Zoho Expands Free Offerings to Help SMBs Grow into CRM

Zoho today announced the addition of new features to its free CRM solution, and increased the number of users per company who can run the program without being charged. Originally limited to three free members, the company upped that number to 10, partly as a nod to the solution's 10-year anniversary.

The new features, which were available previously only in the company's CRM Plus, include a file managing module, which will enable the safe sharing of important sales documents; security options, which can empower administrators to set roles and permissions for other users; support for up to 25,000 customer cases; and integration into other Zoho apps, such as Support, Campaigns, Reports, Survey, SalesIQ, and Projects.

For Zoho, the upgraded edition is another attempt to make CRM offerings widely available and affordable to smaller businesses. "Over the past decade, CRM software has become one of the most critical applications for businesses of all sizes," Raju Vegesna, Zoho evangelist, said in a statement. "Yet the majority of CRM solutions do not meet the price or ease-of-use requirements of many small and medium-sized businesses."

Though Zoho bolstered its services to meet the demands of the enterprise as recently as 2013, the free offering is still designed with smaller outfits in mind. Analysts agree that for SMBs, the platform is indeed a valuable stepping stone. "For companies with under ten users, [Zoho offers] a lot of technology that can help a business grow," Denis Pombriant, founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, says.

"A lot of organizations will grow into Zoho as they succeed," Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, agrees.

Brent Leary, founder of CRM Essentials, suggests that its offerings are convenient for companies looking to make use of the essential elements of CRM. He calls this "a great on ramp for small businesses just starting to use CRM," holding that there are not many free services available which offer a suite of options all in one place. "You can do a lot of stuff within the context of Zoho without having to pay too much," Leary says.

When asked if there are any competing programs available for smaller businesses, Pombriant pointed out that "Salesforce offers a very attractive free offering through its foundation to nonprofits and [that] the user count is not limited." He adds that "anyone can get a free copy of SugarCRM and host it on owned servers or IaaS servers, so there are some competing offers."

A $12 monthly fee will be charged for each additional seat over 10 (meaning that if there are 12 users, the company would then be charged $144). Vegesna holds that the new free offerings will be up to par with those expected from the CRM Plus edition.

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