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Salesforce Community Cloud opens doors for partners

The Salesforce Community Cloud brings partners into business processes in new ways -- but documentation and licensing caveats could derail your efforts.

Collaboration platforms have had mixed success to date, but that may change with partner networks like the Salesforce...

Community Cloud.

Companies have struggled with traditional enterprise collaboration tools as a means of internal communication, document sharing and idea exchange. While solid in theory, these platforms often created work by introducing applications that workers didn't use regularly, leading to app fatigue and the burden of toggling between apps.

Today, though, companies like Salesforce recognize that collaboration has to take place at the point of action. Online customer communities have morphed into customer and partner portals, enabling conversation and collaboration, exchange of files, and intuitive interfaces that allow participants to communicate and take action from the same location.

Collaboration platforms have been particularly successful in bringing partners more closely into the chain of events in a transaction or work process. Instead of requiring logins to access content behind a firewall, partners can now be granted privileges to access and edit content within an enterprise collaboration tool. Consider, for example, a car parts supplier that works with a car manufacturer. The supplier can now log into the partner portal, see a work order for parts, complete the work, generate an invoice and set alerts to indicate milestones as the work is done along the way. Such capabilities can bring automation, documentation, and standardization to processes that were ad hoc and dispersed, which is a good thing. At the same time, though, there is still work to be done to make communities more seamless.

Enter Salesforce Community Cloud, whose predecessors for partner collaboration include the now-retired Partner Portal, or Customer Portal. Community Cloud encompasses all the functionality of the retired portal products and offers new functionality to better align the partner experience with Sales Cloud license holders internal to the organization. Salesforce Chatter, the enterprise collaboration and chat tool for all clouds, has been extended into Community Cloud, allowing for partner groups to build knowledge bases -- with libraries of articles, documentation, forms and other relevant material -- and collaborate. Salesforce also stepped up mobile functionality, enabling channel partners to interact from the field. Dashboards were added, as well as the ability to use the Import Wizard to draw in accounts, contacts and leads.

Salesforce also recently announced a new widget capability that enables partners to build functionality directly within Community Cloud pages. This opens the door to not only bringing partners more intimately into the process, but also to enabling them to bring their own processes to the community via apps. The widget is an extension of functionality that Salesforce has been working on for some time. Last year, for example, it enabled companies to embed new e-commerce options in communities, such as a Buy button.

SteelBrick's configure, price, quote (CPQ) app can now be embedded in Salesforce Community Cloud, as well. Demand was high for this capability because it gives partners the tools to configure their own prices and self-educate about offerings in an easy-to-use environment. Standardizing partner processes can save time and effort, specifically by tying the system back to other key business processes, such as accounting and fulfillment.

Adding CPQ technologies to the Community Cloud implementation enables a company to have much greater control over its partners' ability to quote for specific deals. Many products or services may be available to only specific regions or in specific currencies. Segmenting partners based on their ability to sell a specific product or service, for a certain price or currency, or for a particular configuration, can save significant time for the internal resource in approving a deal.

Salesforce Community Cloud and information distribution

Community Cloud allows a company to control many aspects of the distribution of information; the submission and approval of deal registration; and currency-, region- or reseller-specific pricing with the addition of CPQ technology. The acquisition of SteelBrick and its CPQ technology has important implications for Salesforce Community Cloud.

Companies like Salesforce are recognizing that collaboration has to take place at the point of action.

Controlling information distribution about new products or releases and how they are positioned in the marketplace is important to companies. Many sales organizations are subject to compliance or legal restrictions, and passing this information along to partners may not be a choice but a rule. The implementation of Chatter and formation of Chatter groups around specific products, releases or regions can also have a significant impact on the ability to quickly build an internal, searchable knowledge base. Moderating Chatter still has its challenges, which should be considered carefully when opening the tool to partners.

Consider, for example, that out of the box, Salesforce isn't configured with controls to protect certain information from being accessible to the entire community. As a result, a company's intellectual property could be accidentally leaked if a community isn't properly configured.

Another important caveat is licensing, which can get costly. Licensing is user-based. There are three editions: Customer Community begins at $250, according to current published pricing; Partner Community at $500; and Employee Community at $25. Some users have noted that licensing could be a blocker, because it can get quite pricy when a company has to invite a lot of customers, partners or both into the community.

Managing deal registration, submission and approval processes with the Community Cloud can also streamline relationships between a company and its partners and bring greater transparency through centralization. Automated workflows and communication allow for each party to see exactly where in the process their deal currently exists, from submission through to fulfillment and, finally, commission calculation. With this level of transparency, an organization's decision to scale, both in terms of growing partner network and the internal resources necessary to manage, is much clearer. ERP tools can be integrated to further automate processes to add insight on where a partner's payment might be in the process.

Is Salesforce Community Cloud in your future?

We have seen a significant growth in demand for Salesforce Community Cloud implementations. We expect as organizations continue to grow their partner networks, the proper structuring and management of the relationship will be equally as important as with internal sales teams.

Proper documentation is also critical and enables users not well versed in the technical side of the implementation to gain access to the community with greater ease. We have seen the Community Cloud functionality used in numerous industries to great effect. If properly planned, it can easily be scaled, but note that you need to map out licensing costs. As in other contexts, licensing costs can balloon if you don't consider how many users you have, their needs for features, and how your business might grow. And if your company's sales team works through the channel, it may also have implications for licensing.

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