A Salesforce.com Custom Portal Case Study

The Need for a Customer Portal 

In November 2012 we received a call from Huong Nguyen of Shiloh Event Creations asking if Snapptraffic Consulting could help her configure the standard customer portal that is available through Salesforce.com. Huong has an event planning business and wanted to move the management of her event planning business into Salesforce.com, but she also wanted to distinguish her company from the competition by providing her customers a portal in which they follow along real time with the planning of their event.

Huong had already considered several project management solutions available on the app exchange and was close to buying one of those. Before doing so, however, she wanted to be sure that certain details of a project could be made visible through the Salesforce.com customer portal. She was asking for our help to determine if it was possible to show to her customers some important aspects of the project (from a third-party application), but to keep other items concealed.

Building an Application rather than Buying Off-the-shelf

We discussed these goals with Huong and suggested that instead of buying a project management system, we build inside of Salesforce.com, using the standard tools provided, the various databases that would be necessary to track her event milestones, assignments, the budget, various charges, invoices, and payments. This approach would have the advantage of a system built according to her existing processes - and further, once the development was complete, the system would belong to Shiloh Event Creations and there would be no further subscriptions for a third-party project management application.

Standard vs. Custom Portal

We also discussed options for the portal itself. While the standard portal provided by Salesforce.com is easy to setup and modify, it didn’t provide the look and feel that Huong was hoping for.

After talking through all the options, she decided that a custom portal with a design based on her existing website would be the best approach. A custom portal doesn’t use the portal system provided by Salesforce.com at all, but is built on Salesforce.com Sites and uses the authentication of a customer portal license. This approach would also permit us to take full advantage of the project management system that we would build in lieu of the App Exchange offering.

Looking for Savings - Platform Licenses

Another important decision in our planning process was to build as much of the system using custom objects (databases) rather than standard objects like Opportunities and Products. Using custom objects means that many of the future internal users of her system would be able to login using Platform licenses.  Platform licenses are significantly less expensive than full Salesforce.com Enterprise licenses.

The Business Process Review

With those choices made we kicked off the project by conducting a business process review in which we noted how Shiloh Event Creations currently planned for and executed the events that they were managing. We discussed how work was scheduled, assigned, and completed. We also talked extensively about the financial side of event planning.

After these conversations we had this sketch from which to work to create the data model in Salesforce.com.
The Shiloh Event Creation Data Model Sketch
We immediately began creating the custom objects (databases) in Salesforce.com, adding the fields, and configuring the page layouts. In just a couple of days, Shiloh Event Creations had a fully functioning Project Management System in Salesforce.com built to their exact work requirements. Even if the portal was never built, this was an impressive advance in the management of Shiloh Event Creations business processes.

The next step was to design the custom portal. For inspiration, we looked at their existing company website, noted the design, the styles, the colors, etc and began sketching a portal with these concepts in mind.

Here is one of our actual sketches from the design process:

This was the longest part of the project, but during these planning sessions we sketched out all the various pages of the Shiloh Event Creations portal. Once that was complete, the development began. The Snapptraffic Consulting development team went to work analyzing the data model, the application already built in salesforce.com, the sketches, the existing website style, and the project requirements – all in the context of the end goal. After that we started writing code!

Over the next few weeks we would meet with Huong every few days to review our progress, take her inputs for changes, and continue development of the requested pages. Here are some screenshots of the final result:

The Portal Login Page

A Detail Page from the Portal of a Shiloh project
A Typical Page from the Portal

Hopefully this case study gives you a feel for how the development of a custom portal built on the Salesforce.com platform can proceed. Thinking about a custom portal for your company? Call us at 800-422-6490 or visit us at www.snapptraffic.com to speak to us about your project.