Zoho CRM Review

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  • Updated on:
Date Established
2005
Location
Pleasanton, CA

Overview:

Zoho Corporation’s roots go back as far as 1996. They started in a vastly different world as an IT, networking, and telecommunications company. Since then, the focus has drastically shifted to produce business productivity apps, which have proven popular enough for the company to re-brand itself as Zoho Corporation more than 10 years after its inception. Today, they have offices worldwide, and are officially headquartered in Pleasanton, California. They have grown to employ over 3500 people, most of whom work from their original offices in Chennai, India.

While they have several edges over other software developers, Zoho has one distinguishing factor in its history that really puts it in a class of its own. Unlike the most successful software companies, Zoho has never acquired any venture capital, angel investors, or loans. They are entirely a bootstrap operation, having built a name for themselves completely under their own steam. While I find nothing wrong whatsoever with acquiring venture capital, I am very impressed by what Zoho has been able to achieve without it.

The software has set itself apart from its competitors as well. I have never found a CRM that is so feature-rich, and yet so reasonably priced. The ease with which I picked up Zoho CRM belied the power under the hood. It’s a muscle car with an economy car price tag. Having said that, not everyone needs a muscle car. Many entrepreneurs and small businesses would make better use of a slimmer, more straightforward CRM. There is a lot to be said for only buying what you need. To find out if Zoho CRM is right for you, read the full review.

Date Established:

Zoho was launched in 2005 with a web-based word processor, and they have added many other applications since then. CRM functionality was added somewhat recently, and CRM Plus, an inclusive product bundle with sales, marketing and support, was added in 2015.

Get Started With Zoho CRM

Pricing:

Zoho CRM generously offers a free 15-day trial for each of their packages. A basic breakdown of their pricing structure is as follows:

  • Free Edition:Free, up to 10 users
  • Standard:$12/user/month
  • Professional:$20/user/month
  • Enterprise:$35/user/month

The full comparative details of their pricing structure can be found here:

Zoho CRM Pricing

Hardware and Software Requirements:

  • iPhone: iOS 5.0 or later. Optimized for iPhone 5.
  • Android: OS 2.2 and up.

Specific Size of Business (Or Company Size):

Zoho is capable of handling any size of business. Their pricing structure (see above) ensures that they can grow with your business, adding key features to stay relevant to your specific needs.

There are obvious incentives for upgrading to the next larger package, but for the most part, packages offer exactly what you’d want at the level of business they are geared for (i.e., it’s unlikely that you’ll need to operate in multiple currencies as an entrepreneur.)

Ease of Use:

The Good News: 

  • It does everything I can imagine wanting, but not in an oppressively industry-specific way. Some CRMs assume that they will be used exclusively by a sales team. This is an understandable assumption, but Zoho does not make this mistake.
  • Upon logging in, you are not sent straight to a standard-looking dashboard, wondering what to do. The splash page is an easy-to-read launchpad to help you make instant progress. It has links to every aspect of the setup process, along with definitions of its own corporate terminology. There are three categories, with many options under them: Getting started with Zoho CRM (define Leads, Contacts, Accounts, Activities), Easy Setup for Administrator (add users and customization), and Personalize Your Settings (set time zone, customize colors, etc). However you want to go about setting up your business, this splash page is immensely helpful.
  • Once you’re up and running, there is an ever-present floating icon on the left side of the window that shows recent activity and upcoming tasks. So no matter where you navigate, you can always get back to the latest activity. There is a “Create new” menu option which enables quick creation of most things at any stage of the pipeline. Documents, contacts, deals, leads, notes, events, and products can all be added without much navigation.
  • The mobile app is beautiful. Organization is tidy, there is access to everything, and it is equally quick to navigate. It is easy to do all the basic features, and many advanced features. The mobile app won’t totally replace the dashboard, but will allow a highly mobile salesperson to check in at the office less often. Finally, the app has enough flair to not be mind-numbing, but not so much as to be distracting. I found it to be a very solid extension of an office computer.

