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How to sync your website and database

10.20.15 By: Rob Jordan

Salesforce has developed a reputation of being able to integrate with almost anything, from your home thermostat to your mass email solution. So it’s only natural to think that connecting your website to Salesforce would be a no-brainer and save you tons of effort by reducing manual data uploads and duplicate issues, right? Well, yes and no. There are many ways to achieve this connection, but it’s not always easy (or cheap).

Let’s break this down into the most common use cases we see.


Start with C.R.U.D.

*For the sake of simplicity, we’re using a donor as our use case but it could just as easily be a remote employee/consultant, volunteer, or member.

One of the more common requests we get from our clients is how to allow donors (or another select segment such as volunteers or remote team members) to access (CRM) from a website (CMS). Perhaps you have donors that would like to change their address, make a donation, and sign up for an event. By giving them a way to input information that directly flows to your database, you reduce data entry time and the administrative processes that go into managing a donor experience.

There are many options to achieve this experience. To keep things simple, we have narrowed the options to five types of CRM/CMS integration. When evaluating which type is best for your organization you need first to consider what level of access your users require. This means you need to evaluate their C.R.U.D. requirements: do they need to create, read, update and/or delete information. For example, a user may wish to create their own record in Salesforce and update their information after a recent move to a new state. This would imply that they require create, read and update capability.

It’s important to note that the less accessibility you require, the less costly the deployment will be. Creating a platform where a donor only needs to read their membership information, will likely be less expensive than building one that grants full C.R.U.D. access. Taking all this into account, below are two primary scenarios for needing an integration, and corresponding plans of action to consider.


Scenario 1: You want data submitted through a website form to flow into Salesforce (Create and Update access)

In this scenario, you want your website forms to “talk” to Salesforce. For example, application or registration forms for registering a volunteer, member, or applicant. Form Assembly is one powerhouse in this category; it is one of the more flexible solutions on the App Exchange and can be customized to match your branding and create detailed reports.

Another example is the “contact us” form, an important initial point of engagement which can be easily facilitated through Salesforce web-to-lead. Web-to-lead captures basic information (i.e name & email) and syncs with Salesforce (meaning you can avoid creating duplicates if you set it up correctly). Newsletter sign-ups are similar but are facilitated through your mass email solution (most have a sign-up link you can embed on your website). This scenario is likely within a small organization that is just beginning to integrate with Salesforce.


Scenario 2: You want to give certain users access to limited info in Salesforce through your website.

Where our first scenario simply required that data entered online is uploaded into Salesforce, in this scenario things are a little more complicated: you want certain info from Salesforce to be externally accessible, but there are security and confidentiality concerns, so you don’t want to give full access.


Option #1 CRM Application allows for “prebaked” Managed Packages that allow a constituent to access your CRM from a web portal. Examples of this include MemberNation which is a solution specifically designed to help Associations manage their memberships. EnrollmentRX is another example of a solution built on Salesforce that allows both students and prospective students to apply for school enrollment from a web portal.

Managed Packages will likely provide the most turnkey experience, but require a change in business process. Moreover, depending on institutional requirements, it may take a long time to gain approval concerning internal roadmaps, so you may have to wait for features you need right now. This option is best for large organizations that do not have a highly customized business process and are looking for full C.R.U.D. access.


Option #2 Salesforce Communities (including Chatter)

Salesforce Communities provide private spaces for your customers/constituents, employees, partners, vendors, or any other members of your organization’s ecosystem to connect. Those who access Salesforce through Communities are users that have much of the same access to your instance that a standard user would have, but they are restricted to limited information. This option is generally the most stable and accessible, and the two-way sync is so strong, it enables full C.R.U.D. access with minimal configuration. You can create and customize one or multiple communities to meet your organization’s requirements.

Users, both from within your organization and outside your organization, can collaborate, create groups, join conversations, use @mentions and hashtags, and share documents. The Salesforce Foundation’s Power of Us Hub is a great example of a community. We’ve also seen clients use Communities for everything from membership forums to interoffice communication with a dispersed remote team.

Of course, just like for your Salesforce CRM, costs for your Communities build-out can vary widely. Pricing is offered on a per user/per month basis, as well as a per log-in basis. You will also likely want to partner with a consultant to assist with customization and user adoption strategy. This option is ideal for the large organization that has a very customized business process looking for full C.R.U.D. access.

*Some users pursuing Communities are looking for a Facebook-type experience. You will find reflections of social sites in Communities, but if you want a true social media UI there will need to be a fair amount of customization.


Option #3 CRM/CMS integration with CMS Plugin

This option bypasses portals by allowing the user to sync a back-end website login with the Salesforce Contact and Account record. In other words, the donor would see your Salesforce database through logging into the back end of your website. This option is likely to be more affordable than Options 1-2 but requires significant concessions in functionality. In most cases, an organization looking to have Read and Update capability will be happy with the initial cost of deployment but may find the ongoing cost of maintenance between two disparate solutions frustrating.

It’s also important to note that this option requires a plugin from your respective CMS and to date there are only three CMS’ that have Salesforce integration plugins worth looking at Drupal, Joomla, and Wordpress. The most robust of these integrations is Drupal, followed by Joomla, and finally Wordpress (a VERY distant third).

Moreover, you will likely require two skills sets to deploy this option (CRM Specialist and CMS Specialist), making the deployment process slightly more unwieldy. This option is ideal for the medium to large sized organizations that has a very customized business process looking for Read and Update access but does not have the budget for Options 1-2.

*Another thing to take into consideration is that both sides have to coordinate updates. Much like an app requires updating when the iPhone updates iOS, so does the CMS require updating when Salesforce makes updates and vice versa.


Option #4 Visualforce

Visualforce is sort of like HTML code for the Salesforce platform. You can build a UI on the platform but managing the web content thereafter can be awkward compared to the experience of a more developed website. It’s not designed to be manipulated once it’s built. That said, it is an ideal solution to share information in with members in a Read-only capacity.

Perhaps you want to share a Salesforce report openly on your website or give general information to your constituency that can only be found in your CRM – Visualforce is ideal for this. This is a clear choice for organizations that wish only to share basic Read capability. Embedding this functionality within a CMS portal environment can give the impression of a “members only” experience but it really doesn’t provide the individual access that options 1-3 offer. Costs will vary depending on the depth of information you wish to share. This option is ideal for any organization that looking for Read-only access for its constituency.


Option #5: Non-CRM Applications

If you have the time to patch together applications that bridge multiple steps of outsider access, data-upload, and info alteration processes, you may be able to do it in a cost-effective manner.  For example, rather than having your donors update their information from your CMS, you could send event invites, surveys, update requests, etc. directly to their email. Once they fill out the form, updating their information, the data is fed back to the CRM. This method requires more administrative work than the other options and reduces website traffic, but is roughly two-thirds less expensive.

This generally means more administrative process-building on the back end since it necessitates sending communications to the donors directly (usually by mass email). However, this is an ideal option for organizations with a small budget that wish to give an impression of a membership experience but don’t have the budget for Options 1-3.


To help decide which option is best for your organization you should consider four things:

  1. How many people require access?
  2. What type of information do you want your constituents to see?
  3. Which levels of C.R.U.D. access do you want to grant?
  4. What is your yearly budget?

Once you have considered all these variables you will find that the higher your answer for each question the more likely you will lean toward the more robust options. Below is a table that breaks down the ideal scenario for the deployment of the options discussed. The options are listed in order of total cost to deploy relative to the recommended C.R.U.D.

C.R.U.D. process to sync your website and database


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