(This article originally appeared in Forbes)
Paul Greenberg is a well-known author and expert on customer relationship management systems. He’s also the founder and Managing Principal of The 56 Group, LLC a CRM consulting firm that, for almost two decades, has published a list of the best CRM applications of the year. The list is closely watched by people in the know and a great resource for anyone in any-sized business looking to buy or enhance their company’s CRM system.
An extensive amount of work goes into preparing the list. For this year’s study, Greenberg’s firm received applications from 60 of the top CRM providers and reviewed more than 4,000 pages of data. CRMs were classified in different categories, but Greenberg’s focus is not merely on features or functions. For him, it’s about strategy.
“To win the award you have to show that in the year immediately before submission (same year) you had a significant impact on the market,” he writes in ZDNet. “And that you have the corporate infrastructure, strategy, and resources to sustain that impact over the next three years.”
Considering that my firm currently serves more than 150 companies using Zoho I think I can also give my take on it. I don’t purport that I’m intimately familiar with some of the other “winners of distinction” like Oracle, ServiceNow and Thunderhead. But I do know that Zoho is not only affordable but genuinely offers not just CRM, but an excellent business platform for small and midsized companies with advanced modules for project management, accounting, marketing and HR built around its core CRM application.
I have three types of clients that use Zoho. There are those that do contact, calendar and email management and that’s it because that’s all they can handle. I have a bunch of clients that take advantage of Zoho’s other modules with some customizations and third-party integrations. And I have a (very) few that really leverage Zoho’s quite powerful AI, developer and automation tools. The last two groups are my favorites, because…well…I’m a partner and I make money from services and those clients generally need our help.
You may think that because my firm is a Zoho partner this column would be a Zoho lovefest. Not entirely.
In addition to Zoho, my firm sells five other CRMs (a few that are also on Greenberg’s list) and, depending on the needs of a client, one or more of those other CRMs may be better suitable. For example, companies that are fully invested in Microsoft may be better candidates for Dynamics. Those that want a simple yet powerful sales-driven tool may be happy with Pipedrive. CRM decisions that being driven by marketers, rather than salespeople, may prefer HubSpot.
And besides, Zoho is far from perfect.
For example, I like to warn my clients about Zoho’s support. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired. Most of the company’s support comes out of India. For sure, the people are very nice and in the end support problems almost always get resolved. But it can be a long, frustrating process. Oftentimes there are communications issues. Sometimes I sense a lack of urgency. It’s all very polite and well-mannered. But it takes time to find the right person to fix problems. I shouldn’t complain though, right? When our clients need support they generally turn to us, rather than deal with Zoho and that’s billable work. But frankly, it’s not the kind of billable work we want.
Another warning: the product management team at Zoho, like other cloud providers, seems to take enjoyment by throwing surprises at their users. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning and discover that the company made on-the-fly changes to its interface overnight so that I’m scratching my head and wondering what happened to a button or drop down that was once there and is not, or now behaves differently. Or doesn’t work anymore. And then…days later…it magically resolves.
As a Zoho partner I have a strong sense that I’m competing with Zoho for business. This is a common channel partner conflict issue and Zoho needs to do a better job resolving it. We’ve been selling the product since 2014 and have many clients. But unfortunately the company gives us no leads and they don’t offer our services to existing customers — services that can help those customers continue to happily use the platform for a longer time. They do provide lots of training and technical resources for their partners. But the company has to decide if it’s a channel company or not. At the very least, they should be open to partnering more with their experienced channel partners, regardless of their size.
For what it’s worth, I share all of this — the pros and cons — with prospective clients when they’re evaluating Zoho. But I also share something else: besides being a partner, my ten-person firm is a customer. We use Zoho. It is a mission critical system. And the good news, is that overall it’s reliable and critical to my business. I’m eating the dog food and I like it. A lot.
Which is why I can’t argue with Greenberg’s choice of Zoho as the best CRM of 2022. No CRM is perfect and there are a lot of great candidates. But I do like the firm’s business platform strategy and I’m hoping they can pull it off. And even with its flaws, Zoho is pretty darn good.