How Do Salesforce Administrators Choose The Right Customization Tool?

It’s an ongoing debate! Making use of Salesforce’s declarative tool set or add an app from the AppExchange or get the whole thing coded? Each has their own advantages. This article will explain how you can make a dignified decision.

Author: Peggy Schael | Salesforce Trainer | WeLearnSalesforce

Have you ever struggled with the decision whether your Salesforce customization should be done with the declarative tools Salesforce gives you out-of-the-box? Or whether there could be a better solution with an app from the AppExchange or even by coding from scratch?

There is no easy answer! First and foremost you should have a pretty good understanding of the Salesforce platform’s capabilities and limitations. And once you get started to learn all about Salesforce, you will quickly realize that it’s no small feast. And on top of that, Salesforce brings out three releases per year with even more awesome out-of-the-box functionalities. It may leave you scratching your head…

At WeLearnSalesforce we care deeply about the success of our Salesforce Trainees and want to help them make educated decisions for what works best for their business’ Salesforce implementation as well as future updates and maintenance. But not only System Administrators are involved in the decision making process. If you are a Product Manager, Business Analyst, Consultant or otherwise involved, this is relevant for you too.

In this article I will walk you through the three customization options, their benefits and challenges and how to choose the best possible solution.

Best Practice Considerations

Before we dive deeper into each, as a rule of thumb, always consider declarative customization first. If you don’t seem to get anywhere with this, have a look at the AppExchange and only, only if you still don’t find what you are looking for, consider programmatic development.

If you are a Developer reading this, you may be thinking “What the f&$!#%”. I totally get that. Coding gives you a lot of flexibility and often a very reasonable solution, but we want to look at the greater picture and the sanity of Salesforce configurations.

Use a Questionnaire

Of course it’s not always as simple as yay or nay. There are a number of factors to take into consideration before deciding how to go about a planned Salesforce configuration, no matter if it’s an entire implementation project or a change request of an existing setup. I’ve been part of many Salesforce implementations and have seen the struggles first hand. It’s impossible to cover every single scenario, but you can avoid a lot of issues early in the process by asking the right questions from the start or even before that.

So I’ve put together a list of questions you should think about before deciding what you want to do:

  • What business problem are you looking to solve? What would be the benefit for the business?
  • What specific outcome are you trying to achieve?
  • Are you imposing your business processes onto Salesforce or could it benefit from the way Salesforce is already set up?
  • What is your Salesforce Support package (called “Success Plan“)? What type of support is already included?
  • What is your budget for the configuration and future maintenance?
  • What is your timeframe? How urgent is the implementation or change request?
  • Do you want to develop in-house or externally?
  • How do you maintain any related or unrelated changes in the future?

These are just high-level questions. We won’t go into detailed project management related questions, we save that for another article. However, these questions already give you an idea of how complex your decision may become.

Do your Homework

Depending on what your answers to these questions look like, they will either have a small or big impact on your business’ success. Because Salesforce is being implemented to make your business processes better, right? And who is using Salesforce? Your business users! Hence, user adoption plays a huge role. Which means setting up, maintaining and supporting your Salesforce org depends on the way it is being managed behind the scenes.

So here is a table for you to help you compare and understand the differences between each of the three customization options you have available:

 Declarative DevelopmentExtend with Apps from the AppExchangeProgrammatic Development
What is itSalesforce Configurations without using code.

Using tools such as Process Builder, Flow Builder,  Lightning App Builder, Einstein Automation etc.
Salesforce owned or Partner Apps.

Integrate seamlessly with a Salesforce Org.
Using code-based tools to set up functionalities beyond declarative capabilities.
When to useWhen the business follows a common business scenario.

When business processes are less complex.
When a declarative feature is not available and cannot be replicated with declarative tools.When the business follows complex processes.

When a declarative feature is not available and cannot be replicated with declarative tools and a suitable solution cannot be found on the AppExchange.
What are the BenefitsOut-of-the-Box.

No additional fees.

Point-and-Click (Relatively) easy to maintain.
Managed Packages (incl. automatic upgrades).

Unmanages Packages at your own disposal.


Only small configurations required (in most cases).
Code and automate anything you want.

The sky is the limit.
What are the ChallengesLimited capabilities as per Salesforce Edition.

Documenting business processes and how they are implemented.

Changes may require more complex updates of Processes and Flows.  
Compare with Salesforce Products and potential Partner Apps.

Most come at an additional fee.

Time and patience to research and test potential app solutions.
Can become very convoluted.

Keeping control over what is declarative versus what has been coded.

Documenting business processes and how they are implemented.

Changes require manual code updates.
What Skills are requiredSolid understanding of fundamental Salesforce features and limitations.

A certification like Salesforce Admin, Advanced Admin, Platform App Builder can be beneficial.

No coding required.
Solid understanding of fundamental Salesforce features and limitations.

A certification like Salesforce Admin, Advanced Admin, Platform App Builder can be beneficial.

Good understanding of other Salesforce Products and how Partner Apps work with Salesforce.
Experience with object-oriented languages like Apex, Java, as well as with Lightning Components and Visualforce.

A certification like Platform Developer I or JavaScript Developer I can be beneficial.

Understanding of fundamental Salesforce features and limitations is beneficial.
Declarative vs. AppExchange Extensions vs. Programmatic Tools

Make an educated Decision

As you can see, each has their advantages and requires thorough investigation. It all starts with a solid understanding of the Salesforce fundamental features that we teach in our Complete Salesforce Certification Courses. We have a Free Salesforce Administrator Introduction Course to give you a taster.

I truly hope you are finding the information in this article useful. There are certainly other factors to be considered in a Salesforce implementation or enhancement that I haven’t mentioned. Let me know in the comments below what else you would add to the list.

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