How and When to Use These Four Salesforce Automation Tools

One of the reasons that Salesforce has become the No. 1 CRM in the world (by twice its nearest competitor) is the power it puts in the hands of Salesforce Administrators. The ability to completely customize the system to your unique process needs means more people than ever are moving to Salesforce.

Automation tools in Salesforce can eliminate monotonous tasks, freeing up an admin’s time to do more profound things. These tools include Workflow Rules, Process Builder, and Flow, and Apex. Each tool comes with its own unique features, advantages, and disadvantages, meaning that there is probably the best-fit tool for each scenario an admin faces. In order to understand when to use which, we’ll take a look at the features each one offers.

Workflow Rules

Workflow Rules is perhaps the most well recognized and most used tool, as it has been around the longest and is very dependable. While Workflows are somewhat limited in functionality compared to the other tools available, they rarely break, is very fast, and is extremely easy to use.

Features: Update a field, Create a task, Send an email, send an outbound message

Advantages: Their ease of use makes them an excellent starter tool for any new admin. They are very hard to “break” and since the functionality is so simple, it’s rare to run into issues. Workflows also have hardly any limits; if you have a large org with a lot of data, workflows should handle it without a problem.

Disadvantages: Workflow rules will only evaluate one outcome, either it’s true and it will execute, or it’s false and it won’t. The fact that they are so simple can also be their downfall; if you’re looking for advanced automation, look away from Workflow Rules!

Process Builder

Released not too long ago, the Process Builder was the breath of fresh air that Admins needed in their life. Think of a multi-decision workflow rule on steroids! Decked out in Salesforce’s new Lightning UI, this automation tool is easy to build, has a huge amount of functionality, and has increased the declarative work an admin can do by a huge margin.

Features: Create a record, Update a field, Update a related objects field, Log a call, Launch a flow, Send an email, Post to chatter, Submit for approval.

Advantages: From the features list, the advantages are clear: the process builder can do almost everything! You can also have multiple decision points, meaning that you can have many more outcomes than workflows. Salesforce has also made the Process Builder so easy to use that any admin should have no problem extending the functionality of their Org using this tool.

Disadvantages: If you are looking for a huge scale, the Process Builder does run into various limits quickly which should be taken into account with a large org. One of the limits you could run into, for example,  is the amount of SOQL queries being run at once. So if you’re looking to use this automation feature while simultaneously loading thousands of records, think again.  Unlike workflows, you can also “break” this tool, meaning your users can run into issues if it isn’t set up correctly.


The unsung hero for a lot of Admins, Flow is the most powerful declarative automation tool you’ve never heard of. Also known as Visual Flow, this tool is primarily used to generate wizard-style screens that can take a user through a series of steps, updating records along the way.

However, Flow can also be used without a wizard-style screen, running in the background similar to other automation tools, but way more powerful.

Features: All of the features you get from Process Builder, plus wizard-style screens, delete records, update any record in the system (not just related).

Advantages: If Process Builder can’t do it, then Flow usually can. It is generally a lot more powerful, not just in terms of specific features, but in terms of the bigger picture. It gives Admins access to “code-like” functionality, without having to write a single line.

Disadvantages: Limits are similar to that of Process Builder. There’s a large learning curve, so do not expect an easy-to-use wizard-style screen like the Process Builder. Again, processes can easily be broken.


We finally arrive at the only tool on this list that requires development skills. Apex is Salesforce’s very own programming language and can basically do anything on the platform. Most complex implementations will need Apex language for various reasons, so even if you’re not a developer, you should know why Apex is used and what it can do.

Features: Everything listed in the previous tools plus so, so much more.

Advantages: When declarative tools can’t do the job, Apex is here to save the day. It can scale extremely well, so any large implementations where limits are typically an issue, Apex can handle it.

Disadvantages: Learning Apex requires programming skills, and can also be time-consuming as you have to write test classes alongside each bit of code. However, this could be looked at as another advantage, as this ensures it won’t break anything.


Automation tools are meant to make the jobs of Salesforce Admins and even Salesforce Developers easier. As you can see, Salesforce isn’t short on such tools, providing you a wide range of options to fit your needs and level of commitment.  When looking at a feature to solve a complex business problem, you should always take a step back and look at the advantages and disadvantages of each. Every tool on this list has its place in the Salesforce ecosystem, and it’s your job to correctly determine which one it is!

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