Zoho CRM Review: The Best Free-to-Use CRM System for a Small Business in 2016

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Why Did We Choose Zoho CRM?

There were a fair number of factors which led to our recommendation of Zoho CRM including:

Reputation

Zoho has been in business for 20 years and that’s an encouraging sign that they aren’t a flash in the pan and will be available to support your business and your customer relationship management (CRM) work for years to come. It also has a great reputation for spending the majority of its revenue on redeveloping and developing its products; which means that they won’t be standing still with Zoho CRM but rather keeping it up to date and as useful in the future as it is today.

Cost of Use

It’s important to recognize that Zoho CRM isn’t for every business. It’s free package is designed with very small (fewer than 10 employees) businesses that require a very basic CRM package to get going with. It really isn’t the best choice for a larger business or a business that expects to grow quickly beyond the limits set by the software.

However, it’s also impossible to argue that Zoho’s free CRM software isn’t incredible value for money (it is, after all, free). It is excellent for small businesses with very simple needs and it’s also a good option for those businesses that want to test the value of a CRM solution before investing substantial amounts of money into their CRM solution.

It’s Easy to Use

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Zoho CRM is very easy to use; that’s partly because of the design and it’s partly because it comes with a somewhat limited feature set compared to other CRM solutions. That means you can get up and running quickly with Zoho CRM but in the long run you may find that “ease of use” comes with the price of not being able to get as much out of your CRM solution as you would like it to.

It’s worth noting that the free version of Zoho CRM is completely free; you aren’t limited to the way you use the features though there is a hard cap on the number of users (maximum 10). That’s much better than some other “free” CRM systems which in fact are more “freemium” where you will have to pay to unlock additional users or functionality or to go past a set limit on the use of a particular function.

However, scaling Zoho beyond its capacities is not a great deal and there are better premium products on the market than Zoho CRM. If you think that the Zoho isn’t going to give your business all it needs from a CRM for at least 2-3 years; you’d be better off choosing something with a greater scope in the first place – it takes time and effort, no matter how simple things are to use, to learn a system and if you think you’ll outgrow Zoho quickly; it’s better to spend the extra money and save on the pains of transitioning to another system.

There’s Plenty of CRM Functionality

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The free version of Zoho CRM comes with a fair amount of CRM functionality given its non-existent price tag. These include:

  • Business analytics – Zoho’s CRM is also interoperable with a range of other 3rd party tool as well as Zoho’s other products. That can be handy when populating data and trying to get information from one system to another.
  • Collaboration Tools – Zoho acts as a kind of informal internal social media station too that allows staff to work together on nearly any project they choose; it also supports instant messaging.
  • Mobile App – the Zoho client can also be accessed via a mobile app which can be really useful for sales people on the road who need fast access to data.
  • Multi-user – it’s unusual for a free CRM to allow up to 10 users and it’s a big selling point for Zoho’s free CRM.
  • Social CRM – Zoho acts an interface with Twitter and Facebook allowing you to manage your social media CRM from the platform.
  • Task Automation – this can be really useful because it allows you to get the software to handle more of your workflow and saves on pushing tasks around the office manually. The level of automation in Zoho CRM isn’t as substantial as it is in some other CRMs but it’s not bad for a free product either.
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Customer Support

There is a limit to how much support you can reasonably expect when it comes to a free product. It will come as no real surprise that you don’t get 24/7 telephone support included with the free version. You do, however, get access to a host of online resources including training, help files, community access, and the Zoho blog.

This may or may not be sufficient for your needs. Given that you can’t really customize very much in Zoho CRM’s free version; we think that if you and your staff are reasonably IT literate – this isn’t going to be a problem but if you find yourself struggling regularly with other internet based software; you might want to pay for a solution that includes customer support over the phone.

The Limits of Zoho CRM

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For a free package Zoho’s CRM offering is simply incredible. Small business on a mega-tight budget or with very simple CRM needs will be ecstatic with what’s provided. However, it’s fair to say that there a bunch of limitations with Zoho’s CRM that might be better overcome by paying for a CRM package.

The customer support limitations aren’t a deal breaker for technically literate businesses but without that aptitude we think it’s a bad idea to opt for a package without telephone customer support.

It’s very difficult to do anything beyond the standard feature set in Zoho CRM and there’s a distinct lack of bespoke reporting. If you need that kind of functionality – you’ll have to pay. We think there are better value paid plans than Zoho’s.

We also think that while Zoho CRM is easy to use that the interface might have been better designed. It’s not dreadful but there are times when things aren’t as intuitive or as simple as they could be.