freedom, like Wordpress, like Sitecore, like Ektron.
Let's say you're a marketing director or CEO of a manufacturing company or a professional services company, and you're getting a new website built by your agency. What are the pros and cons of that agency using their own proprietary in-house CMS versus a third-party CMS?
Mark: That's a great question. I'm going to look for an analogy to draw. The first thing that happens is that if you're relatively a good organization and you have an Internet team, and you have the fortunate ability to be able to develop your own PHP code to do your own CMS, the problem is is that the computer programmer that's sitting there really wants to write you a CMS because it's really fun to do. Ultimately, the problem is that you're building something from scratch. It's the equivalent of building a car from scratch, and building all the pieces yourself, fabricating the pieces yourself, and that doesn't really make sense.
The first thing I would say is don't do it. Just don't build your own. I know I'm biased, but just don't do it because ultimately, you're going to hit a dead end, and you will be tied to that particular developer who wrote that code for you forever. You don't want that. Trust me. The first thing you have to do is you have to say to yourself, "Okay, let's not write from scratch. Let's pick a framework of some sort."
Let's pick an existing, let's say, open source system. You go out to the open source system, you say, "Okay. Where are the big players?" I'm going to be really bold today and say, "If you're developing a custom website that you plan on making it very sophisticated, use Drupal. If you plan on making a website like most websites, I want to say majority of the websites, use Wordpress. Wordpress is really good." The majority of people that we come across are Wordpress people.
What happens is you have a framework. You have something to start with. You have all the pieces to the car. Now you can start assembling the pieces to the car. Now you have wheels and tires and engines, and seats and glass, and you can start assembling this car. The problem is, to continue my analogy, you're going to go with a Wordpress car would be kind of a hodgepodge car, where you'd put these kind of wheels, these kind of brakes, this kind of suspension, and this kind of engine. It all kind of fits together, and it works pretty well, and everybody's okay with it, but it's not an integrated piece.
Then you'd find that you'd have problems, and then you have write PHP code, and then you have to pick out which pieces of the car, and I think Wordpress today has something over 50,000 plug-ins. That means, "Okay. I want to put a calendar on my website," or wheels on my car, "I would have to pick from 400 different calendars, and I hope I'm picking the right one, and the guy who wrote the calendar, he doesn't even know who I am. He doesn't really care about me, and I just hope that he continues to code."
Then what happens is, I picked a calendar from Wordpress, and then the original developer takes off and works on something else, and now I have to hire a PHP person to maintain my calendar. It gets to be very cumbersome.
Then you start to say, "Okay. Well, let's take a look at the proprietary," the 'proprietary systems' like something like Freedom. In our case, what happens is you have a select modules to pick from. You have 90 modules to pick from. You say, "I want a calendar," well, we have one calendar. Now, that calendar might not do everything. It might not do all the crazy things that the 400 Wordpress calendars does, but it works, and it will always work because we care about backwards compatibility.
It's the equivalent of saying, "Okay. Now I have a kit car, and it's kind of like BMW parts, so I have BMW wheels and BMW chassis, and BMW ..." Everything fits together. As I build this, as I assemble the car, you have a car where it all functions together. The brakes are proper. They fit with the wheels and the engines not too big or too small, and everything fits. You have something very nice when you're done.
I just made that upbecause I love cars, but it's really the equivalent. When somebody wants to pick a CMS, you really don't want to write your own because there's hundreds of them our there. It doesn't make sense. The only reason you'd write your own is because you have a computer programmer there who wants to do it themselves.
Open source is a good alternative. Open source lets that computer programmer still play. They'll build you a nice website, but ultimately, that website is at a dead end then it's a bit of a hodge podge. If you really want to build something sustainable and something that you can maintain and something that will grow with you, you have to go with something like Accrisoft Freedom. I mean, it doesn't have to be Freedom.
Michael: That brings up a good point. We often get prospective clients talking to us, and they say, "Oh, well, tell me about your CMS." We say, "Well, we use Freedom. "They say, "Well, I'd rather use Wordpress because I don't want to be tied into a proprietary CMS." What would you say to that concern?
Mark: Well, I'm going to say that if you're in a CMS of any sort, they're all proprietary. Just because Wordpress is "open source", it's not any less proprietary than something like Freedom. If you have a Wordpress site and you want to move it to a Drupal site or to an ExpressionEngine site, or to a whatever site, a Joomla site, you're going to have lots and lots of challenges.
