Think Twice Before Building a Partner Portal on Salesforce Communities

[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 29, 2019 10:10:25 PM / by James Hodgkinson

James Hodgkinson

Salesforce started out with the bold promise of ‘no software’.

No-SoftwareA new SaaS era, born in the cloud with no development, hosting, or upgrade costs. It was a game-changing move that became the catalyst for the development of a now $100BN+ company.

Salesforce CRM is now the most mature, flexible and adaptable platform in the market. It maintains its leadership position through continuous innovation and has become more than just a CRM in most organizations. Salesforce also has by far the most developed extended ecosystem, with enhancement options available via a huge array of marketplace partners.

So why not use Salesforce to build a partner portal?

There’s a clue in that question. The world ‘build’ should raise a red flag to anyone who has been down this road before.

There are many templates, developer tools and shortcuts available but ultimately, it’s still up to you to implement, manage and maintain your portal. Not to mention the ongoing updates, and continuous innovation and improvement critical to driving ongoing user engagement.

When it comes to Salesforce and partner portals, the building is exactly what you’ll be doing - not just at launch but always and forever - at your cost.

Let’s break this down a bit further …

Salesforce - it’s pure Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings

You can buy lots of SaaS from Salesforce.

CRM is the obvious one but the portfolio now covers a wide array of solutions (many acquired companies); for example - Marketing Automation (Exact Target), CPQ (Steelbrick), BI (Tableau) to name but a few. There is also a wealth of third-party SaaS solutions available via the ever-expanding Salesforce AppExchange.

This software all comes pre-built and delivered as a complete solution. You will not have any direct say in where the buttons go, how the menus work or what the features and functions should be. You (rightly) put your trust in licensing pre-existing IP where the developers have already invested millions of man-hours to create a ready to run solution which will be continually enhanced as part of your licensing fee.

The days of people building their own software is now largely over. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the good old partner portal…

What is Salesforce Communities?

The best definition of Communities is what both Gartner and Forrester now refer to as a Digital Experience Platform (DXP).

According to Gartner, Organizations use DXPs to build, deploy and continually improve websites, portals, mobile and other digital experiences.


Salesforce Communities - Build your own portal! Again - notice that ‘build’ word? Or perhaps the clues on the Salesforce’s own Community Cloud website banners?

Create, build - whatever you want to call it, the key point here is that the execution is on YOU. This is not the true SaaS promise that we’ve come to know and love.

So what’s the Problem?


Execution risk

Like any manufactured ‘end product’ the product is only as good as the team that designs and delivers the solution. Successfully building a portal in Communities is critically dependent upon the skillset and business knowledge of the design and development teams. A portal build project will require a significant amount of time and resource from the development teams, likely impacting other internal IT/Salesforce priorities.

When it comes to functional requirements, there's even more risk. Business teams are asked to provide requirements and specifications often without an understanding of how to build software or the complex underlying business processes that underpin things like deal registration or incentive management.

If all parties are aligned and highly skilled with ample time and resources to invest in the process the results can be good. But that’s a very big IF.

Time to market

Outside of the cookie-cutter templates that can work for smaller companies, Salesforce portal projects often see significant deadline misses and cost overruns- mainly due to the execution risks detailed above.

It is common for companies to quickly become overwhelmed by the scope of this complex project leading to a scope reduction and a refocus on the basic deliverables, often called an MVP (Minimum Viable Product, a misused term if ever there was one!)

It shouldn't be this way - we don't target the basic achievement of an “MVP” in any other SaaS category.

Ongoing development and maintenance

Forgot getting to launch, what happens next should be one of the biggest concerns for most Communities portal customers. After execution constraints and time to market disappointment, management and development teams are often left exhausted and frustrated. The portal launch is seen as the end result with everyone finally able to stop living and breathing the portal implementation for the first time in many months.

But when it comes to truly engaging and ROI delivering portals (like engaging consumer platforms), the most important work should really start on the day of the launch. It has been proven that static portals will not drive results. In order to drive partner engagement (and increased revenue) it is absolutely critical to continually create new content, add functional innovations and develop new offerings in real-time. This is extremely hard to do if all of the development requirements are on you … not to mention the expense associated with this continual upkeep!

