Customer relationship management (CRM) software helps you gather current and historical information about all your customer interactions, including not just past purchases, but also interests, a roadmap of the customer’s eventual product needs, negotiation details from previous deals, and even customer service or helpdesk issues. All that combines to build what amounts to customer dossiers full of up-to-the-minute interaction records and demographic data that you can leverage for things like email marketing campaigns, increasing your business intelligence (BI) smarts, or even improving accounting, supply chain, and employee performance data. That’s not easy even for the best CRM software, but Zoho CRM (starting at $12 per user per month up to $100 per user per month for the “Ultimate” plan) is up to the challenge, with a wide array of features, including comprehensive reporting, advanced features, built-in compatibility with business-grade telephony, including live chat, phone, and social media tools. That’s so much stuff above and beyond your basic CRM that it caused Zoho to rebrand its CRM as “multichannel” in July of 2016. Whatever the company calls it, for us it adds up to an Editors’ Choice-winning service along with our other Editors’ Choices, Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional and Apptivo CRM.
But even as Zoho CRM offers such a wide array of features and capabilities, it does so with a price tag that’s very friendly to small and midsized businesses (SMBs). Be aware, however, that you’ll be giving up some of the in-depth reporting and detailed lead management that justify Salesforce’s price. Zoho CRM is particularly effective for organizations that already use the company’s other products, such as Zoho Projects or Zoho Books. Its deep Google G Suite integration also makes it a natural choice if your organization uses those tools for email and calendaring, and the newly redesigned user interface (UI) gives the platform a much-needed facelift while greatly improving the overall navigability and CRM experience.
Zoho Editions and Pricing
Zoho offers a free package alongside four paid CRM packages. The free edition, which is restricted to just 10 users, comes with basic sales leads, marketing, and customer-support automation with reporting and forecasting tools. This is much better than Insightly CRM, which restricts its free version to just two users, though Bitrix24 CRM allows up to 12 users on its free version.
The Standard edition ($15 per user per month, or $12 per user per month if you sign up for an annual plan) includes sales forecasting, customized dashboards, a document library, marketing campaigns, and the ability to send mass email. Standard’s database is capped, limiting you to only 100,000 records. If your business grows enough to need more, you’ll want to move up to Professional or Enterprise.
The Professional edition ($25 per user per month, or $20 per user per month for annual plans) includes email integration, social CRM, inventory management, workflow automation, and role-based security. The database cap is no longer in place, letting you have unlimited number of records. The Enterprise edition ($40 per user per month, or $35 per user per month for annual plans) include territory management, custom modules, Google AdWords integration, custom functions, time-based actions, custom related lists, and multiple currencies. Mobile app support is available across all plans, free and paid. Note that this review focuses on the Professional edition.
Zoho CRM Plus ($60 per user per month, or $50 per user per month in an annual plan) is an advanced version, and it includes all of the features in the Enterprise edition, as well as email marketing, online customer surveys, visitor tracking, and advanced social media marketing and analytics. There is a 15-day trial available for CRM Plus. Think of Zoho CRM Plus as a business-software suite that happens to include CRM.
Which package you should pick depends on what you need to accomplish. The Enterprise edition has excellent support features, but if you are only looking for CRM, the Standard edition should be good enough. However, if you are interested in capturing leads from Twitter or Facebook, interacting with social leads, using CRM as part of customer support, and managing product inventory, you should stick with the Professional edition. If you need multi-currency support or the ability to manage different sales territories, then Enterprise should be your choice. Zoho CRM does have user and storage limits, so if you don’t really need robust reporting or custom dashboards, you may want to consider easier to use solutions with less out-of-the-box customizability, like Infusionsoft or Base CRM.
Zoho CRM is a pay-as-you-go service; you can upgrade, downgrade, or cancel at any time. While the costs can add up, Zoho CRM remains affordable, regardless of which tier you choose. You can access Zoho CRM directly from Google Apps, if you have it, which is a handy way to integrate your email and CRM.
Users, Contacts, and Lead Management
The experience of using Zoho CRM’s core contact and lead management features, as well as the sales pipeline, is completely informed by a newly revamped UI. Out with the old clunky interface; in with a much-needed minimalist overhaul. The new home screen increases the number of dashboard components from six to 10, adding the customizable drag-and-drop widget design that has become commonplace in cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms for creating custom dashboards. The setup screen has completely changed as well, re-organized with a global search bar in the top navigation panel to search all modules, rather than being limited to search by individual CRM module as in the previous iteration of the software.