Freedom isn't anymore proprietary than those are. The only difference is that you pay a little bit for the licensing. It's not that much. What you want to look at is how can you import and export data? Are these open systems. How proprietary is it? Does it meet your needs? We have customers that have been running the exact same system for 12 years. It's the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
They've been using Freedom for 11 or 12 years now, and they never have to move because they upgrade their site, they have changes. We're always updating the software. It works out really well, so there's really no reason to change. In the end, a website's a bunch of HTML, a bunch of CSS. You don't want to worry about the PHP code. That's proprietary stuff. I would say you're not tied down in any way relative to a proprietary versus an open source system, for sure.
Michael: That's a good point. I've noticed it's really hard for us not to keep drifting toward our bias. I'm just going to go with it.
What would you consider the true cost of ownership of an open source CMS, because a lot of people say, "Well, Joomla, Wordpress, Drupal. They're all "free" so that's very attractive to us. We don't want to pay for a CMS. We want something free because that sounds better." When you unpack that, though, what is the true cost of ownership?
Mark: That's the ultimate question, right? That's the one that we always talk about. The big difference, the total cost of ownership. You have to remember, first of all, everybody has to be hosted. You have a physical cost for the hosting of the website. If you're using Wordpress, or if you're using Accrisoft, or it doesn't matter who it is. You're going to have to pay for that. That basically cancels each other out. We won't talk about that.
Then, the only difference you're going to be talking about is in a system like Accrisoft, you have a licensing cost, or business catalyst, or one of these other systems. You have a licensing cost. It's the right to use the software month to month. Over at Wordpress, you're saving on the licensing cost, but truthfully, the licensing cost is really, it's a fraction of what your cell phone bill is, so it's very small.
Really, what you're talking about, then, is what kind of people do you require to maintain the software? If you have a proprietary system or a system that's built to work together, you need HTML and CSS front-end people, project managers, those kinds of things. If you have an open source system, it's very different. You need somebody that can install it, somebody that knows how to put it together, who knows how to pick the plug-ins, how to make the plug-ins integrate to work with one another.
There's a lot of PHP code, so that the person needs to be a back-end coder, which is much more expensive, and they're much more difficult to work with, as you may know, Mike. I've experienced it. I work with them all day. They're my kind, and then the problem becomes you have these much more expensive people, and then they have to knit all this stuff together.
Ultimately, it costs you a lot more money because you still need the front-end people. You still need the HTML/CSS people on the Wordpress side as well because they still need to build the website. In addition to that, you need these PHP people. The cost of ownership goes through the roof. That's just the beginning of it.
Then what happens is you have this website, and it's up and running, and let's just say you picked 20 plug-ins for Wordpress. What happens is a year goes by, and suddenly 15 of them need to get upgraded because they have new versions of it. Then you have to hire this PHP person again, or if you have them on staff, either way, and then they have to go through and painstakingly try to upgrade each one of these plug-ins and make sure the whole thing doesn't break, and it's just a complete nightmare. I know Wordpress people right now out there. You're going, "Yes. I feel that pain," because everybody we talk to feels that pain.
We feel the same pain, but we do it for you. We go through the pain of upgrading, getting all the things to work together. We have test cycles. We're pulling our hair out trying to make this stuff work, but when we're done with it, we share that with you. We go through all the pain and suffering. Then when we share, here's a system that works, everybody benefits from that versus Wordpress, every single Wordpress installation, all ten million of them are painstakingly upgrading all the time.
It's just unbelievable waste of resources. At Accrisoft, there's 15 people that sit there and get it to upgrade, but then tens of thousands of people get to share that for free, effectively. In a lot of ways, we open source the experience, not so much the source code. It's hard to explain to people, but people get it. That would be the biggest difference in cost of ownership
To me it's terribly inefficient to have an open source CMS out there because I remember, what was it? CAPTCHA, when they were doing CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA. They were talking about how CAPTCHA codes were always just simple codes, and people were wasting all this time writing CAPTCHA codes. Somebody at the reCAPTCHA system built a system so you're recapturing and actually translating books. All that power, all that brain power people were using was actually going to something useful, not just going poof up into outer space.
That's what I feel about open source. There's so much wasted time in the implementation. Not the source code itself. That's different. That's shared and it's a community, but the actual implementation of the modules. It just makes a lot of waste. I hate it.
Michael: Yeah, that makes sense. To be fair, I do tell people very transparently that if you do have a developer on staff that is reliable that you trust that he does a great job, go ahead and use Wordpress. Go for it, you'll be fine. There are companies out there that really specialize in Wordpress. I mean, agencies like us, we don't do Wordpress, but there are agencies like us that all they do is WordPress. They've got it down to a science. They have a system. They're reliable. If you're working with a company like that, you'll be fine with Wordpress. I don't want to scare people off of Wordpress.
