Salesforce Automation using Workflow Rules and Process Builder. What’s the difference?

For those of you unfamiliar with the automation capabilities in salesforce, we’ll sum it up in as a non-technical manner as possible. This is meant as a high-level summary to help you quickly know which is which and when you ultimately compare editions, our hope is you will understand some of the differences a bit better.

Automation breaks down into two different primary types. Workflow Rules and Process Builder. It’s important to understand what the distinguishing characteristics are.

Workflow Rules

Workflow Rules are used to set “actions” into motion when certain conditions are met. You set the conditions that need to be met with fairly simple “if/then” statements. “If this condition happens, then that action takes place.” These actions can happen immediately or in scheduled intervals.

Salesforce Workflow Rules Graphic
Salesforce Workflow Rules Graphic

The primary actions are:

  • Task or Tasks – You can execute a task or tasks to records for leads, contacts, cases, opportunities, campaigns, etc. that need to be completed by a particular Salesforce user in your organization. The default tasks in Salesforce include email, call, send letter (hello 1984) and Other (you fill in your own). Of course, Salesforce allows you to customize task types to meet your organization’s needs.
  • Email Alert (or alerts) – You can send an email alert or alerts to inform the recipient of the action and/or criteria to be met. This could be as simple as a reminder of the task that needs to be completed or a customized email with detailed instructions. For example, if the condition “contract expiration is under 60 days” you can set the email alert to have the account owner begin the renewal process. It could be multiple emails at the 60, 30 and 15-day mark if that’s what you so choose. Email alerts are super common and keep your staff on track with an account, lead, opportunity, etc. Nuff said
  • Update a field or fields – This is a fairly simple concept. You can use this action to update a field or fields within a particular record in the object. So for example, if you are working on a case and move the stage, it could update the resolution target date based on the stage.
  • Trigger outbound messaging – This is not another email notification. This is most commonly applied when salesforce is talking to another external system. For example, if you choose a workflow around an opportunity that closes and it needs to update your accounting software of the new sale, it can push the data from one or many fields to the external application. Simple, right?

There are many more workflow rule examples on the Salesforce website that you can check out. Heads up… Workflow rules are only available in Sales Cloud Enterprise, Unlimited and Developer editions (at the time of this article publication). Also… Salesforce is no longer advancing Workflows, so they are pushing the use of Process Builders instead. Here is a trailhead on the migration process if you already have some workflows you want to replace.

Lightning Process Builder

Oh, how we love Lightning Process Builder (or just “Process Builder” for short). It rocks! But what the heck is it?

Lightning Process Builder lets you automate business processes using an enhanced graphical interface. Check out the example below:

Salesforce Process Builder Interface
Salesforce Process Builder Interface

Okay… so what’s so darn great about this and how is it different than Workflow Rules?

Well, let’s start with the similarities to workflow rules. A process builder is also essentially a way to trigger actions when certain conditions are met. The differences primarily boil down to what actions can be taken and how they relate to one another. Process Builder essentially lets you automate more things. I know, I know… a truly knowledgable Salesforce admin would mock me for writing such an over-simplification, but from the 10,000-foot view… it’s about right (IMHO).

One of the appealing aspects of Process Builder is being able to create a visual flow of conditions and actions that the screenshot above shows. It can help you be more efficient and visually relate the conditions and actions far better than a bunch of fields and lists (like the workflow rules).

Here are the primary actions that can be taken:

  • Create or update a record or related records – Process builder can create/edit a record, (not just a task like Workflow, but any fields or entire records). Also, it’s important to note that whereas Workflow can only create a task on the parent record, process builder can update related records as well. So for example, if you have an account that has multiple locations, a process could be executed that affects the parent and even all or some of the sub-accounts (those individual locations).
  • Send an email or emails – Yep… pretty much the same as Workflow rules, you can send one or many email notifications.
  • Post to Chatter – You can have the process execute a chatter message as easy as 1-2-3, even mentioning people, groups, etc.
  • Launch a Flow – Flows are worthy of an entire article unto themselves, but generally speaking, they can run complex business actions without using code.
  • Invoke a Process – You can have an action start another process built with a process builder. This can help if you have a process that is used in multiple ways within your organization. Create the process once and execute it in several other processes.
  • Submit For Approval – This is part of “Invoke Another Process,” but wanted to mention it specifically since it’s a common need in organizations. If your organization has chains of command and approval processes that need to be met, then a process builder can automate the submission. Whereas your rep might need to submit a contract for approval, now it can happen automatically instead of counting on the rep to remember. There are a bazillion reasons why submit for approval is important and can be used by countless organizations.
  • Use a Quick Action – A quick what??? Quick action might be to log a call, meeting, email (to contact for example), etc. that would normally have to be done manually.
  • Call Apex functions – This is nerd stuff that is important when some programmer writes you a particular function(s) with Salesforce’s proprietary coding language called Apex code. Did we mention we have those nerds ready to go at Right Here Cloud Solutions?

Bonus Point – Process Builder allows you to determine the order of the actions to be executed. Workflow rules do not. That may or may not matter to your organization, but to some, it’s priceless.

Process Builder is available in all editions of Sales Cloud, but there is a limit of 5 processes for Professional and Essentials.

Quick Tip: 1 Per Object Pleaseour team of certified salesforce implementation experts have come up with a simple rule (well… more like a guideline really) that you might want to consider. Based on our experience, you should avoid the use of more than one process builder on an object (eg. Lead, Account, Contact, Opportunity, Case, etc.) or at the very least, be extremely cautious and test every variable multiple time if you apply multiple processes to a single object. Your chances of getting errors are greatly enhanced so please keep it simple whenever possible! This is where workflows can become valuable because there aren’t as many possibilities for errors.

Bottom Line – Process Builder vs. Workflow Rules

Again… this is super over-simplification, but it’s really meant for nontechnical people to understand some of the basics and the differences. Process Builder is by-in-large more accessible (by editions) and generally speaking has more actions that can be executed. It’s more of the future, whereas the Workflow rules represent the past. We hope you’ll find this useful in helping determine your automation requirements when implementing the sales cloud.

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