killer whaleEarlier this week I met the CMS selection team at home, a Danish chain of real estate agents. While I quickly reviewed their comparative vendor sheet, I found that in between the usual plus/minus grading, they had used the metaphor of fish to describe their size and relative importance to each vendor. For some vendors, home would be a whale, for others only a small herring.

This lead to a good discussion around the pros and cons of being a big fish with a small vendor or of being a small fish with a large vendor. Which is better?

On the one hand I know many customers who have preferred being a small fish, e.g. with IBM, Microsoft or Oracle, as they deemed this a  less risky choice, both in terms of vendor stability and of applying shared experiences from other small fish they have had on their books. Naturally the problem with being a small customer in a big ocean, is that it can be difficult to get attention and influence the big vendor to move their solution in your direction.

On the other hand, as a big fish, many buyers feel they have more persuasive powers over the vendor. We have some members in our community of practice which represent more than 50% of their particular vendor’s total revenue. This might make it easy to get attention, but is obviously also quite risky as the survival of the vendor more or less depends on your continued investment.

So, which scenario is best? As usual, the answer depends on your preferences. Depending on your circumstances, the ideal compromise might be to choose a large software vendor, but work with a small local implementation partner.

If I could share one serious word of advice, it would be that the past 10 years have shown that being a small fish is not any less risky than being a big fish. Many thought they were safe when they picked the now discontinued Microsoft CMS or when they bought from big CMS vendors such as Interwoven and Vignette which have recently been acquired.

Good luck in the big ocean!

Thanks to the CMS selection team at home for adding some fun to a common discussion! Thanks also to Carsten Paul at exa-online and Volker Grünauer at Wienerberger for additional inspiration.