Zoho CRM still requires a bit of customization to get started, though—with an added multiple page layout option for greater module customization—so the administrator should put in some time to get the dashboards, custom fields, and actual pages organized to fit the workflow beforehand. That will make it easier for users to find everything they need. Creating users in Zoho CRM is straightforward, compared to Salesforce, and search in general is much-improved through the addition of advanced filters, a new search tool in the platform allowing users to query CRM data based on tasks, notes, emails, and other specified CRM activities. There’s also a new timeline view allowing sales users to view customers’ historical data and interactions with other sales team members in a centralized, chronological view along with upcoming action items.
When you log in for the first time, Zoho directs you to a splash page that outlines all the steps you have to take. There is no need to try to figure out what you should do first—the Launchpad has it all, along with links to every step. Getting Started helps you define leads, contacts, accounts, and activities, Easy Setup lets you add users and customize the platform, and Personalize lets you change your personal settings. You always see recent activity and upcoming tasks. This means that even if you get sidetracked on some other activity, you can always get back to what you were doing.
The UI update also comes with expanded enterprise customization at the higher tiers. The new Page Layouts design feature gives businesses the ability to handle multiple products within a single CRM account, and Zoho CRM’s new Sandbox feature allows for testing of custom-built modules and layouts.
For a platform that by nature requires significant customization, this testbed is a really useful feature for small to midsize enterprise (SME) and large enterprise businesses who want to test and tweak any custom-built CRM software before rolling it out to its entire business user base. Salesforce also includes this kind of testing capability, but an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform with significant CRM functionality like NetSuite OneWorld could benefit from this kind of sandbox feature, which sets Salesforce and Zoho apart as enterprise-grade CRM tools.
If you take advantage of Zoho’s deep integration with Google Apps, you will see also all your contacts and calendar entries in Zoho CRM. You can import additional names via a comma-delimited file, Excel spreadsheet, and even .VCF files. You can also manually create contacts through the software. Every time you send an email to someone new, Zoho CRM automatically grabs that interaction and creates the appropriate record.
You can set up individual accounts for each customer and assign multiple contacts to each account. It’s easy to organize the people into active leads and assign different classification categories. You can attach documents to individual contact records and view all uploaded files in the document library.
Many companies encourage customers to enter a name, address, and other information into a web form on the website. Once the form is submitted, Zoho can automatically import the details into a brand-new Zoho contact, and assign a representative right away. You can do the same thing for help desk, customer support, and other troubleshooting tickets.
Revamped Email Marketing
For campaigns, you set up email marketing templates in Zoho CRM and use variables to indicate which data to pull from your contact and lead databases. You can track sales of goods and services using the inventory management tool in the Professional edition. The automation is really helpful: you can define scripts that automatically email new leads, create tasks when contacts submit support tickets through web forms, or even just issue alerts when something needs attention.
Email management and marketing in Zoho CRM is straightforward to begin with, but just underwent a major overhaul of its own with the launch and integration of SalesInbox, Zoho’s new dedicated mail client for salespeople. SalesInbox is a separate product, but is available for integration with Zoho CRM starting at the Professional tier.
SalesInbox adds greater email organization with new available metrics like template analysis, version comparison, and open rates, but also uses contextual CRM data to surface relevant emails for salespeople within the CRM. Similar to the My Day feature in Infusionsoft and the layout of Salesforce’s redesigned Lightning dashboard, SalesInbox is an extremely useful productivity feature for CRM users to keep salespeople on task and working in one centralized application. SalesInbox allows users to add a new lead or contact record from within an email, and automatically assigns tasks to specific records when an incoming email triggers predefined rules.
The SalesInbox dashboard is broken down into four default columns: Deals, Contacts and Leads, Not in CRM, and Colleagues to further organize and sort emails for salespeople. Deal emails also have opportunity potential values assigned to them with a dollar amount highlighted in green next to each email. Users can set reminders within SalesInbox as well, reminding themselves to send a response email within a particular timeframe. The combined email marketing and SalesInbox features within Zoho CRM are still not as in-depth as Zoho Campaigns, but the native CRM email management is greatly improved and further cements Zoho CRM as an Editors’ Choice.
Aside from SalesInbox, the significant new feature addition to Zoho CRM is Gamescope. This new gamification component to the dashboard allows any user to create contests and invite co-workers to play “games” competing for sales or productivity metrics, such as making the most calls, closing the most deals, or highest average deal value within a given timeframe. Salespeople or any competing user who wins then receives various points, trophies, or badges.
