Is "Sites" Salesforce.com’s play into B2C?
The business case for having a website powered by Salesforce in the cloud is not much different than using Salesforce as a platform to build an application. If you are running a website you have decisions about hosting, a Content Management System (CMS), which will need a database behind it, and hardware to run the site. Do you use a shared server or a dedicated server? How will my hardware scale with my website’s traffic? Who is going to manage it? All these decisions are satisfied by running a Site on Force.com.
Salesforce.com Sites have not been around that long – it was only available as a "Developer Preview" in Spring 09, hitting general release in Summer 09. With Summer 10 came some new functionality – mainly the ability to download a managed reporting package off AppExchange to run analytics on things like page views and bandwidth. Additionally we got to see what the limits were for Sites by edition.
Sites continued to develop slowly. Winter 10 release added some functionality: Google Analytics, Secure Web addresses and High Volume Portal Users). High Volume Portal Users (HVPU) was described as "limited-access portal users intended for organizations with many thousands to millions of portal users" – now this could be interesting! In the release notes Salesforce disclosed that the ability to scale to that level while maintaining performance was accomplished by removing Role Hierarchies (which adds calculations) from these types Portal Users.
Spring 10 release was a bit of a disappointment for Force.com Sites in terms of new features. Workflow alerts became available that could be used when you’re about to exceed bandwidth – but that was about it.
Enter Summer 10, with new features for Sites such as Administrator Preview, Single Sign-On, support for Cookies, and re-writing URLs. With Summer 10 you could now enable a Contact as a High Volume Portal User (HVPU) from the Contact record (previously it was with the API – which was a drag). HVPU licenses were still listed as being only available in a pilot program as of the May 3, 2010 publish date for the Summer 10 Release Notes.
On July 10, 2010 a "Force.com Sites Implementation Guide" was published – to me heralding that we’ve reached some critical mass with Sites and a nice way to consolidate all the information on Sites spread over the last couple of releases into one document.
Self-Registration – the Key to B2C?
One little nugget that I found in the aforementioned Implementation Guide, which as far as I can tell is a new feature scouring past release notes – is allowing a visitor to a Site to "self register." Salesforce in the documentation gave the example "users browsing through an ideas site can register and log-in directly from that site, and as authenticated users, they can vote, add comments, and participate in the ideas community."
So how is this done? When a User self-registers, a Contact record is being created in Salesforce.com and it is associated to an Account that is specified with the "SiteRegistrationController" (Apex). This is great as the Contact can be automatically nested under a single Account, such as a "house" Account comprised of self-registered Customer Portal Users.
Also detailed in the Implementation Guide is that you can join a Site with a Customer Portal and enable self-registration. With a Customer Portal comes the ability of providing access to a custom application built from a collection of Custom Objects – see where I’m going in terms of possibilities?
A LOT of configuration headaches have just been eliminated with self-registration and by joining a customer portal to a Site – which in my mind, clears the way to some very creative B2C solutions. Just think about it. A website could advertise additional content or services for those that register. With self-registration you’ve just nabbed an email address that you can use for marketing ;). OK, you need to tell that up front they are opting-in to marketing with their registration, but what a win! You don’t have to have the Contact already in Salesforce.com and then activate their Customer Portal log-in credentials either manually or through an API. Your website visitors are creating Contact records for you without having to use old school methods like a Web-to-Lead form, and then having to convert the Lead to a Contact, and then make them a portal user….
Self-registration for Sites – "Plop Plop, Fizz Fizz" – ahhh, my B2C headache feels better already.
See what people are creating with Sites – Sites Gallery