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How to Really Sell Umbraco vs WordPress [or any other CMS]

If you ask most agency owners how important a CMS is in winning a pitch, they’ll likely tell you their pitches are CMS-agnostic. That’s a sensible approach to make sure you stay focused on what solves the client’s problem and remember technology is a tool to meet those needs.

The catch is, unless you only have clients who plan to never touch their sites after the build (🙈), at some point you have to cover this detail. The probability you will encounter clients who solely have WordPress on the brain seems to only be increasing. They will ask and you will be obliged to answer. Should you simply give in? Why should you bother even trying to sell more Umbraco sites?

Theo Paraskevopolous makes a clear case why, “More sales mean more installations. More installations attract more developers, which means more knowledge sharing. A bigger community improves the platform faster, which drives more sales and so on.”

That’s right, the best way to counter the objections that Umbraco is not as well known is to make it well known. Assuming you are an Umbraco champion and want to see the community grow (why else would you have asked the titular question), we now know what we should do and why. Let’s talk about the how.

That’s what people say

Plenty has already been written on this topic (see here and here) . With Umbraco hitting the milestone of 400,000 active sites, some of this advice must be working.

Yet in our recent Umbraco in Business survey, almost 20% of respondents still reported their agency’s biggest challenge as selling clients on Umbraco vs other CMS platforms with much bigger add-on selections.

Let’s quickly review a highlight reel of the reasons people, who are presumably winning plenty of pitches, give for why clients should love Umbraco, and then examine what objections clients are making to those points.

1. Loads of super important brands use Umbraco 

This is typically met with a) client presenting equally impressive list of companies using WordPress or b) a blank stare, followed by an irritated explanation of how they aren’t like those brands and they thought you knew them, but maybe they were wrong

Either way, it’s not doing much to move the needle with anyone outside of those who have only vaguely heard of WordPress or care zero percent about what a CMS is, much less which one you use.

The primary aim of the sell sheet filled with big-name logos is to afford the platform legitimacy. If the client strongly believes in the legitimacy of you (the agency), they won't need/want to question what tools you recommend. We'll come back to this later.

2. You can create bespoke websites

Right, getting a smart-looking, functioning custom site built is exactly why they came to you instead of DIYing it with Wobbly or Wax.

By now there are too many examples like this of how WordPress is not just a blogging tool to keep trotting out that line.

3. Developers like it

It’s certainly fulfilling to work with clients you can also call friends, but is making your development team happy really a boon for the client’s business?

There’s also the risk you leave the impression building with Umbraco means the site will come with heavy development costs and require a dev SWAT team for even minor changes. Scary!

Besides, angry programmers can actually be quite effective at solving problems. (I am very much kidding here, please do not send the bots for me!)

4. It’s a content editor’s dream

You should not be surprised if you are met with eye rolls when uttering these words. Every content editor I know dreams of throwing back Mai Tais on a remote sunny beach, or at the very least sipping a Negroni in the bar down the street after a hard day of eye-crossing copyediting.

Until Umbraco can automagically ideate, produce, edit and upload content (🔮), better to specifically address the challenges the content team expressed during your initial discovery process.

What's unanswered?

Outside of a crowd-pleasing cat+computer image, we really haven’t given you much towards selling Umbraco vs WordPress, yet. It is important to understand the main reason the points presented above are not wholly satisfying clients.

One, the cases laid out so far are really all the reasons your agency decided to use Umbraco. We need to look at things from the client’s point of view.

When you’re focused on the CMS from the outset, it’s difficult to be certain you’ve adequately considered the client’s situation. The likely result? “If you forget the customer who you’re trying to make a product for, you probably won’t build a good product,” says Max Nielsen, Mediaworkers.

Secondly, the cases above are all about features. Getting into a features war puts you in the dangerous position of looking like a replaceable commodity instead of a valued asset and true partner. It’s not to say any of the points raised couldn’t be clearly translated into the benefits they offer the client and tied into the bigger value proposition you present.


You can move the feature that developers love it from the risk column, where client hears “this is going to cost me a lot of money for expensive developers,” to an advantage by conveying it as a benefit of time to launch will be faster and support in the long term will be cheaper because the build was smarter and cleaner thanks to a system that empowers happy, productive developers.

The biggest challenge in presenting to a client set on WordPress is that they’ve come to the table already in solution mode, making it way too easy for you to saddle up beside them, skipping the processes that lead to the best results.

A head-to-head battle is not good for the relationship, and, can likely result in the client digging in their heels, insisting on their pick. It’s critical that you, as Jason Kanigan says, “stop being a product pusher.”

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation

In the introduction, I referenced an article by one of my favourite Umbracians, Theo at GrowCreate. In it, he excellently explains the different people you must convince and offers some tips on how to win them over. I second almost all of his advice, right up until this nugget: “Keep emphasizing Umbraco’s .NET heritage in every call and document. Done right, this is a potent tactic as the CTO’s vocal support can kill rivals in one clean sweep.”

