With the hype around Salesforce communities, naturally everyone wants a piece of the pie while it is hot. Putting functionalities and use cases aside, most people underestimate one specific aspect of a community rollout: styling of the user interface.

Unlike other Salesforce.com implementations where users can be trained and molded to the system, a Salesforce Community must be intuitive, personalised and effortless to make user want to use the tool ensuring a positive brand experience.  You want an appealing final solution which makes users coming back for more. Your community is your brand's online representation so customising the platform is an important decision.  

How much customisation is needed to create that level of engagement will define which implementation approach is best for you. There are multiple ways of implementing communities with each their own pros and cons in terms of styling, branding, functionality and cost.

My take on the Salesforce community rollout approaches

Based on the Salesforce.com documentation there are four different approaches, and I recommend considering two:

  • Community Builder is a wizard-like setup tool that allows people to choose a key template and quickly rollout a responsive site, with key community functionalities such as knowledge base, self-service, chatter questions and answers etc. It also allows further extensions with the use of lightning components, and limited styling in the form of logos and colour scheme changes. Simple and quick if you want a speedy rollout with specific out-of-box functionality ready in days.
  • Force.com Sites is a staple functionality in the Salesforce.com platform. It allows exposure of a custom-built site to the general public, for users to view publicly available content or log in and access secure information. This approach relies on custom development, and enables more flexibility on branding, styling and custom built functionality to fit any business need. Building a Force.com Site requires a solid knowledge of the product including functionality and security hence having a Salesforce.com Certified Technical Architect as part of the implementation team is highly recommended. Depending on the artefacts already available and the complexity of the functionalities required, this approach takes weeks to months.

I have my reservations on the two other approaches for the following reasons:

  • Classic Salesforce is exposes an interface similar to the main Salesforce UI for external users, which lacks in branding flexibility, not to mention the UI is very out of date. You probably don’t want to confuse your users further, unless you are really in a hurry and want to enable a similar experience to what your internal staff uses day to day.
  • Site.com is presented as an equivalent to other Content Management Systems (CMSs) available, such as WordPress. While the ability to configure pages and set up security is very good, its difficulty with styling and making the site responsive limits the usage significantly. You may find that the effort required to style and brand a Site.com site is better spent developing on Force.com Sites.

Which approach best suits your rollout?

Using our Communities Rollout Framework below, we guide clients in their rollout decision:

“Is quick and simple good enough for you?”

If you are not aiming for pixel perfection, and you are happy with a functional community rollout with out of box features, I would recommend using the Community Builder. The process would be as follows:

  1. Build Preparation: Our consulting team works with you to fill in a style and branding questionnaire, which determines the style and branding settings to configure your community. It will include a review of the available templates and features, as well as collecting logos and colour scheme information. We will also do a stocktake of the Salesforce.com functionalities such as knowledge base and self-service to ensure they are properly setup and are ready for a community rollout;
  2. Build: We setup the community and train your staff on the administration of the community;
  3. Deploy: We rollout the community

A straight-forward process with an emphasis on speed, the whole styling and rollout process is done in five days, assuming you are well-prepared (with your styles, logos, and internal Salesforce.com setup).

Pixel-perfect and complex functionality

If you want to focus on the specific layouts and branding, complex functionality or processes, customised login processes etc, I recommend going with the Force.com Sites approach.

If you already have a site template mockup code (a coded, limited-function mockup of the site) ready, we do a technical handover, wire the code to the relevant Salesforce.com functionality, test it and go live. Depending on the complexity of the customisations (number of pages and functions), it can take anywhere between two to eight weeks..

If you don’t have a site template mockup code, we need to do a little more work. Our Customer Experience (CX) team will build a template from:

  • Your UI wireframes to be provided by you , or to be defined with our CX Team. For the latter they would analyse your user personas, use cases, and their wants and needs of a community to recommend the UI wireframes for a user focused solution;
  • Your brand style guideline to define the logo guide, color scheme, front guide, company template design (positioning of logo, address information etc.). If you don’t have one you may engage a marketing and design agency;

This piece takes a week for a simple site, and increases to four or more weeks the more features you wish to include; totalling to three to twelve or more weeks for a full build.

Next steps

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