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Two of the earliest competitors in the Customer Relationship Management space are Zoho CRM and Salesforce. These two software platforms have very different origins and positions but are both currently highly popular choices for small business owners and the leadership of larger businesses alike.
Zoho offers bundles for CRM, finances, workplace management, HR, IT management, and marketing. On top of that, they offer custom bundles for your perfect business solution. This means that Zoho CRM is a strong competitor in the business apps market, even compared to Salesforce.
Salesforce has been spearheading the CRM Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market since 1999. Since then, through a couple of strategic acquisitions and mergers, Salesforce has added many more tools to its arsenal to become one of the best-known and most comprehensive CRM platforms in the world.
Let's begin by making a quick comparison between Zoho CRM and Salesforce.
In terms of business applications, there's a wide variety of CRM options for your sales team and cross-departmental team collaboration.
Besides the monthly price or annual plan, you should also consider the user interface and its ease of use, what other people are saying in customer reviews, the various integration options with third-party apps, and what kinds of task automation options each platform offers. Another important feature to consider is whether the CRM platform offers email integration with the email client you're using at your company.
But first, let's get back to basics.
CRM is an acronym for Customer Relationship Management, but also describes a software category for tools that assist with the sales process.
In other words, when we speak of "a CRM", we mean a tool for customer relationship management. This is a general term used in the SaaS market, but perhaps you already knew this!
It's vital to understand what exactly a CRM is supposed to do in order for you to make business decisions around the platform you'll be using. Nowadays, CRM platforms are very comprehensive and cover almost every aspect of your business processes.
It's a good idea to decide based on core CRM features first before considering the other advanced features that a particular CRM has to offer.
You might even realize that you don't need a full-fledged CRM, but rather an HRMS, project management tool, or simply a whiteboarding tool. It all depends on the nature of your business and your company culture.
One of the essential basic features that any CRM should offer is contact management. Sales teams use CRM tools to build up a strong contact base through advanced lead capture and to keep track of the communication history with potential customers.
The contact management feature ensures that your sales reps stay on top of deals and it also provides a central, cloud-based location to add customer information and meeting notes.
This kind of setup is often referred to as a "single source of truth," meaning that wherever customer information is entered in or garnered from elsewhere, the customer profile is constantly updated in real-time everywhere.
Your customer's journey with your company starts way before they talk to your sales team, though.
At the outset, your marketing team is casting the net with SEO, content, social media, and various other communications with potential customers.
When, where, and how leads come to your product is critical information for both your marketing and sales teams, which is why a centralized contact database should also be collaborative.
A team collaboration platform enables these teams to share information about conversions and customer churn and, ultimately, whether the right customer personas are being targeted in the first place.
You can expect any good CRM to give you standard reports on contacts and deal pipelines.
Advanced reporting features have also been introduced once it became more and more important for sales reps and marketing teams to work together with other departments to gain a more holistic understanding of the customer journey.
Since CRM hinges on understanding the customer and product-market fit, customized reporting with custom fields is another essential CRM feature.
This includes advanced analytics tools to help your team gain insights into conversion rates and the customer experience to find potential areas of improvement and generate more sales.
If you're struggling to find new business opportunities, customized reports are powerful tools for optimizing your strategy and operations across different departments.
If a CRM tool covers the basics of contact management and reporting, you can begin to consider the advanced features that a CRM has to offer.
Customer relationship management is not only for sales and marketing teams. Your operations, customer service, and HR teams can also benefit from a CRM with a wide range of advanced infrastructure features such as collaborative forecasting, inventory management, mass email, built-in customer feedback, and third-party integration (to name but a few).
This is true for small companies as well as larger businesses. CRM is not something you should only consider at a later stage of growth – it should be central to how you run your business as soon as you've gone to market.
A robust option for a CRM will include a few of these advanced features in its basic plan. However, additional functionalities most often form part of a premium or professional plan.
We've grouped advanced features into the following categories:
This includes features such as workflows, a range of integrations with third-party apps, and smart tools like chatbots and AI.
Basic marketing features such as email and social media integration, as well as higher-level features like CMS and content marketing, and advanced analytics. Key data visualization options should be considered as well, since your marketing and sales decisions should also be data-driven.