The total cost of ownership (TCO)

The licenses are just the start - trust me. Building software is very expensive and portals are no exception. The true cost of ownership may include all of the following:

  • Business costs - the time required for business owners to provide the mission-critical input into the portal requirements while also managing portal configuration, UAT and other relevant tasks.
  • Technical/Dev costs - the time invested by BA, UX designers, developers, and integration specialists. It’s not uncommon for this to end up becoming a whole team of people who have to be dedicated to the portal project full time.
  • Consultant costs - Salesforce portal projects are a favorite with consultant companies like Appirio and Accenture for a very good reason. The services ecosystem (yes just services!) around Salesforce is now worth $50BN! That’s a huge number for what is positioned as a no-code solution…


  • Integration costs - with 82% of CMOs/CIOs agreeing they must look to multi-vendor, “best of breed” solutions, you will likely incur additional cost as you integrate your Communities portal into other important applications. App to app integration may now become easier following Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft but it’s still on you to build the integrations and connected user experiences.
  • Opportunity cost –what are the missed revenue and productivity opportunities caused by a portal that takes too long to implement and doesn’t deliver on promised functionality? From my experience, the opportunity costs are VERY significant given the critical revenue creation and fulfillment role partners play in an extended partner ecosystem


However much you may love Salesforce, building everything on the platform creates some real challenges in terms of future change and scale. If you ever decide to switch CRM systems or want to integrate with other SaaS vendors it will not be easy. I’ve recently seen several Fortune 500 companies experience this challenge as they attempted to transition to alternative CRM platforms or integrate other specialist apps.

But if all of this is true, what other options are there?

Adobe Experience Manager? Liferay? SiteCore?

These are all also all DXPs - generally great for building websites and custom apps but with all the same DIY downsides as Communities when it comes to complex portals.

Partner portal (PRM) specialist vendors?

Maybe- but you’ll have to fit everything you are trying to do into the rigid structure of these applications. If you want to make changes (including using Salesforce apps and other vendor components) your options are limited. There are very few (if any) examples of truly world-class partner portal implementations using specialist PRM vendors for these reasons.

Time for something new?

How about a pure SaaS technology that’s configurable in a way that provides the flexibility and scalability of the ‘build your own portal’ approach while also combining all of the benefits of pre-built IP that’s ready to run out of the box?

As part of a team that’s spent close to two decades building custom partner portals for many leading companies, we came to the conclusion that a solution offering the flexibility and scalability of a custom portal combined with the ready to run architecture of a pure SaaS platform was the future of portal technology. The only problem was that this platform did not exist … so we decided to build it...

So here we are today - after nearly five years in the making, 360ecosystems is challenging the build philosophy, working in collaboration with Salesforce CRM and any other combination of apps to deliver a truly game-changing, engagement-focused experience (for any kind of enterprise user - not just partners).

We call it Ecosystem Engagement Automation and it offers some pretty cool (we’d say game-changing!) advantages:

Execution Risk

Every part of the 360ecosystems solution is already built, refined and tested before you configure it. Not just the app, but the API, the connectors, the authentication services, the integration framework and anything else that would normally disrupt a portal project.

This eliminates the execution risk, enabling you to benefit from all of the experience, thought and time that’s gone into making the engagement experience world class across every organization.

Time to Market

As above - the work is already done. There is no need to sit in design workshops, building out business requirements and doing UAT in different browsers. Configuration is far more effective than coding and leads to a massive reduction in implementation overhead.

Ongoing Development and Maintenance

Thousands of hours a month are invested in the continued enhancement of the 360ecosystems platform. All of these improvements are built, tested and deployed centrally meaning there are continuous improvements and innovations. No major IT projects or internal developer/designer costs required.

Total Cost of Ownership

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out removing development and maintenance from the equation will save you an awful lot of money over time. 360ecosystems license fees are based on how many people actively use your portal, and you get everything we have today or will ever build in the future included in that one fee.


As already evident in the rise of iPaaS, platform agnostic flexibility is critical in the modern architecture. If you decide to transition to an alternative CRM, or work with new technologies in the future you will need to make sure your portal strategy embraces this flexibility. At 360ecosystems our entire architecture was purpose built with flexibility and scalability in mind.

The penny is dropping in more and more organizations - why build a portal if you would never take the same build-it-yourself approach for any other class of enterprise software?

With 360ecosystems, you will never have to build again- every portal, you will ever need is available today. We'd love to show you how!

Topics: PRM, Partner Portals, Salesforce

James Hodgkinson

Written by James Hodgkinson

As Founder & CEO of Webinfinity and now SVP of 360ecosystems, I have led the development and launch of a game-changing SaaS Ecosystem Engagement Management platform, also known as 360ecosystems!