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Leah Riklin | November 10, 2015

How to Automate your Salesforce with Workflows


Take a minute to think about all of those repetitive tasks you do everyday that suck time.  Things like scheduling reminders and follow-up tasks, action dependent emails, and repetitive CRM field manipulation.  All of these tasks are prime candidates for automation. 

Many people forgo incorporating such automation techniques because they often require an initial time investment upfront.  That being said, the amount of time (and money) that can be saved long-term is substantial.

Let’s take the example of manual data entry.  Many sales reps spend hours each month manually imputing inbound leads into their CRM.  Once they automate this process through an integration with their marketing automation software, they no longer have to devote such extensive amounts of time to this task. Suddenly the leads that are being generated in their company’s marketing automation software are automatically appearing in their CRM.  Pretty cool, right?

Now what about once those leads arrive in the CRM?  Again, there are many actions we take in a CRM that are redundant and could easily be automated.  For example, we know that some sales managers still manually assign leads to their sales reps every morning.  And this can be automated!

I would argue that when in a time crunch (and who isn’t these days), it is often easiest to go with what we know (however ancient the method be).  

But what if we decide to take that little bit of time and invest in automation?  

Today, I’m going to help you get started by showing you how to set up and utilize one of my favorite Salesforce tools, “Workflows.”  While we’re going to focus on creating workflows in Salesforce, feel free to check out our other articles that explain how to create workflows in additional systems, like Zoho CRM, NetSuite, SugarCRM, and Base CRM.  

What is a Workflow?

Workflows automate your internal business processes.  They are built on logic that review your records when they are created or updated and determine if an automated action needs to occur.

Each Workflow consists of:

  1. Criteria (Rules): Condition(s) that must be met for your workflow to happen (this is typically triggered by either the creation of or changes made to your records)

  2. Action(s) (Workflow Actions): When your specific criteria is met, what do you want to happen?

In Salesforce, workflows are referred to as “Workflow Rules.”  We will walk through how to set-up a “Workflow Rule” here in two parts.  1. We will first walk through how to set up the criteria, or “Rules,” for your workflow and then 2. We will walk through how to dictate and set-up your “Workflow Actions.” 

Criteria (Rules)

To get started, you’ll need to go to “Setup > Create > Workflow & Approvals > Workflow Rules.”

From here, you will want to click “New Rule.”

  1. Select the Object for your Rule: Which object does your workflow relate to? Both native and custom objects are supported. Once selected, click “Next.”

  1. Name your Rule: Also don’t forget to add a description.

  1. Evaluation Criteria: determine WHEN you want the record to be evaluated (upon creation, edit or both)?

  • When a record is CREATED - then the rule criteria will be evaluated.  If the record meets the criteria, the workflow will fire.  This option will ignore any updates made to a record.  With this option, the workflow rule never runs more than once per record.

  • Every time a record is CREATED or EDITED - then the rule criteria will be evaluated.  If a record meets the rule criteria, then the workflow rule will fire.  With this option, the workflow rule will repeatedly fire every time a record is edited and meets the rule criteria.

  • When a new record is CREATED or an existing record (which does not meet the rule criteria) is EDITED to meeting the rule criteria - then the workflow rule will fire.  In other words, every time a record is created or edited in some way related to the rule criteria (as outlined in the next step), then it will be evaluated to see if the workflow rule should fire.  If an existing record changes from meeting the criteria to not meeting the criteria, then the workflow rule will not fire.  If that same record is later changed back to meeting the criteria, then the workflow rule will fire.  With this option, a workflow rule can run multiple times per record.

Now that we have determined when we want SF to evaluate a record, we now have to specify what the criteria is that we want met in order for our workflow rule to run.

  1. Rule Criteria: Lay out WHY a workflow rule should run. You can use field value logic or a formula.

  • Field Value Logic

  • Formula (The rule will only fire if this formula evaluates to be true)

 Once you have completed the rule criteria, click “Save and Next.” This marks the end of the “Criteria” part of our “Workflow Rule.”  Now we need to dictate what action(s) we want to happen once our criteria is met (“Workflow Actions”).

Workflow Actions

What types of actions can I automate with workflows?

  1. Tasks: Assign a new task. Ex. automatically assign a follow-up task to all of your sales reps 7 days after their first point of contact with a prospect.

