Salesforce flows vs process builder

Salesforce flows vs process builder DEFAULT

Use Process and Flow Builder Capabilities

Learning Objectives 

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Know the difference between Process Builder and Flow Builder and when to use them.
  • Describe how Process Builder and Flow Builder can meet various business needs.


You know by now that Process Builder and Flow Builder are both extremely powerful tools that can transform the way your team works and collaborates. So, what’s the difference between Process Builder and Flow Builder, and how do you know when to use each?

Process Builder vs. Flow Builder

With recent updates, everything you can do in Process Builder can also be done in Flow Builder—but Process Builder is a lot simpler and easier to use. So, Process Builder is generally a good way to introduce simple automations, while Flow Builder is a better choice for more complex automations. 

The biggest difference? Flow Builder can launch a series of flows depending on the results of the previous one. Process Builder can trigger a flow, but it is less powerful and can't launch a process based on another process.

Think of it like two sisters: one in fourth grade who needs to do introductory math, and one in a high school calculus class. For the fourth grader, a simple calculator is sufficient for her needs, so there would be no reason to introduce a more complicated calculator. For the calculus student, a simple calculator won’t cut it. She needs a high-powered graphic calculator to do the required computations.

Two sisters, one high school and one grade school age, hold up their respective calculators.

The main difference between Process and Flow Builder is not in their Quip functionality, but rather what Salesforce can do with Quip Actions. A lot of it has to do with how much you can build upon the data entered. For example, you don't just want to add a document to a folder; you want it to be shared with certain people, which triggers relevant tasks and emails, and so forth. The more long, complex forms of automation are what you would be doing in Flow Builder. 

Let’s take a deep dive into the various functionalities of Process Builder and Flow Builder.

Process Builder: Basic Building Blocks

Remember, Process Builder is the simple calculator. It performs extremely well but does not need to be extremely complicated. Here are some actions you can take in Process Builder.

  • Add a document to a folder.
  • Invoke a process from another process.
  • Launch a flow.
  • Copy and Live Paste content from one document to another.
  • Add members to a document.
  • Submit a record for approval.
  • Export to a PDF.

In the image below, you can see an example of building a process for opening an account and adding a document to a folder in Process Builder.

Process Builder user interface shown on laptop screen. The process reads “start,” “account,” “Quip doc,” “add to folder.”

Process Builder helps automate your business processes and gives you a graphical representation as you build it. Instead of doing manual data entry work, you configure processes to do it automatically. The most common use cases are when a record is created or updated, meaning you can create game-changing automation at any stage in the sales cycle.

Flow Builder: Advance Your Automation

Remember Flow Builder is the ultra-powerful. Referring back to our calculator analogy, this is a top-of-the-line graphical calculator. You can build seamless interactions by building and distributing flows.

Flows are applications built using our Cloud Flow Designer that can execute logic, interact with the Salesforce database, call Apex classes, and collect data from users. Using flows, you can:

  • Build a guided user experience with dynamic screens, auto-launch and run behind the scenes, or both.
  • Extend through Apex and Visualforce technologies.

Let’s say you want to create an account plan for a new customer. You may want to create a new folder for that customer and add the account plan to it. To do so, build a flow to Copy Document | Update Records | Create Folder | Add Document to Folder. Even better, you can trigger this flow to happen when a new account is first created, saving you time and effort while also helping standardize workflows.

Flow Builder auto-layout user interface shown on laptop.

By now, hopefully you understand the difference between Process Builder and Flow Builder. Next, challenge yourself to consider decisions you make for your team on a day-to-day basis. 

  • As you’re making decisions, when should you use what?
  • What functionality is available to you?

In the next unit, we cover how to apply Salesforce Anywhere using specific use cases.



Before diving into the differences between Workflow Rules and Process Builders, I do want to call out that in some Trailheads from Salesforce, there have been callouts to moving away from Workflow rules entirely. Be that as it may, Workflows are still up and running and in some cases can be simple, faster, and easier to apply than a Process Builder. However, please do keep this in mind if you are starting off in a new org, as it may be better, in that case, to solely use Process Builders.

What is a Workflow Rule?