The Bad News:

Zoho has made improvements to their email integration, document creation and tutorials, which were not quite as functional before. There’s still an issue with adding a new user as either a CEO or manager, but they get good marks for improving in other areas.

Features:

Even on their own website, Zoho’s list of features appears to be fairly standard stuff, with a few wonderful exceptions. The true beauty of Zoho CRM is in a few unique features, as well as depth and breadth of functionality.

  • Inventory Management: track sales of goods and services. Includes Product lists, price books, vendors, sales quotes, orders, and invoices.
  • Document library: Keep all of your documents in one place, and attach them to relevant customer contact.
  • Automation: Define scripted actions for auto email correspondence, task creation, alerts, and lead generation via web forms.
  • Customize your workflow: Make your Zoho Dashboard a seamless part of your unique workflow. Connect your clients with the representative best suited to handle their needs.
  • Dynamic pipeline tracking: Get a detailed overview of your entire sales pipeline, including which stage a deal is in, full contact history, probability of winning, deal size, and even competitor information
  • Social media connectivity: Stay informed of the latest updates and changes for your clients. Craft precisely targeted emails and marketing strategies based on up-to-the-minute customer information.

The mobile app has a few nice features as well:

  • Set the mobile app to automatically display clients within a set range of you when you’re on the go. I love the idea of getting notifications when a client is nearby, enabling me to make a quick follow-up visit.
  • Add, modify contacts on mobile app even when offline. Changes get synced the next time there’s a connection.

See Zoho’s own feature overview on their website. Or for more detailed information, I found this page to be far more helpful.

Data Migration:

There are step-by-step instructions for importing your data from any contact manager that can export to a CSV file. Those instructions can be found here.

Integrations and Add-Ons:

With API becoming increasingly prevalent in the SaaS (Software as a Service) industry, the top developers are coding with compatibility in mind. Zoho is ahead of the curve in this area. In addition to some natural integration with their own fleet of productivity software, I also found these add-ons to be supported and advertised by Zoho:

For further information on Zoho’s integration capabilities, see this page their website

Customer Service and Technical Support:

They offer 24-hour Mon-Fri telephone support for paying customers, for which there is a separate and dedicated telephone number. Customers using their free edition are limited to email support through their web portal, but can flag their communication with varying levels of urgency. The primary methods of customer support and self-service are provided below.

I am somewhat less than enthusiastic about my own experience with their customer service. It may be that my account was flagged as a trial account (they do advertise better service with higher paid memberships) but it took nearly a week to get a response to a simple query that I submitted via web ticket. To be fair, I did not set my query to Urgent status. But when I finally got a response, my question was not even addressed. They offered to call me at my convenience, which sounds great on paper, but my convenience would have been better served with a simple email reply.

Negative Reviews and Complaints:

Many of the negative reviews for the mobile app refer to the outdated UI and lack of intuitive design, which is debatable. The mobile app has a solid set of features and the design is pretty intuitive. While the mobile app doesn’t give you access to the full spectrum of features you’d find on the website, it’s still very useful. There are a few other mobile – related issues that users feel Zoho should address, such as app crashes and adding additional email features.

Positive Reviews and Testimonials:

Zoho Corp has an A- rating with the BBB and only six complaints in the last three years. The most recent reviews for the Zoho CRM mobile app haven’t been as great as those in times past, but Zoho still averages 4 out of 5 stars in the Google Play store with over 1400 ratings, and overall the app is full of great features. Zoho has made several improvements both to the app and to the way they do business in general.

  • Mobile app standard for all editions. Use of the mobile app is standard for all editions of Zoho CRM, including the free version.
  • Improved features and functionality. Zoho CRM now automatically updates leads onto the server.

Security:

Zoho seems to take security very seriously. They report that their facilities have 24/7 video monitoring, biometric access, and fire/flood/theft monitoring systems. Their network security seems equally top-notch, with advanced data encryption and intrusion detection systems.

