Zoho offers an extensive ecosystem of business solutions, offering quality software for everything from accounting to social media marketing to point of sale (POS) systems. Zoho CRM is one of the most mature products in this stable and arguably its flagship. For those looking for full-featured customer relationship management (CRM) with an intuitive interface and useful integrations at a reasonable price, Zoho is a must-see, or at least a must-consider. It shares our Editors’ Choice designation with Apptivo CRM and Salesforce Sales Cloud Lightning Professional.
Under Zoho CRM’s hood, you’ll find useful capabilities including lead management (LM), comprehensive reporting, and advanced features such as gamification, as well as built-in compatibility with business-grade telephony such as live chat, phone, and social media tools.
But even with all that, Zoho keeps the price tag to a number that’s friendly to small to midsize businesses (SMBs). Be aware, however, that you’ll be giving up some of the in-depth reporting and detailed LM that justify Salesforce’s price. Zoho CRM is particularly useful 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 with the Zoho One licensing option, businesses can opt to give their employees access to the company’s entire software portfolio for about $1 per day.
Zoho Editions and Pricing
Aside from Zoho One, Zoho offers a free package alongside four paid CRM packages. The free edition, which includes just 10 users, comes with sales leads, marketing, and customer support automation with reporting and forecasting tools. This package is more generous than Insightly CRM, which restricts its free version to just two users, though the free edition of Bitrix24 CRM allows up to 12 users.
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 size is capped at 100,000 records.
The Professional edition ($25 per user per month, or $20 per user per month for annual plans) includes email integration, social CRM, Google AdWords integration, inventory management, workflow automation, and role-based security, along with an unlimited number of database records. The Enterprise edition ($40 per user per month, or $35 per user per month for annual plans) brings territory management, custom modules and 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) 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 30-day trial available for CRM Plus. With all these other Zoho applications available for deep integration, it’s safe to think of Zoho CRM Plus as a business software suite that happens to include CRM.
Which package you select depends on what you need to accomplish. The Enterprise edition has excellent support features, but if you are only looking for CRM, the Standard version should be good enough. However, if you want to capture leads from Twitter or Facebook, use CRM as part of customer support, and manage product inventory, you should stick with the Professional edition. If you deal in multiple currencies or need the ability to handle different sales territories, then Enterprise should be your choice. Zoho CRM does have user and storage limits, so if you don’t need robust reporting or custom dashboards, you may want to consider simpler, less customizable solutions like Infusionsoft or Base CRM.
A final option, mentioned earlier, is Zoho One. It’s a single license that provides Zoho customers access to every app in Zoho’s portfolio for an average of $30 per user per month. You get the same integration and features as you would using any of the license editions above, plus an updated Admin Panel that helps IT administrators with large-scale deployment issues such as identity management and role provisioning.
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 and Contacts
Zoho CRM’s core contact and lead management features, as well as the sales pipeline, are available on a well-designed home screen. You can have up to 10 components on a dashboard, customizing it via a drag-and-drop widget design.
Actually, Zoho CRM requires a bit of customization to get started, so the administrator should put in some time to get the dashboards, custom fields, and pages organized. That will make it easier for users to find everything they need. Creating users in Zoho CRM is straightforward compared to Salesforce, and advanced filters make search easy.
A search tool allows users to query CRM data based on tasks, notes, emails, and other activities. There’s also a timeline view allowing sales users to view customers’ historical data and interactions with other sales team members, 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 should 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 settings. You always see recent activity and upcoming tasks, so you can get back to what you were doing if you get sidetracked.
Zoho partnered with LinkedIn to create Sales Navigator for Zoho CRM, which launched in July 2017. The integration helps salespeople collect information about prospects through LinkedIn, including shared connections, without having to leave Zoho CRM. The company also has a feature called SalesInbox that optimizes email inboxes.
The Page Layouts design feature gives businesses the ability to handle multiple products within a single CRM account. Zoho CRM’s Sandbox feature allows for testing of custom-built modules and layouts. Small to midsize enterprise (SME) and larger businesses can use the Sandbox to test custom-built CRM software before rolling it out to users. Salesforce also includes this kind of testing capability.
Zoho CRM has deep integration with Google G Suite so you can see all your contacts and calendar entries. You can import additional names via Excel or comma-delimited files or even .VCF files. You can also create contacts manually. 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 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 contact and assign a representative right away. You can do the same thing for help desk, customer support, and other troubleshooting tickets.
Zoho CRM is built to accommodate a variety of business models. Usually, new prospects start as leads and are converted to contacts when they are qualified (that is, marked as prospective customers). At that point, the company associated with that prospect will become an account. As with many of the features in Zoho CRM, you use what you need. A company that doesn’t generate more than a few leads at a time might want to skip that step altogether and pull new names directly into the contact list.
However, if you need to generate a large number of leads from a wide range of sources, Zoho CRM excels. Besides pulling in leads from a web form, Zoho helps you collect them by using a feature called SalesSignals. SalesSignals lets you monitor a variety of sources—chats, emails, social networks—and get real-time notifications when, for example, a possible lead mentions your company on a Twitter feed. You can also set it up to automatically harvest leads when your company is tagged in social media.
SalesSignals integrates with several third-party apps such as MailChimp and SurveyMonkey. Like the email integration, it’s available in the Professional package. If you are looking to cull social media and other sources for new leads, this package is well worth it. Zoho CRM is one of the few CRM systems here that offers such capability. Competing systems, such as Insightly, only offer it via partner apps.