Mark: No, no.
Michael: How many times we have organizations come to us being kind of persuaded by this magical siren song of "free" and say, "Oh, Wordpress is free and anybody can use it, it's easy, and they end up getting in a situation where it's not properly supported. Then it gets hacked, and plug-ins flake out and all sorts of things happen, and they wonder why they're having these issues. It is okay to go open source in my opinion if you have the right setup in place, the right resources, the right support in place. That's not always the case, though.
Mark: Yeah. You make a great point because we talk to a lot of different companies, and I don't care what you use really on the CMS side. The companies that we see that are successful with Wordpress, and there's a common theme. The common theme is the companies that are successful with Wordpress, they pick up Wordpress, and it's perfect. They have some developers on staff. That's good. You have to have that, and you have to have a set of plug-ins that you re-use.
So you say, you pick and there's between 10 to 20 plug-ins, depending on who we talk to, and we have listed them from all the different agencies we talk to. We say, "What plug-ins do you use," and just re-use those. So you use those for every single website, so every single website you make, just use the same plug-ins over and over and over again.
Then you get the economies of scale. Then when you upgrade it over here, then you've learned something and you can upgrade it over here, and you've learned something, and you can re-use that knowledge, and it's not wasteful. That works really well, so there are some very big digital agencies that build with Wordpress, that works perfectly. It's funny because we hear, "We don't want to be tied to this one software package. We want to have control over it."
Well, the funny part is when I talk to the executive level, like the CEO levels, "You realize you don't have control over anything, right? You realized it's your developers that control it because your developers that have put this proprietary stuff together, they own this, and you can't just decide to go somewhere else because they are controlling you from the bottom up. Would you rather have some developers controlling your company that may be a bit emotional some days, or would you rather have a proper software company that has your best interest at heart?"
It is Adobe's best interest to make you happy with the software and be relying on that instead. People are afraid to outsource their core technology to a company, like a proprietary CMS, but that's much safer than outsourcing your proprietary intellectual property to these developers that you hope will stick around.
This is a little side note, but code.org is out there, and they recently made a study, and there are over one million software development positions open in America today, and they're not being filled. They're trying to teach children instead of Spanish and French and German in high school, they say learn a programming language instead of a foreign language because the foreign language, you get out of school and you can't do anything with it. You can talk to your friends or curse, but with software, the software language, you have this thing that you can use. You can immediately apply that to building things, creating things, and really changing the world.
Code.org is doing this. What's my point? My point is your software developers are in high demand. They can go ... They'll go next door and they can find a job anywhere. You really don't want to tie the core of your company as a CEO-level to people like that, necessarily. I have nothing but software developers. We have lots of them. I'm a software developer, so I'm talking about my people, but it's just dangerous.
Michael: Yeah, good point. Very good point. Jumping into kind of a business level discussion here, when you're choosing a CMS, let's say you've made the choice, you've got something. You're kind of leaning toward working with an agency. Maybe they made a recommendation. What should you expect from that CMS?
The reason I ask is that a lot of times, we talk to organizations and the people in those organizations that sort of expect the CMS to do everything for them. They want it to not just manage their website, but do their payroll, wash their dishes. Basically, do everything in the company. They have these very, very complex expectations for it, and often we try to get them to understand that this list of 20 things that you wanted to do, it all sounds good, but even if we did all 20 things, you're only going to use five of them when it comes down to it. What should people expect from their CMS?
Mark: That's a great question. Managing your customer's expectations is huge. The problem with software is it can do anything. You can make software do anything, but the reality is that in order to make it do all these things, it's very difficult and it costs a lot of money. The big mess is I want it to do all these things, but I want it do it cheap. You can make it do all these things and hire software companies, but you're going to be putting out six-seven figures to make that work. That's perfect. That can work.
I mean, it's almost the GoDaddy mentality. You want to pay 20 bucks or 50 bucks a month for a website, but you want it to do all those things as well, and that doesn't work. That's the big mess. It's really important to manage expectations, and I think what's important to understand is find a system that manages what you want to do today. Get it up and running, get it working, get it out there, and start to understand what you really want.
It's okay to do a little bit of manual labor. You can't automate everything in your business. I mean, nowadays, they don't even want to have sales people. They just wanted to have everything done for them. The trick is to find a system that has a reasonable amount of functionality that's easy to use, that people aren't fumbling with, but it also needs to be relatively open because as you grow your business, you're going to want to do new things.