The new game controller icon in the top right of the Zoho CRM dashboard shows Gamescope notifications, and admins can configure gamified settings and prizes in settings. The gamification aspect is something completely unique to the CRM platforms we tested, and complements the company’s Zoho Motivator sales motivation software, which is available as an additional integration.
Reporting and Third-Party Integration
You can add prebuilt and custom dashboards to your screen so that you can see at a glance various types of information such as how close you are to closing specific deals, or new leads who’ve been assigned to you. Zoho also doesn’t automatically assume the person using the CRM tool is a sales representative, which means less fighting with the software if you work in a non-sales department. Comprehensive reports are available at the lowest level as well, so you don’t have to upgrade to higher tiers just to get an understanding of what is happening in your organization.
The updated Zoho CRM also comes with more appealing reports and visualizations. Dashboard components are now embeddable in third-party dashboards through a unique URL available by clicking the options icon in the corner of any widget, and charts now have the option to open in a pop-out window. Additional visualization options for CRM data include donut and area charts to complement the existing line, bar, pie, and funnel charts and graphs. In terms of report organization, users can now add reports to a Favorites folder, and there’s also a folder for recently deleted reports so users no longer have to worry about a report disappearing if they accidentally delete it. Zoho CRM’s reporting still isn’t quite as robust as Salesforce, but it’s head and shoulders above every CRM platform we tested aside from the Editors’ Choices.
CRM can’t exist in a vacuum. If the tool doesn’t offer a marketing function, then there has to be a way to integrate with another tool to handle that gap. Zoho has a nice list of tools it integrates with, now all housed in the Zoho Marketplace. As mentioned, Google Apps is a huge one. It also integrates with MailChimp and Constant Contact for email marketing, Evernote for note-taking, ClickDesk for help desk service, Outlook for email and calendaring, Microsoft Office for documents, Quickbooks for accounting, and VWorkApp for job dispatching and tracking. Thanks to Zoho’s other products, you get access to built-in email marketing, invoicing, and customer service case management tools.
The most recent integrations added to the Zoho Marketplace include Adobe eSign, Citrix GoToMeeting, Eventbrite, SignEasy, and Zendesk. Zoho CRM also integrates with Zoho Social for more advanced social media management, and an expanded integration with Zoho Books adds more built-in finance capabilities, such as giving sales representatives direct access to customer credit history, overdue payments, subscription details, and revenue within the sales workflow. Zoho is also the only CRM we tested to integrate with Apple’s iCal.
Telephone support is available 24 hours, Monday to Friday, for paying customers. Customers on the free edition can only get email support. There are some tutorials and help page, but they aren’t the easiest to read or work with. Zoho could improve its offerings with better documentation to help new users. The company frequently posts guides on its blog, which can be helpful as well, and the web ticket portal lets you see the status of your query as well as assigning it a priority level.
The Zoho CRM mobile app on Android and iOS lets you view reports, access contact details, edit accounts and leads, and work with the reports. You also get offline access, which is unusual. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online Professional and Salesforce are among the few offering offline access.
Mobile is another area where Zoho has invested in serious updates, particularly in terms of in-the-field sales. Sales reps using the Zoho CRM app for Android or iOS can now check in at customer locations, track sales activities, and find nearby sales prospects using a new map view. Users enter a specific location, and the map will pull up all nearby leads. The app also includes the ability to scan business cards and add that contact information directly into the CRM database, a feature also available in other CRMs such as Insightly.
Plenty of Features, Low Costs
It’s hard to complain about a CRM system that offers so much functionality and at such a reasonable price. If you are already used to CRM, Zoho’s offering makes logical sense. If most of your users are new to CRM services, as the administrator you can modify the interface to simplify everything. Because Zoho CRM relies on a standard process for all records, regardless of type, it is not a difficult system to learn and get up and running. Yes, you can look for a competing CRM with a more attractive interface or switch to a less expensive (or free) product, but then you will miss out on the extensive customizations and features.
Salesforce takes the crown for customizations, and wins its Editors’ Choice largely because of the sheer number of its features. Apptivo CRM still has Zoho CRM beat on mobile functionality and price. But Zoho CRM is also a worthy Editors’ Choice, providing great bang for your buck with easy-to-use marketing and reporting tools, particularly now that it’s housed in a sleek and straightforward new user experience.