Lead-based features include generating sales leads (which also overlaps with marketing), forecasting sales, email sequences, quote and invoice handling, SLAs and sales document management, and reporting that provides insights on sales and team performance.
The real work begins once you land the deal. The customer service features that a CRM offers helps you with the customer onboarding process, as well as keeping in touch with your customer as their business needs develop.
Customer service features include a knowledge base with help documentation and videos, in-app or website support chat, a chat inbox to manage support queries and replies, as well as a ticketing system to log bugs and provide dedicated customer support.
There's a growing need for CRMs to handle more business operations. Some CRMs, like Salesforce, rely on seamless third-party apps and integrations like flair to add on HR features. Others, like Zoho CRM, opt to have HR features built into their platform.
HR management features include recruiting tools, careers page creation and hosting, employee database, employee self-service and document management platform, compliance checks, payroll and shift planning, goal-setting, and employee performance management.
Compared to Salesforce, Zoho CRM claims to have been built with a bottom-up approach, meaning that their solutions are pre-packaged with minimal need to purchase additional apps to perform specific advanced CRM tasks.
Salesforce, on the other hand, is connected to a much bigger ecosystem of third-party apps and integrations, which means you can tailor the platform to your specific needs and the other apps that you're already using. This could also lead to the user experience feeling a bit disjointed.
Another main difference to consider is that Zoho CRM offers a free trial and a free version, which you can use forever until you recognize the need for their premium features.
Salesforce doesn't offer a free version but does offer a 30-day free trial with no credit card details required.
Then, there's the question of usability. Zoho CRM's interface is more minimal than Salesforce's, giving it a more contemporary visual appeal. Further, you can use Zoho CRM's Canvas drag-and-drop tool to customize the fonts, colors, and layout to personalize your CRM experience.
Salesforce offers custom branding and themes to personalize your CRM and dashboards independently, making it easy to change the look and feel of your CRM in a few minutes.
Image Source: Salesforce Help
You can also use IT management tools to understand how employees are using Zoho CRM at your company, with security features to ensure your IT network stays safe. Salesforce doesn't offer built-in IT management tools, but it should be possible to set this up for your company with their extensive customization options.
Even though Zoho, previously known as AdventNet Inc., has been around since 1996 as an IT management service provider, it wasn't until 2005 that they launched their CRM SaaS platform.
It makes sense, then, that they offer extra features with custom modules for your company's IT management, accounting, business insights, and remote working on top of a world-class CRM.
Being a SaaS platform, you can sign up on a month-to-month basis or pay for a year upfront. They also offer a basic free version with mobile capabilities, but more on that later!
Managing contacts using Zoho CRM is relatively easy since it provides a wide range of useful tools for logging calls, taking notes, and setting follow-up tasks.
You can also import thousands of records to populate your CRM from other sources quickly. With advanced filters, you can speedily find the relevant contacts you'd like to reach.
Zoho CRM offers great reports for managing your sales performance and understanding your customers at a glance.
You can customize Zoho reports to track the specific metrics you'd like to measure, and there are also handy dashboards and templates for you to use.
Image Source: Zoho Analytics
Zoho CRM has an industry-standard app marketplace to integrate with business tools that you're already using across categories like remote work, productivity, education, finance, and more.
Zoho's third-party integrations allow you to add extra features you may need when using Zoho CRM, such as Google Drive for document sharing or Zoom for meetings.
You can also easily filter by free or paid apps so that there are no hidden costs when you add integrations.
Image Source: Zoho Marketplace
Increase productivity by using workflow rules to automate opportunity management and other processes. Zoho's AI, Zia, assists you across modules to ensure you make the most of every feature.
You can also build your own custom social listening tool to get insights into what your potential customers are saying on social media.
Zoho's automation intelligence features already make it an attractive option for CRM.
One of Zoho's major selling points is its social media integration, enabling you to create new leads in the CRM directly from social media accounts. Social media monitoring allows your team to get an overview of interactions and sentiment from customers and non-clients, ultimately painting the big picture of our brand positioning. You can also like, reshare or comment on posts straight from Zoho CRM.
Image Source: Zoho CRM
Create marketing campaigns, auto-responders, and send mass emails to keep your marketing funnel flowing. At the same time, Zoho CRM makes it even easier for you with marketing email templates and customer segmentation.
Accessing an accurate, real-time view of customer interactions is critical for keeping up with hot new deals.
