Forrester Consulting interviews five companies to learn how they realized a positive ROI by purchasing a customer web portal rather than building their own custom e-commerce site.

Companies looking to improve how they interact with customers online may want to take a hard look at buying a commercially available e-commerce site rather than building their own, Forrester Consulting suggests in a report based on a study of five companies who chose the former option.

Forrester Consulting found that companies that had deployed Customer Community portals from Salesforce.com Inc. realized a positive return on investment highlighted by several benefits compared with home-grown portals in such areas as the time and cost of deployment, the ease of integrating customer-facing and back-end business operations software, and the ability to provide online buying features personalized to their customers’ needs.

The study was commissioned by Salesforce, which provided the names of the five companies interviewed in the report but did not otherwise participate in the interviews or the report’s production. Forrester Consulting, a unit of Forrester Research Inc., says it maintained complete control of the report and its findings. It also says in the report that it “makes no assumptions as to the potential ROI that other organizations will receive” from deploying Customer Community or other types of commercially available portals.

The five companies in the report range in annual revenue from $6 million to $5 billion and in the number of customers using their portals, from 1,000 to 36,000. The report doesn’t identify the companies, but their areas of business include manufacturing of marine and energy products, healthcare, oil and energy trading, property insurance, and event management.

Taking information from all of its interviews across the five companies, Forrester devised a “composite organization” representing all of their characteristics. It used this composite to construct a “Total Economic Impact” framework for estimating the overall costs and benefits of deploying Customer Community portals compared with the costs and benefits of building custom portals.

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Forrester estimated that the composite organization experienced financial benefits of $2,501,113 versus costs of $814,229, resulting in a net financial benefit of $1,686,884 and an ROI of 207%.

Among the benefits, for example, was the ability to deploy a customer portal within three months, instead of 12, and the advantage of running a portal natively integrated with Salesforce software modules used by sales reps and customer service agents to help customers place and manage orders.

The study broke out the benefits as shares of the overall financial benefit:

  • Savings in development costs, 16.5%;
  • Savings in integration costs, 22.8%;
  • Savings in software costs, 16.6%;
  • Savings in infrastructure costs, 27.7%;
  • Faster time to market, 16.4%.

It broke out the costs as:

  • Customer Community portal fees, 25.7%;
  • Professional services, 28.4%;
  • Implementation and ongoing development, 13.9%;
  • Administration, 32.0%.

The Customer Community portals are part of Salesforce’s Community Cloud software, which includes features for personalized content, mobile commerce, and integrated sales management tools for sales reps.

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Eric Marotta, director of product marketing for CloudCraze, a Salesforce company, says the Forrester study coincides with growing recognition among business executives of the advantages of tying e-commerce directly to the customer in CRM and Community. CloudCraze, a provider of e-commerce software built on the Salesforce.com CRM technology platform, was recently acquired by Salesforce. “It’s a consistent theme, to gain better customer insights and better manage customer experience—to be ‘customer first,’” he says.

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