For instance, the big thing, Mike, I know you're a big HubSpot fan, is inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is very hot today. It's difficult to do right, and you want to make sure your system is open to those kind of ideas and allow you to do those kinds of things.
You want a system that relatively easily integrates with other systems. Now, I'm biased again. At Accrisoft, we're not a big fan of integration, because integration causes other problems. It's usually very, very complicated, and it's very hard to synchronize, as you know. I think you're going through that Quickbooks transition right now. To synchronize data between disparate systems, it's very, very difficult to get them to intermesh.
Our philosophy at Accrisoft is just to basically build lots of them and have it fully integrated. It may not do everything, but at least it's very easy to integrate. Integration's just an important component, that everything works together because ultimately, you're going to want it all to work together. If you get best-of-breed products, if you use SalesForce and Constant Contact and Highrise, you have to have technological capabilities to make these systems work with one another, and hope that they all continue to work with one another.
When they all upgrade their versions, sometimes they might change their streams. All sorts of crazy stuff happens. It's a compromise. If you're a pretty progressive company, like you, Mike. You're an early adopter, and you use the best software out there, and you get them all integrating, and you have this thing integrating with that. Every time you guys do a webinar, I'm like, "Oh, that's really cool. I want to do that too." That's really slick, but most companies that we meet don't have that kind of technological savvy background. I think SpinWeb's an interesting mix.
Michael: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. You brought up some good points on integration, specifically. There's a couple of things I wanted to touch on as well. One is, I'm glad you brought up HubSpot because we often talk to people that say, "Oh, well can I just build my website on HubSpot or on Marketo," or whatever. I'm not even sure if Marketo has a CMS built in. I'm making that up, but what's the difference between your CMS and your marketing automation software? How should you view the two in perspective?
Mark: I think really two schools of thought there. HubSpot is a fantastically good product, and HubSpot, they're really thought leaders in the industry. They have a lot of really smart people over there in Boston. Most of them are Harvard, MIT graduates. They have large infusion of cash, and they have thousands of employees. They all sit around every day, and they're reinventing advertising. They're reinventing what it means to do marketing and advertising in the digital age.
That's really impressive. I read all their blogs. I follow everything they do. It's great. The problem, in this case, to me is it's all very cerebral thinking, and it's always pushing the envelope. It's like paving the way for everybody else. Sometimes it's difficult to understand, and sometimes it's difficult to implement. Sometimes people want to see results, and I know I talk to some big HubSpot resellers. You're a customer if you're on a $10,000 retainer. They want to see results. They don't want to give you $10,000 a month and find out they're not getting results.
It can take a year or two to really see measurable results with in-bound marketing campaigns, for instance, so I don't know if people are ready for that yet. What's my point? My point being something like HubSpot's very expensive. It's not cheap, and I know they have different packages, but it's a big commitment, and I think a lot of people aren't willing to do that.
The alternative is to find something, maybe, that isn't that progressive, and isn't that impressive, and it doesn't do all those things, and you find a system that maybe does things a little bit simpler. You can take a Wordpress plug-in. With Wordpress, you can Wordpress installation up. You get a landing page in there. You can do some A/B splits. You can send out a campaign. You can have it download something, and you can pretty mimic all the HubSpot functionality, and it's effectively free. You're going to have to pay somebody to put it all together, but it's effectively free.
Accrisoft has the same thing. We have capabilities. Email marketing and landing pages and tracking, and all those things. Not nearly as sophisticated, but you're not paying extra for it. It's just part of the package, and it's a great way to whet the appetite of your customer and get them on board. If they want more, you can take them to a system like HubSpot. HubSpot's a fantastic system. They do some really cool stuff.
I'm not going to speak for you, but I know, for example. I have a CMS over her, my customer has their logins. They're updating their website. Everything's working. Then there's HubSpot over here. Now you've got a separate login, and they don't get that. Instead what we do is we, as digital agencies, login to HubSpot for you. We manage it for you, kind of Milli Vanilli a litte bit, and we take screenshots of all the pretty graphs, and then we create a nice PDF document, and I send it to you once a month.
Then you're happy with it because your customer typically doesn't have the time. They're not as sophisticated at you'd wan them to be, and you kind of pre-chew it for them. You have to present it to them. The HubSpot, almost in a lot of ways, is a better tool for the digital agencies to just sell their services.
