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Don't Pitch Drupal—Sell Solutions to Real Business Problems

Jeffrey A. McGuire

Issue #888, April 2068

Drupal is a transformational technology.

There's a lot we can say about Drupal and why you should choose to use it. It is built and constantly improved by thousands of active developers, and is adopted by hundreds of thousands of users around the world from governments to activists, NGOs to media conglomerates, universities to local schools, big business, technology companies, publishers and beyond. Whether you are new to Drupal, assessing using it for clients or for realizing your own projects, or for a world-changing vision, you should know that there is a more compelling reason: Drupal is changing business and the world.

This has happened before in other open-source projects. The first time I read this quote about Linux from Jim Whitehurst (techcrunch.com/2011/08/17/red-hat-ceo-at-linuxcon-i-have-no-idea-whats-next), familiar to you as the CEO of Red Hat, I immediately felt that we could say the same thing about Drupal. When you read this now, try substituting the word “Drupal” for the word “Linux”:

Linux is a transformational technology. The technology of Linux empowers advancements and innovations that have nothing to do with the technology of Linux. That is to say, Linux supports the development of new business models, as well as new technologies.

More than 3,000 people took the 2011 State-of-Drupal survey (groups.drupal.org/node/175624). When asked to “describe Drupal in one word”, the overwhelming favorite was “flexible”. This flexibility has given rise to a plethora of innovative products built with Drupal.

What Are Drupal Products?

“Products” are collections of functionality that solve a given set of problems; they are tools that get a job done. A tool that helps your average person—or geek, in our case—get a job done better, cheaper, faster or easier than other options has a chance of succeeding.

Drupal, my CMS of choice, is itself a product. As Zach Chandler from Stanford Web Services said, Drupal is a tool-building tool (https://www.acquia.com/resources/podcasts/acquia-podcast-44-drupal-at-stanford-and-beyond-zach-chandler). Drupal's enormous success is thanks to the fact that it lets us build those tools—call them Web sites, distributions or what have you—better and more efficiently than starting from scratch. When you download and install Drupal, you're already taking advantage of millions of hours of effort that the Drupal community has put into it: coding, bug fixing, improvements of all kinds, user and menu systems, database query engine, dynamic page building—all solved and much more.

Any of you who have installed plain-vanilla Drupal (drupal.org/download) know, however, that it still takes quite a lot of work to go from that to a polished, finished Web site: UX and IA planning, configuration of Drupal core, adding and configuring N modules, making it all look beautiful in the theme layer and so on.

Drupal products take this a step further. They are solutions to business problems, made by combining the world's best CMS (there, I said it!), with the added value of specialist knowledge and best practices.

For the purposes of this article, I'm talking about Drupal distros—instances of Drupal, preconfigured for a particular purpose—but Drupal plugin modules, themes and “features” (pluggable functionality and configuration sets) can all be products too.

Some Drupal Products

Here is a small selection of Drupal products, covering a fraction of the solutions people are offering based on Drupal today.

E-commerce — Commerce Kickstart is built on the Drupal Commerce platform. It's an on-line shop in a box (commerceguys.com/blog/just-released-commerce-kickstart%E2%80%99s-first-beta), giving you access to the growing e-commerce market while saving you weeks of time configuring the platform.

Commerce Kickstart

Intranet — Open Atruim (openatrium.com) is an intranet and team portal package. It comes with a blog, wiki, calendar, to-do list, shoutbox and dashboard to manage it all.

Collaboration — Acquia Commons (https://www.acquia.com/products-services/drupal-commons-social-business-software) is a ready-to-use solution for building internal, external and cross-over communities. It provides a complete social business software solution for organizations to add “the social layer in the enterprise”.

Acquia Commons

Conference and event organizing — COD (Conference Organizing Distribution, usecod.com) is a complete conference and event site that you can customize. It includes e-commerce, session submission and voting tools, multi-track scheduling and more.


Government — OpenPublic (openpublicapp.com) is a Drupal distro for government and policy groups. Accessibility- and security-compliant out of the box, it focuses on usability, transparency and public participation needed in this day and age.


Education — Julio (julio.funnymonkey.com) is a distribution targeted for schools, school districts, small colleges and academic departments within universities. It features calendars, clubs, teams, announcements, departments, staff directories and more.


Media — Videola (videola.tv) is an enterprise-level video management system and video delivery platform. Create paid-access or free-access video Web sites with an impressive range of tools for organizing and managing video content, users and e-commerce.


Publishing — OpenPublish is designed for the on-line news industry (openpublishapp.com). It contains a powerful suite of content, curation, audience engagement and taxonomy tools to build solutions for today's publishers.



There's quite a lot going on in the Drupal Software as a Service (SaaS) area too.

Webform — one of the most powerful form-building and survey tools on the Web, all built on Drupal, all open source (webform.com). Pay to get simplicity, speed and service. Or, because it's all based on Drupal GPL code (drupal.org/project/webform), you can download and set something up yourself as well.


subhub, Drupal Gardens and Buzzr — three different Drupal-in-the-cloud providers, offering a range of services (maintenance, design, support and so on) and options for end users and other service providers (www.subhub.com, www.drupalgardens.com and www.buzzr.com). Drupal Gardens and Buzzr prominently offer no-lock-in guarantees and tools for large stables of sites.