Zoho CRM's SalesSignals feature makes that happen by putting all customer touches in one timeline for you to track and follow up on.
Image Source: Zoho CRM
You can use Zoho Bookings to integrate your calendar and manage your customer meetings. This feature also offers the ability for customers to pay for bookings if you're selling a service.
Zoho Desk is the knowledge base tool you can use to build your own customized customer help desk with Zoho CRM.
It also offers a live chat tool and inbox to manage customer support queries, which you can do on the web and mobile.
Image Source: Zoho Desk
Zoho People Plus has all the tools you need for effective HR management, such as employee onboarding, 360-degree feedback, time and attendance tracking, and an internal employee portal.
You can also automate routine HR tasks, such as recruiting new employees and extracting critical information from CVs.
It's crucial to note that their payroll feature only works for India-based companies and employees.
Image Source: Zoho People Plus
When considering pricing, Zoho has some of the most affordable plans for CRM.
Zoho CRM starts at $12 per user per month if you sign up on their yearly plan. The most you'll pay for the Ultimate package is $55 per user per month.
Their pricing does start to get confusing when you see the options for Zoho CRM Plus (a "unified customer experience platform") starting at $50 per user per month, and Zoho One (an all-in-one business software) starting at $90 per user per month.
Zoho is a much more affordable option for companies looking for an all-in-one solution that doesn't cost a fortune to implement and maintain.
Their free package covers the basic features for CRM plus a few advanced features such as workflows, document sharing, and website visitor tracking. There are three user seats in the free package; if you need to add more users, you will need to upgrade your account.
Zoho CRM tries to make it as simple as possible for you to get help with using their platform and various modules. They have a helpful knowledge base and also offer 24/7 live support.
However, there seems to be a trend in complaints regarding the complexity of their platform and the UI/UX differences between modules, which means a steep learning curve each time your company expands.
Image Source: Capterra
As mentioned, Salesforce has been a leader in the CRM category for decades. Their focus is on sales automation and optimization.
Over the years, they've added more modules to expand their CRM product offering to include an all-in-one suite of tools to help businesses understand their customer fully and be there at every step of the customer journey.
This product offering is aptly called Customer 360 and is a layer of reporting that spans across all their modules, with the help of Slack, to cover every part of a customer's interaction with your company.
What this means for your business is that you can use Salesforce to track and analyze each sale, from lead status to conversion to customer support. And, it doesn't stop there.
Once you've welcomed a new customer, you've embarked on an ongoing partnership called customer success.
You nurture the relationship by listening to customer pain points when using your product, monitoring user feedback and tracking referrals, finding ways to market new offerings, and keeping in touch with news and latest releases – the list goes on! Salesforce helps with all of these and more.
Customer relationship management doesn't only infer the customer's relationship with the company or brand, but also their relationship with your team.
That's why you can also make use of Salesforce's app integration with flair to manage human resources and maintain high employee engagement.
Salesforce's contact management features enable you to create detailed profiles of every contact connected to deals and companies.
Salesforce automatically pulls in the social feed of your contact so that you can scan through what they're saying about your product on social media.
This means you get an overview of their lead status at a glance so that you can quickly make decisions on the next steps.
Contact management is also available on mobile, which helps you prepare for meetings with real-time information while on the go.
Image Source: Fit Small Business
Seeing as Salesforce is the very first CRM SaaS, it's expected that their reporting is one of their biggest selling points.
You can create infinite customized reports on sales metrics, business operations, customer service, marketing analytics, and team management.
Salesforce, together with flair, offers a powerful feature for HR management reporting. These reports cover essential needs-to-know, such as hiring and employee turnover statistics, overall happiness based on employee feedback, and HR budgets.
Salesforce AppExchange is an integrations marketplace that gives you access to thousands of third-party apps, such as HR tools and accounting software.
The Salesforce marketplace is the most extensive app integration ecosystem for CRM, which means that you can plug in almost any other software tool you're already using at your company.
Sales Cloud provides intelligent sales features, such as workflows and approval automation, so your sales reps can focus on making personal customer contact.
Pardot, the Salesforce marketing automation tool, enables you to set up triggers to automate repetitive tasks and alert you when leads complete specific actions.
Salesforce also offers an AI assistant called Einstein to help you recognize essential data and provide actionable next steps.