Michael: That's really what we do, and I find the best scenario is, I'm a big fan of using the right software for what it's really best at, and segmenting appropriately, so our best case scenario is building a fairly complex high-functioning website on Accrisoft Freedom, and then putting their marketing on HubSpot and wrapping their marketing automation around it pretty seamlessly. Actually, it integrates very well. I think you kind of sold it short when you were talking integration because we find that integrating Accrisoft Freedom with HubSpot is very, very easy. It's a no-brainer. It's no problem at all.
That's really our best case scenario. HubSpot's CMS is extremely limited. Accrisoft Freedom is extremely robust. Its marketing is more limited, whereas HubSpot's marketing is extremely robust, but its CMS is somewhat limited, so we put the two together, and we have a really powerful combination. I really tell organizations, "Don't be afraid to use multiple systems as long as you can seamlessly integrate the experience to your market."
I don't care so much about two places to login. I care more about a seamless experience when I go to market, and that's really what it's all about to me. That works very well for us.
Mark: Thank you, by the way. I appreciate that. I think something that people could really relate to would be Google Analytics. I'm going to share a little story, basically. Accrisoft Freedom had its own analytics. Google had its analytics over here, and Google Analytics clearly are the most amazing analytics in the world, and their free. Google's analytics get more and more sophisticated, really, really just awesome. Many pages. You can just do all these crazy things. Accrisoft Freedom's very simple.
What happened was we had customers who liked the simple nature of our analytics, but they said, "Why don't they match Google's? They're counting things differently than you guys are." It was driving us crazy, so what we said, we had this beautiful marriage. The marriage was this. We took our analytics. We threw it out the window. We said, "Okay, forget it. We're not going to do that. Google understands that better than we do after they bought Urchin, so why don't we basically create that PDF report for them automatically."
What we did is through the Google Analytics API, you log in to the back end. You extract what you think is the important information, and then you poke it through the interface. So, you log in to Accrisoft Freedom. I'm not plugging us. This work applies for anybody. You log in, and it only shows you the things that are relevant, the things that are important to you as a business owner or as an operator, and you don't have all that other data.
That's what effectively you're doing with HubSpot, is finding the important stuff and kind of making it pretty for the customer. We did that, and it worked exceptionally well. We're doing that also with Mandrill, which is the MailChimp's email engine. We're using that as an integration piece. Mike, I know you've been talking about that for years. "Mark, integrate. Integrate with other systems." I hear it all the time.
We're currently integrating with Amazon Web Services as well, EC2, from a hosting perspective. You have statistics on your website to show how you're hostings working and what's going on behind the scenes, which is really super cool. This idea of being able to take these best of breed products out there and then filter and boil down to the essence of what's important to customers and then poke that through a single interface through APIs, that's really slick. I think that works really, really well.
Michael: Well, before we wrap up, I do want to just stay on this on this constant of integration a little bit longer because we have scenarios that we're always kind of struggling with. That scenario is when to integrate, when to care about integration, how to do it. One great example is we work with a lot of associations. Associations, literally every single association we've talked to has a different way they want to integrate their database with their website. We never get it right. No one ever gets it right.
I would venture to say this is a made up hypotheses, but I say no one ever really gets it right unless they spend six figures because they've always got some database over here. They have their website over here. They want them to talk to each other. The first step is they don't really know what "talk to each other" means.
They don't necessarily have a clear understanding of what they want it to do, so they just kind of throw out the word "integrate". They just say, "We'll have to integrate." We say, "What does that mean?" Then we have to unpack that. Once we unpack that, we figure, "Okay. Well, is there an API over here? Can this system talk to this system? Ho does it work? Then do we have multiple logins?"
It just becomes to be a nightmare, so what I usually tell people is, "Don't go down this rabbit trail of beating your head against a wall and spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to integrate two systems. Just create a business process that lets you keep your two systems, but create some sort of bridge made up of a little bit of manual labor and do some seamless branding on the front ends so that the user experience is, you know, your members or your constituents feel like it's the same site. That's good enough, and you're going to save a ton of money and a ton of headaches."
Would you agree, or do you see a different way to approach those types of scenarios?
Mark: Well, the funny part as I'm smiling the whole way you're talking because we deal with a lot of associations as well. More than anything, the bane of my existence is membership databases. Your hypotheses has been proven to be true into actual law. It is the law that everybody does something different. Every single chamber, association, non-profit, everybody we talk to does things differently. They all think they do it the right way, but it's just different enough, and it's very, very frustrating, I have to say.
