Is a Free Portal Really Free?


We all know that Customers would prefer solutions that are free, like the FREE Portal included with Dynamics 365.  But we also know that free isn't always the best solution for the customer.

When is free good?


If your Customers have very basic profile management or case management needs that don't require any custom fields in CRM or complex navigation requirements, then the free portal might just do the trick.

A web portal SOLUTION is not free.


If your Customers want a web portal that is going to address their business processes, then you need a robust portal solution that can be customized to meet complex requirements.  Solutions that can address these types of needs are not free.

Free Portal vs. The Portal Connector


If you have delivered portals before then you know the nuances of the design and development of a well-built web portal.  You may have used a complicated portal solution like Dynamics 365 Portals (previously known as ADX Studio), which have very expensive development costs

Take a look at a typical scenario for a Customer wanting to get started with a Web Portal.  See where the value of a free portal starts and ends in the customer journey. 


With Dynamics 365 you can choose 1 of 5 portal templates for free.  For this example, let’s choose the Customer Self-Service Portal.

Phase 1 – Basic Template

You now have a Customer Service template, that provides basic customer service functions from CRM in a pre-configured website.  Which will look very similar to this:

Basic Template

If this is the customer service experience your customer is wanting for their business, then great!  The Portal is:

FREE, MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS

Phase 2 – Customize to Business Processes

You may find the free Customer Service Template does not match the processes your customer has in their business, or the additional experiences they want to provide to their customers.  For example, your customer identifies that they want their portal end users to be able to generate, view and cancel orders.

Within CRM, your team has to use CRM Configuration, Advanced CSS coding and scripting or Liquid Forms Skills to make the changes required.  If you have used Microsoft Portals or ADXStudio portals, then you know your customer is looking at significant development costs.  

If you want to customize their portal, the Free Portal is:

NOT FREE, NOT MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS

Phase 3 – Design to Reflect Business Brand

The free customer service portal is in a pre-configured web template.  If your customer wants their customer service web portal to look and feel like their website, this is where things get tricky.  Since Dynamics CRM / 365 was never meant to be a Website Content Management System, there are restrictions in design capabilities and the portal may never reflect your customer's brand properly.  If the design changes are even possible, your customer is looking at significant development costs.

If your customer wants to design their portal, the Free Portal is:

NOT FREE, NOT MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS


Phase 4 – Development Portal

The Free Portal provides one Live Production Portal, which is great when you launch your customer's portal for the first time.  But any changes they want to make to the portal content or forms, are being published in real time.  That can be stressful for any experienced developer.

No problem, they can purchase a Development Portal which allows you to make changes offline and before they go live.  This additional portal will cost $500/month or $6,000/year. In most organizations, at minimum, your customers would want a development portal, a staging portal as well as a production portal. With the addition of a staging portal, they can expect another $500/month.

If your customer wants the security of a development portal to make changes, the Free Portal is:

NOT FREE, NOT MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS


Phase 5 – Adding Portals

The Free Portal provides your customers with one portal template. In this case, we chose the Customer Self-Service Portal.  Your customer's end-users are using the portal and think it’s great!  So great that your customer wants to expand their portal capabilities into a new category.  They can choose the Community Template or start from scratch with a custom portal.  Let’s say they want to add a blog to their portal.

No problem, they can purchase the Community Portal template for $500/month, as blogs are included with that portal.  If they already have a Customer Service portal and want to add the blog functionality from the Community Portal, then more development expenses are required. The other option is the hefty costs to build the custom portal from scratch. And don’t forget the extra development and staging portal costs for this new portal.

If your customer wants to increase the portal engagements for their business, the Free Portal is:

NOT FREE, NOT MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS


Phase 6 – Future Proofing

Over time, inevitably the needs of your customers will change. Their processes will evolve and their customers will become more engaged.  If your customer sees their business growing and evolving into the future, then they need to expect their web portal needs will change as well.  If the free portal even has the flexibility to meet the future needs of their business, they will be facing more significant development costs to keep their portal current.

Into the future, the Free Portal is:

NOT FREE, NOT MEETING YOUR CUSTOMER'S NEEDS


If you found your Customer's business needs were in the NOT FREE and NOT MEETING THEIR NEEDS category, then The Portal Connector is the right solution and here’s why!

While The Portal Connector is not free, the cost to develop, deploy and manage a customized portal solution is far less than using Dynamics 365 Portals. 

  • Implement, configure and maintain the solution with drag and drop tools
  • Your customers get all of the functionality of a full Content Management System
  • Visually build forms, pages and templates so they can see what the end result will be
  • Build as many service portals as your customer wants with no additional costs
  • Enhanced Flexibility – customize with any data in your customer's CRM, Host anywhere, use with any version of CRM (on-premise or in the cloud)
  • Access to videos, training and support

Additional Resources:

Valuable Pros and Cons of Dynamics 365 Portals

Comparison Chart for The Portal Connector and Dynamics 365 Portals