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Salesforce Lightning vs Classic Compared

August 7, 2019

8:45 am

Salesforce is one of the biggest names in customer relationship management software. That's thanks to its ease-of-use, its app marketplace, and its customizability. In recent years, Salesforce has taken that customizability a little further by allowing customers to choose between two user interfaces (UIs): Salesforce Lightning vs Salesforce Classic.

As their names imply, Classic is the original Salesforce interface, now in its most up-to-date incarnation. Lightning, meanwhile, is the brand new UI that completely changes the Salesforce experience.

If you don’t already have Salesforce, you should pick the Lightning version, as it offers the most modern features. If you already use Salesforce, you'll likely still want to upgrade to Lightning from Classic, as the learning curve should be outweighed by the intuitive interface and smoother workflow. Some may chose to stick with Classic, however, if it's working great already and they don't want to risk losing some functionality.

All of Salesforce's new features are now built for the Lightning UI. Classic exists largely in an “as is” state for those companies that cannot yet make the switch. This may be due to customized interfaces, workflows, or just the general difficulty of making a big switch with thousands of users.

A few years ago, it made sense for smaller businesses to stay away from Lightning, since the feature-set wasn't as fully-formed as what you could use via Classic. That's becoming less and less the case, as most key features have migrated to Lightning from Classic.

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Salesforce Lightning vs Classic: Which Should You Use?

If you have Salesforce veterans on your team they are likely familiar with Classic. That could be an advantage if your team is returning to Salesforce, and the focus is on getting up and running as soon as possible. But this is only a short term solution as Lightning is the platform with the most active support. In fact, you may find that Salesforce automatically switches you to Lightning after a few days or weeks on Salesforce Classic.

Salesforce LightningSalesforce Classic
Modern interface
Comprehensive sales data
Integrated emails and email templates
Ability to find and merge duplicate accounts, contacts, and leads
Activity timeline
Workspace page layouts for leads and opportunities
Einstein Forecasting
Einstein Opportunity Insights
Einstein Automated Contacts
Einstein Bot Builder
Granular forecasting functionality
Frequent updates

New users should stick with Salesforce Lightning unless there is some clear feature advantage to going with Classic

For the vast majority of users Lightning is the way to go, especially if your company is brand new to Salesforce. The interface is much more comprehensible, faster, and it is the future of the Salesforce platform. Classic, meanwhile, can work for teams returning to Salesforce or those unable to move yet.

If you do choose Classic, be aware there's a little uncertainty about its future. Salesforce has yet to announce an end date for Classic interface support.

The general consensus online is that Classic will be around for years, though, as Salesforce closes any existing feature gaps and continues support for large enterprises. There's no guarantee that's the case, however, so choose wisely. It would be a real pain to get settled on Classic only to have to turn around a year later and migrate to the newer platform.

Ultimately, new users should stick with Lightning unless there is some clear feature advantage to going with Classic. Even then, you'll want to move to the newer interface when those key reasons for using Classic are solved in Lightning.

If you're not yet a Salesforce user and want to learn more about the software, then check out our full Salesforce CRM review.

If you're up and running already with Salesforce, you should get in touch with your Salesforce representative to make sure that whatever advantage you've found will be duplicated in Lightning at a later date.

What is Salesforce Lightning?

Though we're talking about Lightning as an interface, it's actually a lot more than that. It's an entire framework that developers can use to create modern Salesforce apps. Third-party service integrations are easier, and you can also build custom components for the CRM platform's web interface.

The Lightning UI itself is a modern web UI with a mix of easier-to-read text, icons, and graphics providing a snapshot of your business. To see an example of how dramatic the difference is look at the Home tab in both interfaces. Lightning offers a number of charts and lists to show you the current state of your business at-a-glance.

Classic, by comparison, is focused on text and the Home tab is primarily a social style news feed showing your organization's latest posts, emails, and tasks.

Drilling down a bit further, if you look at an opportunity record in Lightning, you see what Salesforce calls a highlights panel at the top with common action buttons, and the current state of the opportunity. Classic, on the other hand, shows a text-centric view of the same information. Figuring out whether the deal has closed requires scanning the small text of the “Opportunity Details” section.