Final Verdict:

It’s hard to argue with a CRM that offers the most functionality at the lowest cost. In fact, the only cheaper CRMs that I have found are free, but come with a commensurately limited set of features. Zoho CRM is easily the most bang for your buck. This is not to say that it is perfect. As a software reviewer, I am very sparing with a perfect 5-star rating. Zoho very nearly earned it, and I believe they may yet earn it without much travail.

Zoho CRM would absolutely make it onto my short list if I were developing my own business. And I would confidently stand by my recommendation if I advised an established company to look into incorporating it. The only cross-section of business owners that I would steer away from Zoho CRM would be first-time startups and mom-and-pop shops that do not require a lot of networking. Aside from those demographics, I heartily encourage others to check out this gem. You may discover a tool that you didn’t know you needed. Take it for a test drive and let us know what you think.

Erik Robie

Erik Robie

Erik is a writer, small business developer, and photographer, making his home in Northern Colorado. He has been publishing his writing for 15 years, and occasionally sells his photos when he can pull himself away from the keyboard. When he's not writing the CRM, HelpDesk, and Shopping Cart categories for Merchant Maverick, he can usually be found on his mountain bike, playing volleyball, hiking with his camera, or keeping the local coffee shops in business.
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8 Comments

    Michael Harris

    In the Zoho Standard Edition, you can’t send a letter. That mail merge function was basic in ACT. But in Zoho, somehow they feel sending a letter for a salesperson is a premium feature. They don’t tell you that in their comparison guide. https://www.zoho.com/crm/help/erutaef321.html

    Instead it’s hidden in the fine print https://www.zoho.com/crm/help/templates/mail-merge-templates.html

    What’s your view. Is sending a letter a premium feature and if so should it have been included in the feature comparison?

