It has become popular to disparage the early, mainstream enterprise content management (ECM) companies like FileNet, OpenText and Documentum. The typical comments are along these lines: “They failed to achieve high end user adoption because of their inherent complexity;” or, “Legacy ECM systems are ponderous systems that are no longer current with modern technology.” Generally, these remarks are used to promote the new cloud-based systems like Box or Dropbox. However, they also cast a certain negative sentiment toward these companies, as if they were never successful. What we forget is that our current crop of enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) vendors, and similar cloud storage vendors, are the direct evolution of these “dinosaurs,” and without them, there would be no cloud-based systems.

I am not trying to be an apologist for the industry, but I think we disparage the whole industry by separating today’s products from yesterday’s. In fact, many, or most, of the EFSS systems today stand on the shoulders of the early vendors and emulate the same functions, albeit in a more modern way. Nevertheless, as we all know, negative advertising sells—just look at our current political advertising campaigns.

So ask yourself, have you ever chosen a product because the sales rep negatively sold the competition? Probably not, and speaking for myself, I dislike negative selling and count that against the person/company doing the negative selling. For the most part, in my experience from listening to many vendor pitches and reading many proposals, most of the negative selling is based on outdated, false or misunderstood information that is simply not true. I’ve often questioned a vendor about their negative citations that the competition can’t do "XYZ," and they quickly back off from the claim and 99% of the time cannot show any proof that they are correct.

Henry Ford said, “The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.” Hey vendors and consultants, we didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, but I digress into my own version of negative selling—sorry.

We should look at the early vendors as pioneers of the industry. They opened new territories, settled new communities and built our basic infrastructure: document imaging, workflow, electronic document management and records management. These early vendors did not have the guideposts that today’s vendors have and were doing their best to provide a product that met expectations. In fact, the four primary functions mentioned above are still under construction, still not completely settled and will continue to evolve (or devolve). Today’s legacy ECM vendors represent at least a third or fourth generation of their products and our industry. FileNet, for example, started as a proprietary scan-and-store system and, through multiple product generations and acquisitions, became the product it is today—to include the four primary functions and a host of other applications. These products became highly complex over time and expensive to implement but could, given the time and resources, do the work.

EFSS vendors for document management are fortunate to have a rich history of success and failure and as many examples of ECM systems and applications as they do. Yet, it always seems that the negative examples get cited, and we never hear positive examples of how well an ECM system worked and how it enhanced a company’s performance, increased worker productivity and lowered overall costs of doing business. Nobody wants to read about average success stories in which the application did exactly what it was supposed to do—we would rather hear the bloody examples of failed systems, fired consultants and products returned. To be honest, there are many of these stories yet to be told.

One of the negatives always cited by the EFSSers is that of user adoption, but user adoption is such a complex area, and there are few, if any, actual solid statistics about this. Many negative citations are from surveys from AIIM and Gartner, or any number of independent research companies, but fail to recognize that these surveys are statistically invalid, since they represent less than one percent of the actual community (the whole universe of companies using/not using ECM). In addition, most AIIM and Gartner surveys are responded to by their respective communities, so you are surveying a community that is already predisposed to the technology and not surveying companies that use ECM but don’t belong to AIIM, or companies that looked at using ECM and decided not to use it (which would be the most interesting and telling survey).

I would really like to see a return to features and benefits selling in which a product stands on its own merits and, like Henry Ford said, you don’t even acknowledge the competition. For example, you might say that your application allows you to add a metadata term to a document. Metadata is a feature of an application. It is a characteristic or fact about the application. It allows me to add the word “sales proposal” to a document to differentiate it from a marketing data sheet or an accounting quarterly report. The benefit of having metadata is what value that feature adds by having it. By adding metadata to documents, it makes the document easier to find and allows the search engine to categorize documents by their metadata. Further, being easier to find also means that one spends less time searching for documents and the search results are more relevant. The benefit of that is that user productivity goes up, decisions are based on better information and costs go down, which pays for the product.

So instead of negative selling the competition, try positive selling your own product using the features/benefits approach. I would hazard to guess that almost no average user, who was interested in buying an EFSS application, could tell you the difference between Box, Dropbox, Huddle and Accellion, but there are many differences between these applications that can be expressed as features and the resulting benefits of those features.

I have to caution you that the old feature/benefit selling idea has a long history and is a favorite subject of many books and selling-theory websites. It is not that complicated: for every feature, there is a corresponding benefit. That’s it.

Bud Porter-Roth has over 20 years of experience as an ECM consultant, with a focus on cloud collaboration, electronic document management, records management and paper document projects. Follow him on Twitter @BudPR or contact him at

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