  2. Email Alerts: Send an email alert to one or more recipients. Ex. automatically send an email alert to the Hiring Manager after an initial interview was conducted with a candidate.

  3. Field Updates: Update the value of a field on a record. Ex. when an opportunity stage status is changed to closed lost or closed won, automatically populate the close date with the current date.

  4. Outbound Messages: Send a secure configurable API message (in XML format) to a designated recipient.

Once you have decided what type(s) of action(s) you want happening in your workflow, click “Add Workflow Action” and pick the appropriate type in the dropdown for your first action (if you want to add multiple actions, you will essentially repeat this process for each subsequent action).

Next, I'm going to walk through the process of adding each of the 4 different action types. Many of the fields to be filled out are intuitive so I will only walk through the fields I believe to be less so.

  1. New Task

  • Assigned To: Who should this task be assigned to? Select a specific User, Record Creator, or specific Role.

  • Status: Select a status type that the new Task will appear as (i.e. Open, Completed)

  • Due Date: You can set this to the “Rule Trigger Date” (the day the workflow rule fires) or to any of the other date-based fields listed.  You can also choose to add or subtract days to the selected date.  For example if you want to assign a task to one of your sales reps to follow-up with their prospect 7 days after their respective opportunity closes, your flow might read something like this: Due Date= “‘Opportunity: Close Date’ ‘Plus’ ‘7’ days”

  1. New Email Alert

  • Description/Unique Name: Pick a descriptive title for your email alert.

  • Email Template: This you will need to create ahead of time.  Once you do, you can just use the lookup icon to pick the appropriate email you want the workflow to send.  I’m not going to go into details about how to create a new “Email Template” here but the basics are as follows: go to Setup > Communication Templates > Email Templates > New Template.

  • Recipient Type: You may select up to 5 recipients to be notified (including any additional email addresses you add manually in the “Additional Emails” box below). They can be of varying types (i.e. User, Owner, Role, or any other type available in the dropdown). You will see the various “Available Recipients” appear as you switch between different “Recipient Types.”  Select the Recipients you want and add them to the “Selected Recipients” list.  

  • Additional Emails: Feel free to add whichever additional email addresses to the workflow that you wish (they don’t need to be SF users).

  1. New Field Update

  • Field to Update: Select the field that you want to update automatically with your workflow. Depending upon which field you pick, you will be prompted to either use a formula to determine what the new value for a field should be or a picklist.  Here are example of both options.

    • Formula: Referencing our “Field Update” use case from above, let’s say we want the “Opportunity Close Date” to be automatically updated to TODAY when an opportunity closes.  Here we will use a formula to specify that we want today’s date (aka. the current date the opportunity stage field changes to closed) to appear in our selected field.  

      • We will select “Use a formula to set the new value” and enter the formula “Today().”  I will not go into formulas now but here is a brief guide to help you get started.

    • Picklist: If the “Field to Update” you select is a picklist field type, you can:

      • Select the “A specific value” you want your field to be updated to from the drop-down or

      • Choose to update your picklist field with the value above or below the current one.  When you open the drop-down, you will see the order in which your picklist values exist. This is the order SF goes off of.  


  1. New Outbound Message

  • With this action, you can essentially send specific field information to a specific IP address.  These messages are sent using the SOAP API.  For more information on how to set up this action, please reference the following Salesforce article.  

After you have finished setting-up your action, click “Save” or “Save & New” if you want to add another action.

As mentioned above, workflows can include multiple actions.  Let’s say you want your specific workflow to both generate a task and send an email alert.  To add additional actions click “Add Workflow Action” and repeat the above process.

When you are finished click “Done.” Please note you must activate your “Workflow Rule” in order for it to do anything.  To do so, simply click “Activate!”

In Summary

I want to point out that in this article I laid out how to set-up “Immediate Workflow Actions.” This means once a workflow rule criteria is met, the workflow action(s) will fire.  

Some people may decide that they want their workflow action(s) to be delayed once a record meets a specified rule criteria.  This is called a “Time Dependent Workflow Action.”  You can decide to have some workflow actions be time-dependent and others be immediate.  I am not going to go into the specifics today on how to do this, but keep in mind your customization options are vast!

To learn more about how to automate, customize, and integrate your Salesforce, check out the following posts:

how to integrate

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