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Rick B

    I am the Principal Advisor for a Business Consulting firm that specializes in helping start-up and small businesses achieve better returns through business process automation. During these past 7 years, my associates and I have always recommended Zoho CRM to HUNDREDS of business and have worked on customizing at least 15 Zoho CRM packages for our clients. We also have been using Zoho CRM ourselves since 2007, so we are expertly proficient with Zoho CRM and are VERY familiar with the life cycle development of the software as it's been changed over the years.When Zoho first launched in 2005, it touted itself as the "free" full featured CRM and included most of the core CRM functionality available at the time in it's free offering. Zoho touted it's CRM package as the free alternative to Salesforce.com, and literally boasted about how inexpensive (FREE) and complete the Zoho CRM was. However over the past 5 years (particularly when Zoho changed it's name to Zoho CORP in 2009), we've watched Zoho parse out core system functionalities into differing "Levels" of subscriptions in their attempt to create a compelling upgrade path that would lead to revenue. Since all of the major changes to their pricing and subscription model had been announced and documented appropriately in the past, we were never HAPPY about being pigeon-holed into subscription "upgrades" (who would be?), but every business needs to work towards profitability and with changes being communicated appropriately, we've always said "Fair Enough"... Until Today.We had a recent start-up company join us as a client, and like many others, they had a need for a CRM. After checking the latest ZOHO CRM release notes, sales documents, and basic help pages online, we didn't notice anything that would change our standard recommendation. The client accepted our proposal and commissioned us to launch and customize the ZOHO CRM package for them, like we have done for tens of other companies in the past.We exercised the Zoho CRM 15 day Trial period for the client (which now is set to the "Professional" level apparently and began importing data for the client. We also began setting up custom fields for the client as needed. Today, as the trial period had expired, we advised this same client to pick up 2 user licenses at the "Standard" level prepaid for $288/year. The client notified us that the licenses were purchased and we were clear to wrap up their customization. We fired up the ZOHO CRM interface this morning to finish the final custom field setup, and to our horror, we encountered an unexpected system alert when trying to create a custom field saying "Sorry, you cannot create more custom fields in your edition". IMAGE 1Now, usually when this happens, it's because ZOHO Corp had once again systematically reconfigured their subscription level offerings to compel people to convert to a higher paid subscription levels, and after a little digging, we would find the supporting documentation affirming their nickle-and dime tactics. However this time, there was NO documentation of any limitations on the number of Custom Fields you can have at ANY level. In fact, quite the contrary. As you can see in the following screenshot taken from the PDF download located at Here: Compare Zoho CRM Editions page, you will see that there is simply a check box next to the STANDARD, PROFESSIONAL, ENTERPRISE, and CRM PLUS subscriptions (Not FREE edition - although Custom Fields used to be free).IMAGE 2We, like any other reasonable consumer expected that, If Custom Fields are included in a subscription, there would be no limits on them. After contacting a Zoho Customer Support Chat Agent named Pranesh Gopalakrishnan, we learned that, not only is there a limit of Custom Fields, but there are differing quantities of Custom Fields that Zoho Corp will allow you to have in the current CRM offering PER EDITION and PER MODULE?!? Yes, apparently now, you only get 10 custom fields/module in the STANDARD edition, 150 custom fields/module in the PROFESSIONAL edition, and 300 custom fields/module in the ENTERPRISE edition. So now, after spending 25+ hours importing our Client data into Zoho CRM, customizing the package for them, and having them pay the quoted price of $288, we cannot deliver the customized CRM package that we promised. While chatting, explained the situation to Mr. Gopalakrishnan our Client's situation. Pranesh explained that the only way to expand custom fields was for our Client to purchase another 2 user licenses at the PROFESSIONAL edition level for $480 MORE?!?At this point, we had two choices; 1. Explain the oversight to our client and ask for, or cover the additional $480 for the two user licenses or 2. Revoke our long standing ZOHO CRM recommendation we have provided our clients for the past 5 years, researching another CRM package to replace ZOHO CRM, and then spend countless hours learning the new system, customizing it for our client's needs and exporting, and entering all of the data again that we had in this Client's Standard ZOHO CRM edition. .....OR maybe a 3rd option. Hope that Zoho CORP was willing to exercise some responsibility and good faith to cover their oversight and enable additional custom fields for this client at their current STANDARD subscription level. I asked Pranesh to chat with a Supervisor. After waiting a few minutes, a lady named "Robin" took over the chat and once again explained the situation over text. I let Robin know that, prior to signing this client up, we reviewed the sales / help documents here: https://www.zoho.com/crm/comparison.html, and here: https://www.zoho.com/crm/help/customization/field-level-customization.html, with NO MENTION of limits on custom fields. After some awkward silence, Robin produces ONE link to an obscure help file buried in their help system that would elude even the most diligent seekers in a sales cycle: https://www.zoho.com/crm/help/erutaef321.html I explained to Supervisor Robin that we feel trapped into upgrading our Client to a higher, significantly more expensive subscription level that they otherwise would not need if they had access to custom fields AS ADVERTISED. I also explained that IMHO, most people would find it VERY misleading to have ANY limits on Custom Fields without advertising the change in advance on ZOHO CRM's online sales literature. I concluded that, after all of the business that we had sent to ZOHO CRM over the years, we would expect them to at least comp an upgrade for our client from STANDARD to PROFESSIONAL, and correct their misleading sales documentation in order to prevent trapping more people into upgrades with unethical advertising and questionable free trial practices. In essence, I explained that in this case, we're not willing to pay any more for what we should already have (according to the online Zoho CRM Edition comparison), and have had in the past. Supervisor Robin, said that she would arrange for a quick callback from the respective Account Manager. I waited HOURS and NO CALL. Hours later, I finally receive and email from Ricky Thakrar, Regional Sales Manager | North and South America. I'm thinking, "Now we're getting somewhere". In his email to me, Mr. Thakrar says "You are correct it does not say on the main pricing page the specific number of custom fields per edition as it is a feature comparison page. It only says this information in the detailed technical comparison page on our user guide which shows features and limits." Mr. Thakrar then goes on to say (without apology or missing a beat), "In order to get 150 custom fields, you will need to upgrade to the Professional edition". WHAT!!?? Our Client really only needs 5 more!Upset at wasting the whole day trying to resolve this, and pursing the situation now just on a matter of principal, I tracked down the phone number to Mr. Thakrar's office (877-834-4428, Option #1) and asked to speak to Mr. Thakrar regarding an email I just received from him. After being on hold for approx.4 minutes, the gentleman who initially answered comes back on the phone, and nervously (lying??) explains that it appears Mr. Thakrar is on another scheduled call with another client and is unable to take my call. The gent goes on to ask if I would be willing to talk to a Regional Account Manager. I asked if that person had the authority to override / upgrade a subscription level to accommodate my Client's custom fields issue, and the gentleman says "Yes". I agree to be forwarded to Cliffton Kent, Regional Account Manager.I once again explain the situation to Mr. Kent, who tells me that he recognizes that their central comparison chart is misleading to the consumers, and that should be corrected. He also understands what an inconvenience it would be to find out about the Custom Field limitations after the fact of entering data for 2 weeks in a Free Trial set to the PROFESSIONAL Edition, and later paying for a lesser subscription without knowledge of the limitation. Mr. Kent said that he does not, nor does ANYBODY else at Zoho Corp have the ability to comp a free upgrade to our Client so that they can have access to the advertised functionality. Mr. Kent does say that he will take the matter up with "management" and "go to bat" for my client. Mr. Kent then emails me a bit later saying "We did discuss your concern with our management. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to upgrade the Zoho CRM account from Standard to Professional (for free). Sorry to disappoint you."As a now former team of Zoho CRM Evangelists for the past 7 years, words cannot express our disappointment in this decision If we accomplish nothing else, we hope that you will help spread the word as far and as wide about this latent limitation, or as we see it, Zoho CRM upgrade trap that has been crafted and honed by the ZOHO CORP. As it stands, we are going to work overtime into the night and through tomorrow to try to find an ethically sold and supported product. Unless ZOHO reverses their present course, WE CANNOT AND WILL NOT CONTINUE TO SUPPORT ZOHO CORP'S FALSE ADVERTISING AN UNETHICAL PRACTICES IN PIGEON-HOLING NEW CUSTOMERS INTO OVERPRICED ZOHO CRM PACKAGES. We would rather suffer through this situation, than be further subjected to ZOHO's legal extortion tactics. So, now you know 😉 Hopefully, Zoho will understand that space is cheap, and that unlimited Custom Fields IS a core CRM function (as it was in past ZOHO CRM versions). Maybe someone at will see the error of their ways and will work to include unlimited Custom Fields as part of a STANDARD subscription license. Until then, I will try to follow-up with a post detailing the new CRM we will be recommending in the future.Rick B.