A Workflow Rule is a point and click version of an If/Then statement, with a limited number of If statements are accepted and a limited number of Then actions. Workflow Rules function on the record that is triggering the statement or in some cases, the child of the record that is triggering the statement (you cannot go upstream in a Workflow rule).

There are two ways to create the If part of the statement (otherwise known as the Rule Criteria):

1. Use the Wizard Salesforce provides you:

2. Create your own custom formula

The formula method can be useful if you were trying to create a formula field but you ran into a character limit on the field, you can then use the Update Record action instead, setting the Rule Criteria as the desired formula - more on the actions in a moment.

Once you have set the If statement, then you can move on to what happens when the If statement is evaluated to True. The Then statement is referred to as the Rule Action.

There are four different Rule Actions allowed in Workflow Rules:

  • Create a Task
  • Send an Email Alert
  • Send an Outbound Message
  • Update a Record

Sending an Outbound Message is the only item in this list that can be solely done with a Workflow rule. At the time of writing, there is no other method to achieve this.

Workflow rules are still most commonly used for generating a task or sending out an email alert. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, Salesforce is making a push towards Process Builder and away from Workflow Rules, and updating records is happening more and more in Process Builders (continue reading to learn why).

The reason you may pick a Workflow rule over Process Builder, besides for the Outbound Message, is if your logic is simple or does not matter the order that is hit in comparison to other Workflow rules(see this article on Order of Operations for more information). Beyond that, at this point Process Builders win the race. With that being said, let's move on Process Builders.

What is a Process Builder?

A Process Builder is a simplified flow that allows for multiple If/Then statements and can be kicked off in multiple ways (a big distinguisher from Workflow Rules). A Process Builder can start from a change to a record (create/update), from a Platform Event Message, or from another Process Builder or Flow.

Generating the If part of the statement, otherwise called setting the criteria, is similar to the Workflow rule in that you can use the Wizard element:

Or you can create your own formula:

An additional benefit over the Workflow rule criteria setup is that in Process Builder there are more fields accessible to you to derive the criteria, as well as some global statements, like ISNULL(). This is important because in a Process Builder you can validate a condition based on a related record, but to do so does require also checking that the field is not null, otherwise you are likely to get a flow error.

Process Builders have many different actions that they can perform.

  • Call out to APEX code
  • Create a Record
  • Send Email Alerts
  • Call out to a Flow
  • Post to Chatter
  • Call out to another Process Builder
  • Do an action in Quip (a third party program)
  • Send a Custom Notification (mobile or desktop)
  • Send a Survey Invitation
  • Submit for Approval
  • Update Records

As you can see from the list above there are so many more options available in Process Builders than there are in Workflow rules as to what actions can be taken. When creating the Process Builder you can opt to do one or more of these items together from one criteria node, or alternatively, you can have it continue from the first step and then proceed to check new criteria and do additional actions. 

What is great about all of this functionality, and likely why Salesforce is pushing forward with Process Builder, is that you can control the order the actions happen in and how many actions per criteria. The idea is to have a single Process Builder for each Object that you have and then construct a chain of Process Builders or Flows from the first one - as you can see from the list you are able to both start from a Process Builder as well call out to another Process Builder giving you a great amount of flexibility.

All of this flexibility of the Process Builder also helps admins to be able to have more options in a click and not code as the Process Builder can be constructed very similar to a trigger, with the ability to say take action when something is new or something has changed.

As by now, I am sure you can see that there are very few reasons to go forward with a Workflow rule over a Process Builder. However, for reference here is a comparison of the actions you can take with each as well as a Pro/Con list for the different options.

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This post was last updated on 3/23/21.


Lightning flows (or simply flows) help you automate complex business processes and manual data entry. Flows let you work smarter, not harder, by saving your users time and making sure the required tasks are accomplished correctly.

As a Salesforce admin, flows are one of the most powerful tools in your toolbelt — when set up properly, flows make you look like a rockstar to your sales team, but if your flows aren’t configured correctly, they might be difficult to manage or make a mess (also kind of like a rockstar).

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about flows. Let’s dive in!

What is a Flow in Salesforce?

In Salesforce, a flow is an application that automates complex business processes. Simply put, it collects data and then does something with that data.

