Demystifying Salesforce Portals
Demystifying Salesforce Portals

Demystifying Salesforce Portals

05/29/2012 by Justin Edelstein delivers high powered portals to your customers and partners bringing together the best of both worlds - your back-end system and data visible and actionable by external users.

Very simply put portals are external views into your internal system. Salesforce provides two different flavors of portals for your end-users pleasure. For years companies build portals on their own proprietary technology stack with the hopes of giving external users access to internal data that they should have visibility and editing rights to. This approach generally involves complex security models, extensive integrations, and duplicative databases. With Partner and Customer portals all of the legwork of getting external views to internal data is handled natively on the Salesforce platform. It’s up to you though to choose the right portal for the right use case.

Two Clear Use Cases for Portals

There are generally two high level use cases for portal usage. One is the simplistic Customer portal whereby your company would like to allow your customers access to their own data in a read only view and allow them to enter support tickets. Mind you, this is the most basic of portal use cases, the key being that Customer portal logged in users can only see data that is related to their own Account in Salesforce and have no rights to edit their Account data.

The other primary use case for a portal is to allow partners the ability to collaborate on Leads, Accounts, Contacts, and Opportunities. This differs from the aforementioned Customer use case because these partner users need the ability to see across multiple Accounts with the rights to edit information about the Account.

Two Clear Options for Each Use Case

Customer portal allows your customers the ability to login to your Salesforce instance through a customized view and see records that relate directly to their own Account. This is an important distinction between what the Customer portal and Partner portals do. For your Customer portal any Contact associated to a Customer Portal enabled Account can become a Customer portal user. These users are assigned different roles within the Account to dictate whether or not they can see data associated with other users within the same Account. The key here is that while Customer portal users can edit data related to their Account they cannot edit the Account object itself and the only Account record they can even see is the one that they are a Contact within. So, when you need a portal that allows a closed off view of data specific to the company that a user is a part of the Customer Portal is a good option - particularly when you are dealing with Customer Support as a primary use case.

Partner portal allows users to  see and edit multiple Accounts. When you designate a user as a Partner Portal user they can not only see their own Account but any other that is shared with them through security settings. As a Partner users can create and edit Leads and participate in both the Sales and the Support processes. As opposed to the Customer Portal user who cannot even edit their own Account, Partner Portal users have much more power that spans across all the Accounts in your Salesforce org.

Look and Feel of Portals

While the standard look and feel has been updated to look more like a “Web 2.0” modern application its portal counterparts don’t look as nice. They are “boxy” and “square” and don’t have the fit and finish that you would expect. The good news is if you don’t care what the look and feel is like for your partners then you don’t have the change it, just let them login and use the standard look and feel which inherits all the page layout assignments that a standard interface would have. You can customize the tab colors, link colors, and other small details like adding your logo to the top right corner using declarative tools. The other good news is that you can absolutely use the platform to customize the entire experience using VisualForce and APEX. This is particularly useful for Customer portals because you more then likely want it to match the experience that your customers already have on your corporate website.

Portal Users Have Some Quirks

While Portal users are similar to regular Salesforce users in the way of them having a login, an email, a Profile, and a Role they do differ in what their profiles and roles actually allow them to do. Again, a Customer Portal user no matter what can never edit Accounts. They are also  assigned roles based on the Account that they are associated with. It’s important to note that all users of Portals are directly related to their Contact record in Salesforce. It’s from the Contact record that the Portal user is created and from there they remain related in a one to one fashion. The Contact is always related to an Account inside of Salesforce and that is where the user inherits their permissions from. For example, if I had a Contact named John Doe in the Acme Account I could create them as a portal user and assign them the role of Acme Account: Executive.

In addition to their security settings on the user portal users also can’t participate with certain standard objects and most notably Chatter. It would be great to allow a Partner portal user to participate in Chatter on an Opportunity but these user types just do not support Chatter at this point in time.

Benefits of Using Portals

It goes without saying that allowing an external audience to view internal back-end data with security controls around it is extremely beneficial. Large organizations spend lots of time and money developing systems for their clients or partners to login to that is essentially a scaled down version of the real native back end database application. Using portals from no additional infrastructure or applications are necessary to allow external users access to internal data in a myriad of ways. We have covered only two use cases in this post, the most used ones in our opinion, to try to demystify what Portals are and how to decide which one is right for you.

If you want to discuss further or have any additional comments on the topic feel free to comment in Discus below, comment on our Facebook page, or tweet me directly at @JustEdelstein.