As mentioned, Pardot is a marketing automation tool that Salesforce acquired to run its Marketing Cloud.
Marketing Cloud is all about powering engagement through social media integration, creating and scheduling social media posts, and automating mass email campaigns.
Salesforce Marketing Cloud includes their Content Builder tool, which is a drag-and-drop CMS that empowers you to create attention-grabbing emails and beautiful landing pages with rich content.
Salesforce Sales Cloud helps you manage customer accounts and get a clear overview of your sales pipeline. Using AI, Sales Cloud enables you to predict future success with sales forecasting tools.
Considering today's work climate, virtual selling has become a focus area. Through their acquisition of Slack, Salesforce has created a powerful way for sales reps to stay in touch with clients in real-time and complete sales tasks.
With Salesforce Sales Cloud features you can also set up workflow automation for automating sales processes and keep your team as productive as possible, whether working remotely or at the office.
Salesforce Service Cloud enables your customer service team to make support calls, offer email and chat support, and create a customized knowledge base of your product or service.
All the interactions your support agents have with customers are updated in the CRM so that sales and marketing can address the customer appropriately.
No one wants to be sold on a new product offering if they're still awaiting an issue to be resolved on the current product they're using! Service Cloud helps to keep your entire team in the loop with customer pain points.
You can use Salesforce for HR by using flair – one of the first HR apps on AppExchange. With our extensive customization options, our platform gives you the tools to track and manage absences and working hours, plan shifts, and prepare and run payroll.
Another powerful feature that Salesforce offers with flair, is that you can easily manage employees' workloads and optimize shift scheduling based on the Skills Matrix – a visualized grid of the various skills your workforce offers.
This means you can play your team to their strengths and keep employees engaged by assigning work to them that they are most skilled at.
Salesforce also offers some baked-in HR management features, such as Employee Service, a highly customizable employee self-service portal that handles onboarding and internal support tickets.
What's remarkable about this feature is that it enables you to create a tailored L&D solution for training and developing employees using myTrailhead.
Once you've created your learning modules, you can also solicit employee feedback to improve courses and identify new growth opportunities.
Salesforce offers bundled packages based on your industry, as well as special deals for startups and NGOs.
The Essentials basic packages start at $25 per user per month (there is no free version of Salesforce).
If you'd like to get a feel for Salesforce, but you're not ready to commit financially, make use of their no-strings-attached 30-day free trial.
Salesforce is most often thought of as enterprise-level software, but it doesn't only offer tools for enterprises.
Salesforce is equally useful for smaller companies. However, its comprehensive software might present some challenges in terms of implementation.
If you purchased Salesforce from one of their many worldwide software partners, there would probably be an account executive already assigned to you to make sure the software is a success at your company.
There are also various implementation consultants who can help. Otherwise, Salesforce has put together a handy guide for implementing new CRM software at your company.
Image Source: Capterra
Either Zoho CRM or Salesforce is a good business option, as both pack incredible tools and automation capabilities for enterprises and small to medium businesses to successfully manage and automate their sales, marketing, and customer service processes.
Both of these CRMs offer an impressive selection of features and integration options, especially when comparing Salesforce's Sales Cloud to Zoho CRM's SalesSignals.
With the latest addition of Salesforce Customer 360, this platform has become a much more customer service-focused CRM, which is good news for your business if you decide to take the plunge with Salesforce.
Zoho CRM is the more affordable option for budget-sensitive teams or smaller companies and startups looking for a free platform with great features to start with their customer relationship management.
Since IT management is integrated into Zoho CRM, it's also a good choice for companies that don't have dedicated tech teams or IT departments that can handle network security and device monitoring at work.
Salesforce is the better, sales-focused option for large companies and smaller companies expecting exponential growth. Their modular roll-out process allows you to add what your business needs as you grow.
If you're not looking for a CRM with an integrated HR and payroll system, then Zoho CRM might be the right fit for you. However, we highly recommend you consider taking advantage of HR tools to build a solid team infrastructure, especially for larger teams.
A major setback with Zoho CRM is that their payroll function is only applicable in India, even though the Zoho People Plus platform is available in seventeen other languages besides English.
In this sense, Salesforce is the smarter choice since, through flair, it offers a robust HR platform that allows multiple languages and flexible payroll in various currencies.