Please do not approach any pitch scenario with the idea you might have to destroy any member of the client’s team. Even if you temporarily win their silence, people on the team who feel a system has been forced on them will find a way to make their voice heard eventually. And it will usually sound something like this:

  • “I HATE this system. It is completely broken and I’m spending forever trying to do my job and {insert your agency name here} is EVIL! Obliterate this website and build a new one now!”

I say this as someone who witnessed a single team member systematically sabotage a certain ecommerce platform’s reputation primarily because they had previous experience with WordPress and didn’t want to learn a new system. Since no one from the agency (or the internal team for that matter) had consulted them during the proposal or build process, they had zero intention to discover how or if the new system was purpose-built to help them.

Your job is to back out of the weeds and demonstrate how you will eliminate the client’s headaches, capture opportunities for them and deliver business outcomes they might not have even realised a website could generate. That approach should consider everyone who directly and indirectly will use the system.

So, we’ve taken away your slick sales sheet with the snazzy logos, use of a couple worn-out clichés, and now, permission to muzzle any detractors. How exactly are you supposed to sell more Umbraco sites then?

Get ready, the secret to selling Umbraco against WordPress is coming.

The secret is revealed

The secret to selling Umbraco vs WordPress is to not sell against WordPress, or any other CMS.

Before you throw your shoe at the screen, hear me out. Reviewing responses to what ultimately convinced decision makers that Umbraco was right for their project revealed two commonalities. Both are what you’ve already got up your sleeve - the double Ds - discovery and demo. Neither involve any mention of a competitive CMS.

The secret to selling #Umbraco vs #WordPress revealed: Do not sell against WordPress, or any other CMS. Click to Tweet

Most often we think of discovery as something that happens somewhere between when you’ve won the proposal and before you start writing code. The truth is, bringing that process forward can create a level of understanding and trust to make discussions about the methods and tools you’ll use in the project flow like smooth jazz.

“An in-depth discovery phase is our secret weapon to discovering the real user,” says UX designer Brittany White. When the client believes you understand where they’re coming from, they will readily put their faith in your recommendations.

Once you’ve conducted a thorough exploration with all key members of the client team, you can proceed to stage two - demonstration. While you don’t want to pour hours upon hours into building a demo that fulfills the complete wish list created during discovery, you should consider the upsides of testing a prototype at this point.

Incorporate what you learned through the discover process to tailor the demo so it shows how the client’s issues are resolved. Allowing people to experience features for themselves clarifies the abstract, lessening the pressure for you to sell or go through lengthy technical explanations of custom grids or the Event Model.

Seeing first-hand that changing a featured product takes just a few minutes with a couple clicks was enough to not only satisfy Lambretta Watches marketing manager, Christian Hoffman, but to actually make him happy. “It just works,” he beams. Before moving to Umbraco, the company had a site built on a platform that looked impressive on paper, but in reality, Hoffman said the company “only used about 5% of the system.”

Beyond moving the discussion from abstract to living colour, the demo empowers the client, ensuring the project’s success after launch. Given no two projects or clients are alike, there’s the possibility someone will pick up on an aspect you might never have highlighted.

During a panel discussion at Codegarden, Alfredo Pulvirenti, digital project manager for the Council of the European Union made this point, “preview functionality - might sound very trivial, but it’s important for us.”

Suddenly the future’s looking a whole lot brighter

Now that you don’t have to descend into hand-to-hand combat with WordPress anymore, you can spend more time on processes that really count in building a relationship (and site) to endure. Shift from “winning singular projects” to focusing on the advantages you bring as a long-term partner.

A few prompts to help you review whether operations in your agency are contributing to the total value picture:

    • Are you employing design thinking principles to create better user experiences?
    • Did you translate your learnings into an efficient UI model using atomic design?
    • Have you implemented a growth-drive design process to eliminate waste and improve performance?

Addressing those questions and using Umbraco to demonstrate how the tools you use combine in a purpose-built system will serve you well in convincing clients your solution is everything they need. While you work on that, rest easy knowing that the Umbraco HQ team continues hustling to make your life easier by molding your favourite CMS to be a little friendlier every day.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Niels Hartvig said so.

“Back in the days we claimed that Umbraco was simple but that's a fake promise because what's very simple for me might not be simple for the editor that needs to for instance upload and maintain 500 media items every single day. What we can do is make sure that the release of Umbraco that's coming tomorrow is a little bit simpler than it was the day before.”

Most importantly, keep pushing the limits of your imagination and building awesome things with Umbraco.

“Umbraco’s not just a WordPress clone, but it’s actually a very powerful tool and it’s its own thing. It’s funny thinking we built a CMS for websites but people use it for all kinds of things.”

-The Chief Unicorn 

About the author

Christie Pearson