It's almost impossible to build a system that would work for everybody. I can prove that by, if you go out there and take a look, there are literally hundreds of membership management systems. They're all completely customizable. We iterate with a whole bunch of them. I could list them for you, but it's not important. We find that over and over again, they all do things differently. I find it incredibly frustrating because most of these associations, non-profits, are established companies that came from brick and mortar, and more from kind of a business card kind of day, and a lot of printed paper things that are not in the digital world.
They're kind of stuck with what they have, and they refuse to change, so yes. I absolutely concur that your approach is the best approach, which is to say, "Use your systems, build processes, and make them work together." Because trying to integrate them is close to impossible. We can sit here and we can talk about case studies that we've done with existing customers, and I will knock them out one by one and tell you what they thought, what they did, what happened, what went wrong. It never works.
What has to happen, and this is really important. What has to happen in the industry is the people who are the incumbents, who are so obsessed with what they have today and it has to work that way. They have to let go. I think the best way to think of this, and I hope people get this, is Microsoft Project.
Microsoft Project, MS Project was like the project management system everybody was talking about, everybody used. You had baselines and you had Gantt charts, and you had resources, and you had dependencies, and you had all these things. Most people who have actually used it realized you spend most of your time just upgrading the project to show what you just did rather than the other way around, what you're supposed to do.
Project was out there for a long time. Then there was dotProject, and NetProject, and everybody was trying to do a better project management system. Well, somebody, 37signals came out and said, "Forget that. You know what? We don't think people do it that way. We think you should work differently." They built, obviously in this case, it was Basecamp. Basecamp, to me, was kind of revolutionary, and clearly very successful.
What they did was they said, "Forget it." We're going to give you project management, but there are no Gantt charts. Everybody went, "What? How can you do project management without Gantt charts? That's impossible!" They were considered pompous at the time, but I remember we started using Basecamp internally, and it changed our business completely because we were progressive, open-minded. We were willing to change our processes. We were more flexible.
Basecamp was amazing. It was super simple. It worked really well. It did a few things really, really well. Coming full circle, what's the point of this conversation is I think that has to happen in the membership database industry. Membership databases are these databases that all these associations and non-profits have. They've got to lose all that function on it, all that MS Project functionality.
Because they all do the same thing, sometimes I want to scream and go, "You all do the same thing!" Everybody does the same thing. They just all do it differently, and just to say, "Open your mind," and there is a membership system. There is a membership system which we think we're building, but it's a plug. "There is a membership system which is as elegant and simple as Basecamp that can effectively manage membership databases for everybody."
So many times what happens is you come to a customer and they effectively go, "Does it do Gantt charts?" We're saying, "No." Then they go, "We can't have it because we can't. Our business, Gantt charts, we can't give them up." That's tough.
Michael: I've seen that over and over. There's just one feature that they're hung up on. Every business has one feature they're just hung up on, and if it doesn't do that, it's just a deal-breaker. They're just gone. They can't conceive of changing a business process to simplify it a bit more. We really try to help our clients understand that there is another world beyond how you've done things for the past five, ten, twenty years. You could potentially simplify things and do it differently than your peers, and maybe do it better, and maybe have a breakthrough and become even more efficient, more effective. We really try to have that conversation as much as possible.
Mark: It's happening in so many industries. It's happening from faxing to printing to digital, or we can even talk about cash to credit cards to wallet transactions with your phone. There has to be a shift, and I don't think ... This is going to sound terrible, because I'm pretty old. There's too many old people in that industry, and the new generation is now starting to come in. With the new generation, that will all change.
As the older people retire successfully and they're all really happy. There's going to be a wind of change when it comes to this industry.
Michael: Yeah, sure. Now, to be fair, though, it's not always age-dependent, I've noticed. I've met some 30-year-olds that are so stuck in their ways, they won't change anything, and they're terrified to innovate. I've met some 60-, 70-year-olds that are extremely innovative. They're all about technology. They're all about innovation. They take creative leaps and lead their companies.
Mark: Oh, absolutely.
Michael: I think interpret old as more the mindset of legacy, of hanging on to a legacy that may or may not be working.
Mark: Thinking, yes.
Michael: That's not just true of associations or non-profits or some more conservative organizations. I've seen all different types of industries that if the right person is in there, they can look at a process and say, "You know what? Instead of spending $100,000 trying to integrate these two systems, our CMS with our database or whatever, to fit an existing process, let's change the process and save 60 grand, for example, and add a little bit of manual labor that's hardly costing anything, and we're going to go with it and be more efficient."
