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Are You Ready to Zwitch to Zoho?
The productivity suite provider integrates email and CRM, beefs up its Projects application, and entices Salesforce.com users to switch over.
Posted Aug 4, 2009
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Did you miss the latest upgrade from Zoho? Maybe you blinked -- in fact, you may have missed more than one.

Zoho, the upstart provider of online Web applications, seems to be continually integrating and upgrading its products in the cloud, says China Martens, an analyst with The 451 Group. Martens jokes that it's as if all of the Zoho developers sit in separate rooms for several months, each one pounding away at his respective application (Zoho Mail, for example, or Zoho CRM), only to have the walls come tumbling down just as the developers are ready to join their applications.

The joke may have a basis in fact: Raju Vegesna, Zoho's key evangelist, says that taking down those application walls is the company's primary goal. "We are focusing more on integration within native applications," he says. To date, Zoho offers 10 productivity applications, such as Zoho Mail and Zoho Chat, and nine business applications, such as Zoho CRM and Zoho Invoice. 

The vendor is making noise in the following areas:

Zoho Projects 2.0:

Unveiled at the start of July, the 2.0 release of Zoho Projects, the collaboration and productivity platform, reflects multiple integration efforts, as well as the following improvements:

  • Twitter-like status bars enable project members to be more social within the application.
  • Project-member activities are presented in a project stream, which is a visual representation of project activities.  
  • The integration of Zoho Chat and the enablement of group chat, through which project members can add tasks, assign them out, and even attach documents to them. Members can also move beyond Chat to create a discussion forum.
  • An expansion of the user interface to allow project members to bring in external information, write notes on documents, and assign documents to a particular task.
  • The ability to create a wiki for centralizing information, eliminating the need to import an outside Zoho Doc. 
  • The addition of a timesheet, integrated with Zoho Invoice, to log and track time spent on specific tasks, and to easily create, send, and track invoices.

Zoho CRM + Zoho Mail Integration:

Zoho also made some significant enhancements to its Zoho CRM product recently. With the Zoho CRM Mail Add-on, officially announced on July 21, Zoho CRM now integrates with email -- and not just Zoho Mail. The selection of any email account for integration will add an "email" tab to the Zoho CRM application. Users running off a non-Zoho email client can configure Zoho Mail to be the interface for sending and receiving. According to the company, the most significant element of the integration between Zoho CRM and Zoho Mail is that the contact information involved in each email is automatically added to the Zoho CRM system, where a user can see all of the correspondence with a particular contact. Users can respond to email from within the CRM system, or even add tasks to a given contact. 

"It's an important integration," Vegesna says, one that he notes will aid in attracting Salesforce.com customers.

Martens agrees: "The people who don't live in CRM? They live in their email." Martens also underscores the importance of another recent Zoho upgrade: The allowance, back in February, of single sign-on for CRM.

Zoho's Zwitch-to-Salesforce.com Program:

"We do about 34 migrations, if not more, every day from Salesforce.com to Zoho CRM," Vegesna reveals. "[Migrating users] like the application and the functionality that Zoho brings. They also like the price because it's free for first three users and [each additional user] is $12 per user per month." Hoping to capitalize on the perception of migration experience, Zoho has launched a new marketing campaign: The Zwitch program for Salesforce.com. The program, designed to ease the migration of Salesforce.com users to Zoho CRM, includes the following:

  • A free assessment of the Salesforce.com customer's needs;
  • free data-migration services;
  • a no-commitment, 15-day, free-trial period for new users; and
  • a credit for as much as six months of remaining time on the Salesforce.com contract, should the customer decide to switch to Zoho beyond the trial period.

"In a world where [software-as-a-service] solutions are becoming the predominant way that people deploy CRM, it does make it easier to switch -- at least psychologically," says Laurie McCabe, a partner with Hurwitz & Associates. "With a switch from Salesforce[.com] to Zoho, users are not going to have to deploy new software and configure it. The hidden cost is the user-adoption-and-training issue that you will have to go through all [over] again." 

The Zwitch program was launched on July 21, and Vegesna declines to share any early figures with regard to newly acquired customers. He does say, however, that activity among potential partners seems to be picking up. "Interestingly, some of the Salesforce[.com] channel partners are approaching us, evaluating us, and even becoming Zoho channel partners," Vegesna says, despite the fact that Salesforce.com is able to give them better margins. Vegesna makes clear that channel partners aren't the company's goal. "We are more about being user-friendly rather than partner-friendly," he says.

OpenID:

Zoho might be scavenging a bit on the Salesforce.com front; however, the company's relationship with Google might be blossoming more as a friendship than rivalry. Google recently announced a boost to its OpenID support -- a function that enables a user to log in to third-party platforms using a Google Apps custom domain. Although Zoho has yet to formally announce its plans to allow for OpenID, Vegesna more than hints at the possibility that Google Apps users will likely soon be able to sign into Zoho with their Google accounts. 

There are more opportunities than threats with Google's decision to embrace OpenID. "We complement Google Apps users on the business front," Vegesna says, underscoring the fact that, while Google might have applications (such as Gmail and Google Docs) that overlap with Zoho offerings, what the search-engine giant does not have is CRM -- which Vegesna says is what really counts. "Business [applications are] where we make money," he says. "No one's going to pay you for email -- we're just as happy if users stick with Google." 

Speaking of ID, let's not forget to identify the other big-name news from Zoho, namely the change in name for its parent company, from AdventNet to Zoho Corp., which took place in May. According to a corporate statement, the top-level adoption of "Zoho" represents "the evolution of the company and the emergence of Zoho as its widely known division."

[Editors' Note: Due to an editing error, an incomplete version of this article appeared earlier today; the editors regret any inconvenience or confusion this may have caused.]

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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