I’ve spent the last 5 years working with Zoho CRM, assessing feature set after feature set and comparing it with other CRM vendors. The problem with this methodology is that it’s really only half the battle when looking to invest a portion of your business on the correct product vendor and business operating system. The issue with making decisions based on each product feature set is that a CRM, though it has short term impacts on your business, is very much a long term investment. Feature sets change, typically for the better, over a short term period of time and so do the requirements for your business. Investing in a CRM system as your business operating system should be treated in the same regard as investing in personal real estate or a 401K. You should be asking yourself, “what is the investment potential over the next 10 years or greater?”
I’ve compiled a list of items for why Zoho as an organization is a great company in which to invest your business's future growth and standardization, none of which are directly related to its current product feature sets.
1. A Product Based on Value, Not on Profit
Over the last 5 years, Zoho has made significant strides in its business products. They’ve not only continued to make Zoho CRM (their flagship product) more competitive with Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, but they have continued to maintain the same price point. Well, for the most part, actually lowering their price point. For much of the technology industry now, there is such an influence of short term IPO’s and either high margins or large investment opportunities. This focus drives growth for what is many times a short term product in a minimal niche. The drive tends to be focused on the sale and valuation, not so much for the overall end user and product sets themselves.
Though I can’t speak for Zoho’s profit margins, I can speak to their internal investment in the company and the mentality of their privately funded organization. I visited their headquarters in Chennai, India in 2014. At that time, they had about 7 stories total scattered in a business complex just outside of downtown Chennai. Their teams were much smaller back then, about 100 for Zoho CRM, and a smaller set for each of their other products.
After a visit in late 2017, their Zoho CRM team has tripled in size strictly for development, not to mention their added teams for sales, marketing, content development, and partner relations. They also now have an entire estate owned strictly by Zoho, not a scattered set of suites across multiple buildings. This investment is important because of how they have invested in getting their teams and products to work together across all of their products, especially in lieu of the release of Zoho One, their integrated suite of business applications.
The biggest point here is that through all of this investment internally within Zoho, the product prices have significantly dropped with the release of Zoho One (instead of increasing, as many other CRM products do when adding more features). Keep in mind also that processing and storage costs exponentially drop over time as hardware for these types of applications becomes more readily available.
2. Ever-Evolving & Integrated Business Suite, Not Best of Breed Applications
Taken from the words of Vijay Sundaram, Zoho’s Chief Strategy Officer, “We have experts dedicated and passionate about making each of our products the best product in its category on the market, regardless of what they are up against. I know personally that our Zoho Sheets team is passionate about making Zoho Sheets the best damn Sheets tool on the market, even though they are up against Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.” A bold statement for competing against the gorilla’s like Microsoft and Google, however, when you are dedicated to developing an individual product as much as you are the integrations between that product all of the 35+ other products in your business suite, you can successfully create a glue that many other applications lack across the market. I’ve lost track of how many conversations I’ve had as a solutions engineer discussing how to sync data from one 3rd party application to the next. Though this is sometimes a necessary evil to overcome, Zoho is doing everything in their power to make a group of applications that integrates without having to integrate outside of the Zoho Platform. All of this being said, they still maintain a set of open API’s to make their platform open to other applications for integration.
In the last 5 years of working with Zoho, they have significantly accelerated their feature release schedule, increased their overall quality assurance, and increased their SLA. They have added 10+ products within the last two years, all without compromising their current application set or removing focus on their flagship products like Zoho CRM. They have significantly grown in the business suite marketplace, gathering much more significant praise from software rating firms like PCMag, G2 Crowd, and Gartner. They have increased their presence from the Small Business applications market, to the Mid Market and Enterprise Market. All of this, while continuing to tout the fact that Zoho, a 5,000 employee organization with multiple departments, runs on Zoho’s suite of applications.
3. Invest in a Product, not a Sales & Marketing Team
Because Zoho is a private organization, you will not be able to verify most of where their internal revenue spend is allocated on a yearly basis. However, if you attempt to quantify their spend based on observation, you’ll start to understand that their is a significant fundamental difference in where they are allocating funds, and it’s really a fairly clear output, though not exact.
If you look at a few of the other competitors, mainly Salesforce, you will notice that a large chunk of their overall revenue is spent on Sales and Marketing, typically around 50% year after year. There is no doubt that this has been a very successful tactic for them as they have continued to own the CRM marketplace since they ultimately created it over 15 years ago. This does, however, leave an opening for Zoho to make an impact in a much different manner. Since they are a private firm, they do not have as much of an overall investment to spend on any one item more than another. Where they choose to allocate a self proclaimed 75-80% of their overall spend, is on research and development. Yes, the majority of Zoho’s investment goes back into the product, and the product growth represents this investment. They’ve rapidly released a number of new features and packages creating seamless integration between their products. One to highlight is their sales suite, Zoho CRM Plus, which Cloudbakers considers to be the flagship suite for Zoho’s overall growth in the market. Cloudbakers focuses heavily on Zoho CRM Plus, as it's helped a number of clients scale their marketing and sales teams effectively under one platform.
4.Continuous Development and Experience
To piggyback on point number 3, Zoho has now invested a significant amount of time and finances into their employees. Contrary to the stereotypical Indian-based organization, Zoho has an extremely high employee retention rate to go with a significant employee satisfaction rate. From a personal perspective, I have known many of the Zoho employees personally since Cloudbakers began to deploy Zoho’s products some 6+ years ago. Since then, every employee that I have worked with remains at Zoho. Some have moved departments internally, but nevertheless is working at same organization, towards the same overall mission. This speaks to not only Zoho’s consistent development in the growth of its products, but the growth and investment in its people. This investment has begun to pay off significantly as Zoho’s products, namely CRM and the Zoho Sales based suite of applications, have experienced leaders in developing products that solve relevant business applications in the market. If you speak with any of these product managers or developers personally, their passion for their role in Zoho is overwhelming in the way that they discuss their Zoho Experience.
Call us at (312) 448-7406 for a free planning session to see how we can help with your evaluation of CRM, whether you’re interested in Zoho or other Salesforce competitors. If you decide to move forward with Zoho, we can also help with your implementation, migration, and the quality of your transition. With hundreds of successful cloud migrations under our belts with companies such as Levolor, PerfectCLEAN, and Fore Golf Partners, we've tackled and solved some of the most complex processes. Just ask for details when you call!Originally published on October 25, 2017