It takes that kind of creative thinking, that kind of risk-taking to really make those leaps, I think. We're off tangent now beyond CMS, but that's okay. We're going to go with it.
Mark: It's relevant, though.
Michael: Yeah, it is relevant. It is very relevant. Bottom line, I usually tell people, "Don't try to make your CMS do everything. Don't have this wish list full of 30 things that you just must have because bottom line is you don't need it, typically. You don't need all those things. Keep it simple. Keep your website as simple as it can possibly be to serve your needs, and you'll save money and you'll be more efficient internally and be more effective." That's usually my message.
Mark: Absolutely. I concur 100%. That is absolutely the truth.
Michael: Well, I think we're going to wrap up here. We're just about out of time. Is there anything else you want to add about the concept of content management systems in general before we do a quick shout out for Accrisoft? Anything else you'd like to add to our conversation?
Mark: No, I think it's an ever-evolving piece, and I think that there'll be further consolidation and integration. I think in a lot of ways, I'm drawing an analogy more recently there was a show on PBS. It was about Silicon Valley, about how originally from AT&T, they developed a transistor. From the tube to the transistor, and then they created the integrated circuit at Fairchild, and then later, they created the microprocessor.
I think that kind of thing is happening in the software industry, where originally, the CMSs, the original CMSs were kind of the transistor, and there was further integration into these integrated circuits that started to connect to one another, and we're coming to the age of microprocessors, where we have a whole bunch of circuits that work together in unison for a goal.
That's kind of Accrisoft's basic philosophy. CMSs are becoming much more sophisticated, and HubSpot, again, as a thought leader, they're pushing this idea of content optimization systems nowadays, where you're actually customizing content to the end user. It's great. There's so many great things happening in there, and the user experience is getting much, much better. I'm excited. I'm excited. I remember 13 years ago, we were thinking, "Wow. Once we write this system, what are we going to do next year because we'll be done. You'll be able to update your content. There's nothing else going on." The truth is, it's changing at such an incredible pace that you just have to stay on top of it. It's making everybody's lives easier.
Especially, even sales people. I think that Glengarry, that video, and how HubSpot has almost automated that whole process of lead generation and tracking people. It's like, we almost don't need sales people anymore. You just have to click some buttons nowadays.
Michael: Well, that's actually a misconception. A lot of our clients think, "Oh, we don't need sales people." You still need people actually. I mean if you're a software company, you can obviously take sign-ups online, but complex B2B sales, a lot of peole do go too far in saying, "Oh, the software can do everything. We shouldn't need sales people." They really go too extreme and end up losing sales because of it. I think a healthy mix makes good sense.
Mark: Yes. I agree, 100%.
Michael: Let's wrap up with a blatant shout-out to Accrisoft. I know you've got two audiences here at Accrisoft. One audience, of course, is agencies like us who might want to become an Accrisoft solution provider. The second audience is what I call the end user, the organizations, the CEOs, the marketing directors who are working with an agency like us, and also evaluating a CMS.
Go ahead and talk to both audiences, if you can, just about what Accrisoft is all about. What you do. Who your CMS is good for. Whatever you think is a great point of differentiation about Accrisoft Freedom. Let's go ahead and hear a little bit more about Accrisoft.
Mark: First of all, I'll be blunt and say, I think that every single website in the entire planet should be running Accrisoft Freedom. It's a bold statement, but I don't know why anybody would pick anything else. It doesn't make sense to me. It really is suitable for both the small website and the large website.
As far as differentiations is concerned, everybody tends to think they're different. I'm not going to say we're different. I think what separates us from everybody else would be the integration, that we have so many different components. We have lots of them, and they all work in unison. They all work together. It really makes us different in that sense. It's very, very broad.
To learn about Accrisoft, our website doesn't say a whole lot, but it's important to understand that don't think these systems are so expensive. They're actually much cheaper than you think. We have pricing on our website, but that is not the pricing that you get as a person building a website. That's the end user suggested retail pricing for your customer. Don't be afraid to ask us what the real price is because it's much cheaper than you think.
We're big believers in profit margins and markups, so we want our customers, being digital agencies, to be happy. Our website has a live demo. There's a section in there you can click through and you can get to the live demo, and you can just play with it. Just take a look at it and see if you like it.
We also have lots of training videos and all those kinds of things that you can play with. We also have a "Getting Started" section on our website that's four pages. You can go along and look at the system and watch some videos and understand what's going on.