Flow Builder is the declarative interface used to build individual flows. Flow Builder can be used to build code-like logic without using a programming language.

Flows fall into five categories:

  • Screen Flows:
  • These are flows that have a UI element and require input from users. These types of flows are either launched as an action or embedded as an element on a Lightning page.
  • Schedule-Triggered Flows:
  • These autolaunched flows launch at a specified time and frequency for each record in a batch, and they run in the background.
  • Autolaunched Flows:
  • Run automated tasks with this flow type. Autolaunched flows can be invoked from process builder, from within an Apex class, from a set schedule, from record changes, or from platform events.
  • Record-Triggered Flows:
  • These autolaunched flows run in the background when a record is created, updated, or deleted.
  • Platform Event-Triggered Flows:
  • When a platform event message is received, these autolaunched flows runs in the background.

Check out this example of a schedule-triggered flow, pulled from a well-known Salesforce group:

Screen Shot 2020-08-14 at 10.40.54 AM.png

When/why should I use a flow?

To answer this question, we really need to look into what automation is needed. In most cases, the type of automation to use for a specific process is determined by evaluating where the data for the processes originates from and where it needs to go. Consider whether what you need to accomplish is best handled by a flow, workflow field update, or a process.

  • Flows are able to create, edit, and delete any record passed into the flow. Records do not have to be related in order to pass data in a flow. Flows can also be scheduled to run on a set interval with a collection of records.
  • The workflow field update can write data to the same record that invoked the workflow rule, or to the master record of a master-detail relationship on the record that invoked the rule. Workflow rules are not able to create, edit, or delete records.
  • Processes, created in the Process Builder, can write data to the same record that invoked the process, or to records related by either lookup or master-detail relationships. Processes can also create records, but they cannot delete them.

When should I not use a flow?

Generally, you should not use a flow in the following situations:

  • You’re dealing with simple field, email alerts, or record updates that can be better handled using a process or a workflow rule. Generally, flows are used for more complicated logic, similar to what you might find in Apex code, that can be accomplished in a declarative manner. For example, if you want an opportunity stage to be set to New when the opportunity is created, and you also want an email alert to be sent to a sales manager, you should use a workflow rule or a process.
  • There is complicated logic involved that is better managed with Apex code. An example of this is the flow shown in the Overview section. The logic in this flow is so complicated that it makes debugging a pain, plus it makes documenting and managing the flow difficult.
  • You want simple record creation. For example, if you would like to create an order when an opportunity is moved to Closed Won, it is better to use the Process Builder to complete this action, as processes are easier to set up and manage.
  • Your Salesforce edition limits how many flows you can create. Essentials and Professional editions of have a limit of five processes (per process type) and flows (per flow type) in each organization. For most logic in these editions, it is easier to use a process.

How do I create a flow in Salesforce?

  • Open Flow Builder. From Setup, enter “Flows” into the Quick Find box, select Flows, and then click New Flow.
  • Select the Flow Type, then click Create.
  • Drag the elements you want to use onto the canvas. Each element represents an action that the flow can execute. Examples of such actions include reading or writing Salesforce data, displaying information and collecting data from flow users, executing business logic, or manipulating data.
  • Connect the elements to determine the order in which they’re executed at run time. Don’t forget to connect the Start element to another element!
  • Save your flow.

After you build a flow, make sure that it’s working correctly by thoroughly testing it. Once you’ve tested it, activate the flow. You’re now ready to distribute the flow to users.

Pro tip: Flows can be executed in several ways, depending on who the flow is designed for. Internal users, external users, or systems can run a flow, or a flow can be deployed for another organization. Just remember, no matter how you execute it…you’ve got to go with the flow.

Flows vs. Apex

  • Apex code requires a developer and Sandbox to deploy, meaning it can only really be built in organizations using a Professional or above edition of Salesforce. Flows can be built in all editions, as a Sandbox is not required for deployment.
  • Apex is not available in Essentials, and some Apex features are limited in Professional. Organizations with Enterprise and above have no Apex limitations, but flow features are not limited based on the edition.
  • Apex code requires constant development and discipline to maintain. Flows require less work to keep up-to-date.
  • Flows can be built by admins, while Apex code is typically built by developers only.
  • Apex code is considered a tool of last resort. Flows are simpler and should be used before Apex code.
  • If the logic is too complex, Apex code should be used. There is unlimited potential with Apex; flow capabilities are catching up, but they are still inferior to Apex.
  • Renewal generation, OLI creation, and other pieces of automation that were traditionally built as Apex code can now be built as flows, preserving code space for projects that require Apex.

