The Lack Of Functional Depth in WordPress Line Of Business Applications

March 20, 2018 | Business Musings

Has anyone noticed that line of business plugins are generally not functionally deep enough or easy enough to use that the bigger WordPress players will actually use them?

I guess to answer that question you probably need to know what I mean by line-of-business applications.

Line-of-business applications are those software systems that keep a business operation running smoothly on a day-to-day basis - things like ERP, CRMs, ACCOUNTING and, yes, HELP DESK software. Even things like Project Management and Bulk Mailing Marketing systems like MailChimp can sometimes be considered "line of business" applications depending on the type of business.

Examples of common line-of-business applications that people use every day are things like Asana, Trello, Mailchimp, Netsuite, SalesForce, Dynamics, Zendesk, Basecamp etc.

What Are The Top Players Recommending?

When a developer needs a recommendation for a system to fulfill a development or business need, there are a number of places they can turn to for a recommendation.  Obviously, their own network is one source of recommendations. But there are also public and semi-public recommendation sources such as Facebook Groups and the POSTSTATUS slack group.  It is in those public forums where you can witness the problem firsthand.

Invariably, when someone says "Hey, I need something to do X" and "X" happens to be a line-of-business function, 99% of the recommendations you see in the public forums are SAAS applications.  Many of these recommendations come from well known developers or developers with a TON of WordPress experience under their belts.

In fact, most of the time a WordPress plugin will only be offered up as a suggestion if the request specifically asked for a plugin.

As someone who has a financial interest in the WordPress space, this is deeply distressing and depressing.

Why are WordPress plugins not the go-to recommendation from the people that are in the business of creating and selling everything WordPress?

Why Are The Top Players Recommending Non-WordPress Based Software?

Its simple - the depth of functionality is simply not there.  Nor is the ease-of-use and ease-of-deployment.

While there are lots of WordPress plugins for website development and related tasks that are easy to use and has a lot of depth to their functionality, the same cannot be said for line-of-business applications.  There, its a whole different world.

And that's a major problem for the WordPress ecosystem - both practically and optically.  If we can't use our own platform to run our business then why should anyone else do so?

I do believe that as an industry, we need to get to the point where we can cook and eat our own dog-food.

Driving A Top Down Solution

There are a few companies that have built great, profitable businesses in the WordPress ecosystem.  However, it is NOT their OBLIGATION to solve this problem.

But it might be in their long term financial interest to do so.

Why is that you ask?

Because every penny spent outside the WordPress ecosystem is lost revenue for the ecosystem and a lost opportunity to acquire or keep a customer - not just for one vendor in the short term but for many vendors in the long run.  Lets take an example:

How many WordPress users are sent to Basecamp or other similar project management SAAS services every day?  Imagine if all those dollars were spent at a WordPress vendor instead and a large business resulted from that?  Would that vendor make purchases of other WordPress software?  Would they recommend other purchases of WordPress software?  Would they employ even more developers?

The trickle-down effect from a single large vendor can be HUGE - even in an already large ecosystem like WordPress.  You can never underestimate that effect.  So imagine having at least one truly large WordPress vendor for all the different line-of-business applications.

How many more plugins and themes and hours of services would you sell in the long run because of the presence of those additional large vendors?

I know, I know, it sometimes takes imagination to see the long term effects of short term decisions.  But I don't think it takes a leap of the imagination to recognize that sending your customers outside the WordPress ecosystem is bad for the ecosystem in the long run.

The Opportunity To Change Perception

Many medium sized and large businesses run their Websites on WordPress.

But that is all they do.

Because they do not see WordPress as a serious platform for anything else.

In order to change that perception you have to be able to compete with the SAAS products that are now being used in place of WordPress. And doing so at all levels - functional, usability, marketing and more.

And that means stepping up our game as vendors.

Which requires a healthy amount of dollars and time and effort to do.

But it can be done if the top players in our space start to drive demand.

Demand will create the supply.  Unfortunately, supply will not create the demand - "build it and they will come" is simply not going to work for line-of-business applications.

Driving Demand From The Top

Imagine if WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, Gravity Forms, Envato or one of any of the larger players (now called "top-dog vendors") decided one day that they needed a new CRM.  But instead of using an SAAS or custom building from scratch they decided to use an existing WP plugin and then try to get the vendor to build out the functionality they needed.

That would be great, right?  Well, maybe not to the CRM vendor.  Unless the CRM vendor recognizes the long term wisdom of adding the deep functionality needed and can afford to finance at least some portion of the changes, you still have a problem.  And because of this, its easy for the top vendors to say "screw it" and just go outside the ecosystem.

But, lets assume that the Top Dog Vendor is committed to staying inside the ecosystem and commits to helping at least one of the CRM vendors grow out the functionality needed for the Top Dog Vendor's business.  Now, your CRM vendor has a large, highly reputable customer that they can point to and say "If we are good enough for them, we're probably good enough for you".  And that is likely to keep a ton of other WordPress users from going outside the ecosystem, leaving uber amounts of direct and indirect capital invested inside it.

None of this opinion is meant to trivialize the risk to the Top Dog Vendor's business should they go down this road.  There is financial capital to be invested along with labor capital and there is always a huge business risk when it comes to deploying early-stage line-of-business software.

But, not accepting those risks and managing them is, I believe, very short-sighted.  Its great that we can use WordPress to build pretty things.  But the really long term and lucrative opportunity is in getting companies to spend thousands and millions of dollars on WordPress based software and services.  And that can only happen if we start cooking and eating our own dog-food.

So if the top vendors in the WordPress space can recognize that its in their best long term financial interest to keep as much functionality inside the ecosystem as possible, then maybe we will get some really great plugins coming down the line in the future.


So what does all this have to do with the WordPress Helpdesk and Support Business?  After-all you are reading this article on a help-desk plugin site...

A whole lot actually.

We have spent the last two years adding very deep functionality to our plugins.  And many of our customers enjoy those functions at a fraction of the price they would pay for a non-WordPress based service.  Yet, whenever I send a support ticket into one of the Top Dog Vendors, its always painful to see that their replies are coming from an SAAS vendor - Helpscout, Zendesk, Ticksy ...

So Top Dog Vendors - what do we need to do in order for you to use and support a WordPress software vendor?

Its time for all of us to step up our game, use our own products and grow the deep functionality required to be used by the biggest businesses.  And that starts with you.  Its not your obligation to do anything to help anyone else - your obligation is to your business.  But it really is in your business's long term health to keep as much capital invested inside the ecosystem as possible.

And that means leveraging your position at the top of the food chain to pull everyone else up.

Otherwise, we'll all continue to suffer from the "small time" and/or "only a pretty face" image and continue to ship dollars outside the ecosystem that should rightfully stay inside it.

So, Top Dog Vendors, wanna knock on our door and help build out a functionally deep help-desk plugin that is good enough to be used by even the largest companies?  We're certainly open to it.  Or maybe you're currently evaluating other software systems for other purposes - maybe you can knock on a related plugin vendor's door and start helping to build out their functional depth.  It really is in your long term financial interest to do so!


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