Our goals nowadays is I'm going to be really blunt. You said I can be blunt, right? Is Wordpress. Everybody uses Wordpress. Everybody's frustrated with WordPress. It's a great system, and there's literally tens of millions of websites built with Wordpress, but we look at them squarely in the eye and we take a look at what they do and we say, "This is good, and this is good, and this is good." We build from that, so a lot of our feature sets are driven from the best modules that come out of Wordpress because we know that's the experience people want.
I love Wordpress. I think it's a great system. I mean, who am I to say, "Our software is built on LAMP." Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP: All four of those are open-source platforms like Linux is open source, PHP is open source, MySQL, they're all open source, and we're not. It feels a bit dirty from my side, a proprietary, but it's not that way. It's not because we want the money. It's because we want to control the environment and allow people to have the best experience possible. That's really what it's about.
What makes us different in another sense, and you have that option with Wordpress and other places, and some of the other systems, but it's that we're also a SaaS model. It's just like Basecamp, where you don't have to worry about the hosting. The hosting is included in the price, so you don't have to worry about upgrading and kernel patches and backups and all the crazy things you have to do with servers. It's all done for you. We have to do all that stuff. That's all really hard, and we pull our hair out and we have frustration. It's not an easy industry. Hosting is a tough industry.
We feel the pain for you and you benefit from that. In the simplest form, an Accrisoft Freedom CMS allows you to concentrate on running your business instead of the technology running you. I say, everybody just take a look at it. Just get a license. It's super cheap. Get a license. Play with it for a few months. I have WordPress licenses. I have Drupal licenses. Take a look what's out there, and try it. I'm going to finish up now, Mike. I know I'm dragging on.
The interfaces is consistent. Every single module works the exact same way, so if you learn one, you've learned them all. It's just all very familiar. It's all intuitive and easy to use, like everybody says, versus something like Wordpress. Every plug-in's different. That's going to be a strength.
It's kind of like the Microsoft Office mantra where it's like once you've learned Excel you can learn Word. Once you learn Word, you could do PowerPoint and Outlook and whatever it was, even though we're big fans of Google Docs nowadays, which has just stole their ideas and put them online and made them really cool.
Just the idea of this integrated, similar, happy place where people can update their content and concentrate on their business and make lots of money. That's what we're all about.
Michael: Sure, and that's very true. As the company has been building websites on Accrisoft Freedom for over a decade, that is very true. There's probably 50 or so modules available, and they all function and look and feel kind of the same. Once you have learned one, you can carry that knowledge and learn them all. That's a great selling point, I think, of Freedom as well.
Just to clarify one thing. You were talking mainly, I think, to potential agencies in terms of the functionality and how to get set up and so forth, but if you're talking to the end user, just to clarify. End users, for example, your manufacturing company, your law firm, your professional services company, they work through solution providers, so they would go to Accrisoft.com to explore, and then you've got a list of your solution providers on your website. SpinWeb, obviously, is one of them. I think you have what, 50 or 60 plus solution providers?
Michael: They can work with an agency on your website to actually get their website built, and of course, Accrisoft Freedom is part of the mix. Did I get that right?
Mark: That is absolutely correct. We would not encourage people to do that directly because you work through an agency, the agency understands the software. They get it up and running, no problem. Once it's up and running, you can have people internally. A lot of times it's nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles to help you out with the website. They can log in and update the content later. You work with an agency like SpinWeb. Have them build up the website, and it goes very, very quickly. The technology today has just advanced huge amounts. You can get a website up and running in no time at all. The hardest part is the content. Everybody knows that.
Michael: Okay. Great. We'll put a link to Accrisoft's website in the show notes. It's Accrisoft.com. I have to speak really clearly when I tell people on the phone because they say, "What? Microsoft has a CMS?" I'm like, "No, no. Accrisoft. A-C-C." So we'll put a link to your website in the show notes as well. We actually have a resource on SpinWeb on choosing the right CMS, so we'll link to that download as well.
Mark, real pleasure speaking with you. A little bit of a longer interview, but I'm glad because we dug really deep into a lot of issues I think are really important. I really appreciate you sticking with us and spending a lot of time talking to me today.
Mark: Hey, any time, Mike.
Michael: Thank you so much. Thanks, everybody, for joining us for this episode of the Digital Exec. Check us out at SpinWeb.tv if you're listening. If you're watching, feel free to download us on the audio podcast, and you can take us with you on your mobile device as well. When you're at the gym, when you're driving, you can listen to our show as well.
Again, thanks, Mark. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. See you next time.
Mark: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Tune in next time for our next installment of The Digital Exec, your source for becoming an expert in the latest and greatest technology.