Apex code should be used in the following scenarios:

  • You’re dealing with complex Salesforce automation that requires multiple steps and actions where a flow will become cumbersome.
  • You need custom-built integrations with other systems (such as a connection to a SQL database that requires bi-directional syncs).
  • ERP integrations are involved.

Flows vs. Processes

  • Processes are more user-friendly as far setup and management goes. Setting up a flow takes more time and is significantly more complex.
  • Flows allow you to add screens where users can enter data. Processes do not have this capability.
  • Flows can be invoked, started by users, triggered by a record change, or scheduled to run on their own at a custom time and frequency. A process, however, runs automatically (either immediately or scheduled) when criteria is met. It can also be invoked by another process created in the Process Builder.
  • Both flows and process can include scheduled actions.
  • Flows can be paused by users, but processes run when the criteria is met and cannot be paused.
  • Flows and processes both contribute to CPU limits and other automation limits in Salesforce.
  • Process actions are executed in the order in which they appear in the process definition, but flows can have different and more complex orders of operations.
  • Flows can be built to cycle through multiple unrelated and related objects. Processes, however, are limited to the base object (opportunities, for example) and related objects (accounts).
  • The following actions are only available for processes:
  • Quip actions
  • Send survey invitation
  • Invoke a flow
  • Flows can be designed to run either before or after a record has been saved to the database, but processes can only trigger after a record has been saved.
  • Flows can be designed to trigger upon creation, update, or deletion of a record. Processes can trigger only for creation or updates to a record.

Here are a few real-life examples of where a process makes more sense than a flow:

  • You need to automatically submit an opportunity for approval when the value in the Amount field is greater than $200,000.
  • When an account is deactivated, you want to deactivate all the associated contacts.
  • After creating a new user or internal contact, you want to create a case for background verification.
  • You need to invoke custom approval logic that is written in Apex code.

Flows vs. Workflow Rules

  • Flows are available in all Salesforce editions, including Essentials. Workflow rules (WFRs) are not available in Essentials or Professional editions.
  • WFRs are not actively being updated by Salesforce (but you can still use them for the time being). Flows are constantly being updated with new features and capabilities in each Salesforce release.
  • There are limitations with how many WFRs can be active at once, but they typically do not contribute to CPU limits unless the WFR triggers a process or flow through one of its updates (such as a field update).
  • Both flows and WFRs can have scheduled actions, but WFRs are limited to 1000 triggers per hour.
  • WFRs can only make one decision, but you can call other flows and Apex code with a flow.
  • WFRs are limited to just a few actions: creating a task record, sending an email, updating a field, or sending an outbound message. Flows can do all of these actions and many more.

This is a use case where a WFR makes more sense than a Flow.

  • You want simple field updates, such as outbound emails or sending email alerts when high priority cases are created.

Testing Flows

To test a flow, input your variables and click Debug. Then run through the flow to make sure it works properly. This process is especially helpful with screen flows.

Note that as of the Winter 2021 Salesforce release, a beta feature called Debug on Canvas is available. This feature makes flow debugging easier by visually demonstrating the path your flow will take when it runs. It also shows query limits of the flow in the debug details. Additionally, debugging now offers a two more options than it did previously: Run flow as another user, and Run flow in rollback mode.

Which Automation Tool Should I Use?

Prior to the Spring 2019 release, flows were built in the Cloud Flow Designer tool. In Spring 2019, Salesforce introduced Flow Builder, which provides a faster, more intuitive front-end interface for building your flows.

Where is the Flow Builder in Salesforce?

To find the Flow Builder in Salesforce (Lightning) navigate to Setup > Process Tools > Flows.

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 11.03.20 AM.png

What are the different Flow Types in Salesforce?