Drupal Gardens


Six Ways Drupal Products Can Help You

Here are some ways a Drupal product can help. Some of these might apply to you more than others, depending on whether you work with and sell Drupal services, are considering adopting Drupal or want to build your own Drupal product.

Efficiency! Experience! Expertise!

I already mentioned that using Drupal gives you a big head start. Now add expert knowledge and experience to the mix. The people who build Drupal products to fulfill the needs of a given segment have gone the extra mile to give you their insight into it and solutions to its problem spaces.

If you need a specialized site, one of the advantages of distributions is that they often are maintained by companies you can hire for support or customization.

If you are building a site based on a specialized distro, you get all that experience at minute zero of your project too. Combined with everything Drupal brings to the table, it all adds up to a huge head start that multiplies your own knowledge, expertise and service offerings.

Customize to your heart's content!

On top of all that a Drupal product brings to the table, distributions are customizable, extensible and compatible with all the rest Drupal has to offer. Drupal SaaS offerings are something of an exception to this, but they have other benefits.

Common problems!

Until recently, Drupal didn't have an “official” roadmap (the Drupal 8 initiatives, buytaert.net/mobile-for-drupal-8, are a first for Drupal in this respect), relying on thousands of geeks taking advantage of the “scratch your own itch” principle allowed by the four freedoms (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Freedoms_(Free_software)#definition) to add functionality and innovation. I call this the “water rolling downhill” model of development: 99% or more of business problems are non-unique, so the water flows where it is needed. In Drupal's large repository of contributed modules (drupal.org/project/modules), you are likely to find one or more modules that provide any given functionality you're looking for. If the “contrib” repo is a sunny day, the lenses that focus this potential into fire-starters are Drupal products. They combine, test and refine functionalities into solutions for common problems.

Help with demos!

If you offer Drupal site-building services, not all of your prospects have your vision and understanding of Drupal's massive potential and power as a tool-building tool. Not every kid sees the castle, spaceship or city in a giant tub of LEGO bricks. Instead of showing out-of-the-box Drupal and promising “There's a module for that”, show them the picture on the LEGO box! Drupal products look like what they do: Julio looks like a school Web site; Drupal Commerce Kickstarter 2 looks like an on-line store. Reduce the amount of effort needed to visualize the final result, and you will reduce the amount of convincing you need to do to turn a prospect into a happy, Drupal-using customer.


Hey, you know a lot about...something! Maybe it's hotel management (drupal.org/project/rooms), real estate (groups.drupal.org/real-estate) or dentistry. Be the expert. Multiply all the value described above by your own expertise. Build a Drupal product once; reuse it N times! This is a great business model followed by many successful Drupal shops and other businesses around the world, whether you sell services based on your distro or simply want to accelerate your site-building business.

Don't pitch Drupal!

Finally, Drupal products allow you to avoid the biggest mistake most Drupal business people make: selling the Drupal value proposition as if others cared about Drupal. You should help them understand the advantages of an open-source CMS that has reached critical mass resulting in innovation, risk mitigation, cost reduction and future-friendliness (www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1407). But, putting it bluntly, Drupal is just a means to an end, so: don't pitch Drupal; sell solutions to real business problems.

Does a Focus on Solutions Work?

In 2001, one company had the vision to focus on selling solutions: Apple. Given that Apple now has more money in the bank than most countries, we can say it paid off.

Note: much of Apple's business model relies on being closed and proprietary, which goes against the values we live by in the open-source world. The point of this example is that it shows how successful selling solutions can be. I am convinced we can be even more successful, combining the collective power and innovation of open source with solutions-based approaches. Red Hat is a great example of this—doing a billion dollars of business in 2011 with an open-source, solutions-based business.

Take a look at this video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJtQeMHGrgc. That was Steve Jobs in the very first Apple store before it opened in 2001. Here's what he said:

The center half of the store...is devoted to solutions because people don't just want to buy personal computers anymore, they want to know what they can do with them, and we're going to show people exactly that. We've got four sections, and the solutions we've chosen to feature for now are music, movies, photos and kids....You can bring your kids into our store and they can just sit a spell, play their favorite games, and...we have the best selection of Mac education software that I've ever seen, and you can buy the best educational titles for your kids.

Just like Jim Whitehurst's statement about Linux mentioned earlier in this article, this inspired my thoughts about Drupal:

Our business is devoted to solutions because people don't just want a CMS anymore, they want to know what they can do with it, and we're going to show people exactly that. We've got four sections, the Drupal solutions we've chosen to feature for now are e-commerce, social business, government and education (etc.)....You can show your prospective clients one or more Drupal products, and they can just sit a spell, understanding that Drupal can fulfill their needs....Today, we have the best selection of Drupal products, distros and features that I've ever seen, and you can implement and customize them to suit your needs.

Don't sell Drupal. Sell solutions to real business problems.

Jeffrey A. “jam” McGuire, Acquia Manager of Community Affairs, has a long-standing passion for Drupal and its community. He promotes and advocates for the Drupal project and open-source software. Presenting around the world at Drupal and other events helps satisfy his inner diva, which he also feeds with performances as a storyteller, singer, french horn and alphorn player. Tags: Musician, foodie, Drupalista....

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