Here's a quick video overview of the Salesforce Lightning platform, including mobile and desktop views, the activity feed, workflows, third-party integrations, and more.

Salesforce Lightning and Einstein Integration

The Einstein AI is a big selling point for the Lightning interface: Einstein automatically tackles data prep, modeling, and infrastructure updates needed to ensure your analytics are constantly updated in near-real time. It integrates well across the entire Lightning interface, from powering apps with abilities like image recognition and natural language processing to helping users predict the next best action for a specific lead or account.

Classic includes some integrations for Einstein, but Lightning has more. Opportunity insights, account insights, automated contacts, and the Bot Builder feature that lets users incorporate Einstein into their bots are all Lightning-only abilities.

Salesforce Lightning Benefits

Comparing the major feature differences between Classic and Lightning is like hitting a moving target, with new updates happening all the time. Here's a quick look at a few of the biggest benefits Lightning offers over Classic:

  • Home features — Both interfaces offer Events, Calendars, and customizable dashboards, but only Lightning includes news, key deals, and a performance chart on the homepage.
  • Activity timeline — Lightning includes a timeline to help users keep track of their history of activity for each account or each lead, but Classic does not.
  • Workspace page layout — Lightning enables users to design new types of pages, from App Pages to Home Pages to Record Pages, while Classic just offers one basic type of page.

Those looking for even more in-depth guidance should check out Saleforce's feature comparison chart – spoiler alert, it's very favorable towards Lightning.

Does Salesforce Lightning Cost More?

No, Salesforce Lightning doesn't cost more than Salesforce Classic. The interfaces cost the same. Long-time users of the Classic version will be able to switch to Lightning without paying for a new license. Meanwhile, new customers will be recommended the Lightning interface by default.

However, the act of migrating from Classic to Lightning will include some additional costs, as users will need additional training and the company may need to audit its needs to ensure that Lighting still offers the features they'll need.

Click the image gallery below to see some of the differences in action:

What is Salesforce Classic?

Until the the Lightning release, Salesforce Classic was the interface for the CRM platform. When you first take a look at Salesforce Classic you can see right away that it is not a modern web UI. It is very compact and text-centric with little attention paid to graphics and icons. The graphics that do exist are typically small and aren't displayed in high resolution.

The text is also very small by default, and on a modern monitor there is a massive amount of unused space that at times makes everything feel way too confined and at others far too spread out.

The overall result is that it is not easy to absorb information quickly in the Classic interface and navigation can be a little bit clunky.

Classic exists mostly for longstanding Salesforce users who aren't ready to move to the newer interface. New users are put on Lightning by default, with the option to switch to the Classic interface under their user icon in the upper-right corner. It's possible that some companies new to Salesforce will have particular needs better suited to Classic. As a general rule, however, Lightning is the version of Salesforce to aim for since it's the default for new users and the future of the platform.

Sales Cloud Productivity in Lightning UI

Salesforce Classic End of Life

Salesforce Classic won't be around forever. However, we don't yet know when it'll be completely phased out in favor of Lightning.

After all, it was a massively popular interface during the 2000s, and remains widely used. But the fact is that most of Salesforce's updates are designed for either Lightning only or for Lightning and Classic together, rather than for Classic only, by a ratio of about 20-to-1. Eventually the Classic interface won't be updated and Salesforce will stop supporting it entirely to put their resources to better use. However, that won't happen for years or even decades.

Next Steps: Getting Started with Salesforce

If your company has already invested years or decades into Salesforce Classic, switching to Lightning is likely a worthwhile move, even if it requires a pesky learning curve.

And if you're new to Salesforce, adapting the modern Lightning interface is a no-brainer. Still, you may wish to contrast what Lighting has to offer against other top-performing services in the CRM field. Just fill out the quick Tech.co form below, and you can start painlessly gathering custom quotes today. 

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Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has worked as a technology industry reporter and critic for more than ten years. He’s written for PCWorld, Macworld, TechHive, Yahoo, Lifewire, and The Huffington Post. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, security software, and browsers.