Auto-Launched Flows with No Flow Trigger

These flows don’t require user interaction, and they don’t support screens, local actions, choices, or choice sets. The available distribution methods available are:

  • Flow actions
  • Lightning pages
  • Lightning community pages
  • Custom Aura components
  • Custom Lightning web components
  • Custom buttons or custom links
  • Web tabs
  • Direct flow URLs
  • Visualforce pages
  • Lightning out
  • Embedded service deployments

Auto-Launched Flows with a Schedule Trigger

These flows only run from a schedule that the user sets. They don’t support user interaction, screens, local actions, choices, or choice sets. The available distribution methods are:

  • Processes
  • Custom Apex classes
  • Web tabs
  • Custom buttons or custom links
  • Visualforce pages

Screen Flows

Screen flows require user interaction because they include screens, local actions, steps, choices, or dynamic choices. Screen flows don’t support Pause elements. A schedule-triggered flow only runs at the scheduled time and frequency.

Auto-Launched Flows with a Record Trigger

These flows are designed to quickly make simple changes to a record when the record is created, updated, or deleted. They can also be configured to make those changes either before or after the record has been saved to the database. In a before-save flow, the supported elements are Assignment, Decision, Get Records, and Loop. After-save flows have access to all flow capabilities, but they cannot launch sub flows.

User Provisioning Flow

User provisioning flows provision users for third-party services. You could use this flow type to customize the user provisioning configuration for a connected app, linking Salesforce users with their Google Apps accounts. A user provisioning flow can only be implemented by associating it with a connected app when running the User Provisioning Wizard.

Field Service Mobile Flow

These flows require user interaction because they have one or more screens.

Field Service Embedded Flow

These flows require user interaction because they have one or more screens.

Contact Request Flow

These flows require user interaction because they have one or more screens. Use one of the following Experience Builder components to add this flow:

  • Contact Request Button & Flow (launch the flow in a popup window)
  • Flow (embed the flow directly on the page)

For more on Flow Types in Salesforce, check out the official documentation.

What is a flow interview in Salesforce?

While a flow is an application built by your administrator that asks you for inputs and does something in Salesforce based on those inputs, a flow interview is a running instance of a flow.

For example, a flow could provide a call script for customer support calls using the information you provided to create a case. What the flow does with the information you provide is entirely up to your administrator.

When you run a flow interview, whether through a link, button, or tab, you’re running a single instance of a flow. If the terminology is confusing, consider the difference between a record and an object. You create an account record, which is a single instance of the account object that your administrator customized.

Read more about flow interviews in Salesforce’s documentation.

How do you call a flow from a button in Lightning?

Since Winter 2018, Salesforce has offered an easy way to trigger a flow using a Quick Action button in Lightning.

Note: Only screen flows or field service mobile flows may be launched from a Quick Action button.

  1. Create a custom action for the record in question by navigating to Object Manager > (Object Name) > Buttons, Actions and Links.
  2. Select “Flow” as the type for the custom action.
  3. Configure the custom action to reference the flow, then name it.
  4. Add the custom action to the page layout of your choice.

Common Mistakes When Designing Flows

We see a lot of flows here at Kicksaw, and we build even more of them. Here are some common and avoidable mistakes we’ve identified:

  • Using the wrong field or variable
  • Too many SOQL queries
  • Object & field-level security for running user
  • No access to running flows

Using PRIORVALUE of a record in a Lightning flow

After the Spring 2021 release, Salesforce will allow you to add access to the PRIORVALUE of a record in a Lightning flow, in a way that is similar to the way the Process Builder works. This is a major enhancement that will bring flows to the next level.

After selecting the object, Salesforce will automatically create a record variable ($Record__Prior) for it. You will then be able to refer to it anywhere in the flow.

Further Salesforce flows documentation

We hope you learned a lot about the power of Salesforce flows in this article, but if you need more help, reference the official documentation.

For further learning, we also recommend completing the Build Flows with Flow Builder trail on Trailhead, and we encourage you to read more about Flow Builder.

Better yet, reach out to us by filling out the Contact Us form below! We’d love to help in any way we can.

Which Salesforce tool is the BEST??? [Workflow Rules vs. Process Builder vs. Flow Builder]

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