    1

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Richard M B

    Hi Rick.. a very informative read.. I have been searching for an appropriate CRM for quite a while and the only ‘clinching’ reason i have been homing in ZOHO is because it appears to be the only very cost effective solution that offers Outlook FOR MAC integration. Very few others do it and unless you buy Parallels and access CRM through Windows you have little or no choice; perhaps Salesforce and Oracle being the only other two which are two powerful and costly for what we need.

    I would be very interested to know if you have found a new CRM software that might even offer Outlook for Mac integration.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    David Jones

    Did you ever find a suitable replacement to the Zoho CRM?

    Shannon Honadle

    I love Zoho but I wish they would take down the Evernote connector from integrations. That’s using a 3rd party service (not directly Evernote themselves) called Cloudwork which is down. Now Zapier does support Evernote/Zoho linking but I feel like that speaks more for Zapier since they did all the work then what Evernote and Zoho put into it.

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Jean Arne

    Good work, this review directed to chose the best CRM for my business.

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Very good evaluation, I can tell you that some of the points you put at bad news, are because you've used a demo version.

    5

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

    Erik Robie

    Thanks for the feedback, Miguel! It’s true, there may have been limitations due to testing the demo version of the software. Companies don’t always release a fully-functional demo license of their software. If you are a Zoho member and can speak about these differences you’ve noticed between the demo and paid versions, we would welcome your thoughts!

    -Erik

    This comment refers to an earlier version of this review and may be outdated.

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