In addition, a new feature called the LinkedIn Sales Navigator lets you find prospects in LinkedIn from within the Zoho CRM UI. Another good source for finding new leads is provided via Google AdWords integration, which automatically pulls in the names of visitors who click on an ad and fill in a form.
Zoho CRM offers a variety of automated workflow procedures, which can be highly useful when dealing with the sales process. For instance, you can set up automatic replies and have leads sent to specific staff members when they meet certain criteria. You can also set up an approval process so that, for example, a lead must be approved by a supervisor before being converted to a contact. Sales teams can prioritize leads via a scoring process based on a variety of criteria, such as the company’s revenue or whether they sourced from a form or a social network.
To keep up with cutting-edge competition such as Salesforce, Zoho has added an artificial intelligence (AI) feature that the company calls Zia. The tool uses trend analysis to spot anomalies in the sales process and suggest the best times to follow up on calls and emails. (You can, of course, ignore the suggestions depending on how much you trust the AI process.) Zia also acts as a virtual assistant, so users can ask it questions or use voice commands via messaging or phone. For example, you can ask Zia to update a status or create a chart.
Power Tip: Make the Most of Email Templates
Templates are a smart way to avoid the monotony of drafting the same email over and over again. Zoho CRM’s drag-and-drop template editor makes the task much easier and quicker.
You can choose one of a variety of templates available in the template gallery and customize it, or use the editor to drag and drop text, images, tables, and buttons to design one. Why not choose a new layout or add background colors to your template to catch your recipient’s eye? (But don’t go overboard with too much color!)
Personalizing your templates improves their performance. While drafting one, type in “#” and a list of module-related merge fields will appear, making it easy to personalize your templates.
Once you’ve implemented a new template, you’ll want to make sure it’s performing its best by using the email analytics feature. Making changes to your templates based on open rates or failed clicks will help keep your email performance rates high. You’ll be able to see which version performed best and make changes to your low-performing templates based on what you find.
You can share folders that have the best-performing emails and templates with your colleagues, or choose among your coworkers’ emails with the highest open rates.
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. With this automation, you can define scripts that automatically email new leads, create tasks linked to support tickets, or issue alerts when something needs attention.
Email management and marketing is straightforward, particularly with the integration of SalesInbox, Zoho’s dedicated mail client for salespeople. SalesInbox is a separate product but is available for integration with Zoho CRM starting at the Enterprise tier. (The company also offers Zoho SalesInbox for Salesforce.)
SalesInbox adds more significant email organization with metrics such as 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 a highly useful productivity feature 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 to send a response email within a particular timeframe. The email marketing and SalesInbox features within Zoho CRM are not as in-depth as Zoho Campaigns, but the native CRM email management is definitely a plus.
Another significant feature is Gamescope, which is available in the Professional and Enterprise versions. This dashboard gamification component allows any user to create contests and invite coworkers to compete for sales or productivity metrics such as making the most calls or closing the most deals. Winners receive 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 game settings and prizes. This gamification aspect is unique among the CRM platforms we tested and complements the company’s Zoho Motivator sales motivation software, which is available as another integration.
Reporting and Third-Party Integrations
You can add ready-made and custom dashboards to your screen to view various types of information at a glance. Zoho doesn’t automatically assume every user 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 to get an understanding of what is happening in your organization.
Zoho CRM also comes with appealing reports and visualizations. Charts now have the option to open in a pop-out window, and the existing line, bar, pie, and funnel charts have been bolstered by donut and area charts. Users can add reports to a Favorites folder, and there’s also a folder for recently deleted reports in case of accidental deletions. Zoho CRM’s reporting isn’t quite as robust as that of Salesforce, but it’s head and shoulders above every other CRM platform we tested.
CRM can’t exist in a vacuum. Zoho has a nice list of tools it works with, now all housed in the Zoho Marketplace. As mentioned, G Suite is a huge one. Zoho CRM 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 case management tools.
Other notable integrations added to the Zoho Marketplace include Adobe eSign, Citrix GoToMeeting, Eventbrite, SignEasy, and Zendesk Support. Zoho CRM also integrates with Zoho Webinar and Zoho Social for more advanced social media management, while expanded integration with Zoho Books adds more built-in finance capabilities, such as giving sales reps direct access to customer credit history, overdue payments, subscription details, and revenue within the sales workflow. It also works with Zoho Surveys, so you can create and send surveys to your leads and contacts. Zoho is also the only CRM we tested to integrate with Apple’s iCal.
Telephone support is available 24 hours, Monday through Friday, for paying customers. Customers on the free edition can only get email support. There are some tutorials and help pages, but they aren’t the easiest to navigate. Zoho could improve its offerings with better documentation to help new users. The company frequently posts guides on its blog, though, 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 for Android and iOS lets you view and work with reports, access contact details, and edit accounts and leads. Both apps integrate with Zia, the company’s AI tool. You also get offline access, which is unusual.
Mobile is another area where Zoho invests, particularly in terms of in-the-field sales. Sales reps using the Android or iOS app can now check in at customer locations, track sales activities, and find nearby sales prospects using a 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 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 UI to simplify everything. Because Zoho CRM relies on a standard process for all records, regardless of type, it is not hard to learn or to get up and running despite its extensive collection of customizations and features.
Salesforce takes the crown for customizations and wins its Editors’ Choice primarily because of its sheer number of features. Apptivo 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 and an excellent user experience.