(also see a more recent blog post with additional information on this topic)
So what's the difference?
Salesforce provides its clients with two portal options: the customer portal and the partner portal.
The Salesforce customer portal is generally geared toward providing you a way to allow your customer's to see information that relates only to their account with you; things like their Account and Contact information, maybe the contracts they have on file with you, their Assets, etc. The primary limitation of a customer portal is that the portal user can only view their own account information. Customer portals cost from about $4-$10 per user/per month, depending on how they are licensed (and that can be confusing!).
The Salesforce partner portal is provided so that you can allow companies that you work with to provide you leads and generally manage the sales process associated with those leads through conversion and the movement of an opportunity through your sales pipeline. Your partners can also manage cases associated with accounts that they're working with. The primary enhancement of the partner portal is that you can view data across many accounts (also leads, opportunities, etc). Partner portal licenses generally run about $35 per user/per month.
Both portal types can view custom objects, regardless of ownership.
The salesforce standard ("standard" meaning it is provided by salesforce) portals are easy to configure and deploy - that is their primary advantage. Their primary disadvantage is that you are somewhat "stuck" with how salesforce delivers the interface. You can modify colors and fonts, links, the objects displayed, and a few other factors, but in general, the portal looks like a salesforce portal.
So what is a Salesforce Custom Portal?
For many of our clients, they need a portal, and are willing to pay for the salesforce licenses to get access to the portal, but they want significantly altered functionality, and "look and feel" than what they get in the standard portals.
Salesforce.com provides us with the ability to completely override their portal experience and replace it with a custom user interface ("Custom" meaning that it is new and built just for you). We can take advantage of the portal licensing, portal security, portal encryption, and build it on top of the salesforce.com database, so that we can provide full access to salesforce.com data in a fully customized user experience.
You'll notice in this screenshot that the login page is unique to the needs of the client, is completely different than the standard salesforce portal login page, has the look and feel of the client's main website, and still provides standard login page functions.
Once logged in, you'll notice that this portal, again retains the look and feel of the client website, yet has exactly the functionality that they wanted to provide their clients. Its data is fed by their salesforce.com database so both internal user and external portal users are working with the same data set.
Hybrid Portals - a mix of Custom and Standard
There are times when the standard portal is okay for your needs in some respects, but not others. In those cases we use the standard portal, but override any of the standard pages and replace them with our own functionality.
Here are a few examples of that:
a second example:
In these examples we used Salesforce visualforce functionality to build and display the functions that we needed rather than standard salesforce portal pages.
The Power of Salesforce.com Visualforce and Apex Programming
A beautiful thing about salesforce.com and Visualforce is the fact that we can write code to accomplish whatever is needed. Using Visualforce (and the Apex programming language), we can build pages that do exactly what a client needs. They can interface with the underlying database to retrieve salesforce.com data, operate on it, present, save it, etc - in any way that supports the portal user. I point this out in the context of the portal, but Visualforce can be used inside of a standard salesforce system as well, even when not using the portal.
So in the above example, we used Visualforce to provide a list of orders, pages to overview those orders, and pages to allow for the entry and review of orders - in exactly the way desired by our client that they designed to best meet the needs of their clients.
Building your Own Portal?
If your company is thinking about building a customer or partner portal and you would like to gain some insights into the process and inquire about your options. Give us a call or visit our website. We can build your portal or simply help you make a better "portal option" decision.
You can reach us through www.snapptraffic.com