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Zoho CRM Review: Best Free CRM Software

Zoho CRM Review: Best Free CRM Software
Credit: Zoho

Our 2018 research and analysis of customer relationship management software (CRM) leads us to again recommend Zoho CRM as the best free CRM software for small businesses. We chose Zoho CRM from dozens of CRM software options. To understand how we chose Zoho CRM, you can find our methodology and a list of CRM software vendors on our best picks page.

The free version of Zoho CRM is a great choice for businesses that are looking for a cost-effective CRM software that has all the core functionalities a small business requires. Features include lead gathering, contact management, workflow automation, analytics, social collaboration and a robust set of tools to help you turn opportunities into sales. 

This software is best for very small businesses that require a simple CRM solution, specifically, those with no more than 10 employees. Because it's a free software, Zoho CRM is also a budget-friendly way for businesses that aren't sure about CRM software to test- drive one and figure out if it's worth the investment.

This means the free version of Zoho CRM is not a suitable software for quickly growing businesses or those that aim to expand, as it has many limitations and does not offer advanced capabilities or complex processes that a growing business typically needs. Instead, a more customizable and scalable solution would be the better choice. To learn more about paid CRM software and to determine if investing in one may be a better choice for your business, see our comparison at the bottom of this review or check out our roundup of the best CRM software.

While many free CRM software have limited features, the free version of Zoho CRM is packed with the necessary capabilities to help small businesses start, build and grow relationships with customers.

Here are some of the features the free version of Zoho CRM has to offer:

Multi-user. Whereas other free CRM software products allow only a few users before requiring you to pay, Zoho CRM lets you onboard up to 10 members of your team absolutely free.

360-view. Like its paid version, the free Zoho CRM stores and displays all the critical information you need to make wise business decisions. It delivers a 360-degree view of contacts, sales cycles and pipelines to help you drive sales, take care of customers, discover trends, identify opportunities and more. 

Automation. From lead generation to managing contacts, opportunities and workflow, the software lets you manage and automate tasks so you can spend more time selling and less time performing mundane, repetitive tasks. Calendars and call logs can also be automated to help you save time and be more productive. 

Collaboration. Zoho CRM can also function as a social media platform to help your staff collaborate and be better at their jobs. It includes a newsfeed where team members can post status updates and share files, as well as a direct messaging feature.

Social CRM. Zoho CRM integrates with Twitter and Facebook to automatically link contacts to their social media accounts. Doing so lets you connect with contacts and see their updates, as well as access the latest interactions they have had with you on social media, right from your dashboard.

Mobile CRM. Access customer data wherever you are with the Zoho CRM mobile app. You can view everything from leads and opportunities to accounts, contacts, tasks, events, messages, calls and more. An offline mode is also available if you find yourself without an Internet connection. The app is available for iOS and Android tablets and smartphones. 

Third-party integration. Zoho CRM connects with a wide range of third-party apps and services to help you integrate your CRM data with the rest of your operations. For example, if you use Google Apps, Zoho CRM works seamlessly with Gmail, Google Calendar and Google tasks — the Zoho CRM gadget lets you save Gmail messages right into your software, as well as export events and tasks into their respective apps.

Analytics. Track sales and measure your business's and employees' performance with a wide range of reporting capabilities. 

Security. Zoho CRM gives you control over who can do what with your software. In addition to creating individual profiles for users, you can also assign roles, control access and impose restrictions.

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM software for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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Other benefits

Zoho CRM is just one of the many services Zoho offers. By using Zoho CRM, you also have access to the entire Zoho suite of productivity tools. Zoho's business solutions include project management app Projects, email marketing solution Campaigns, accounting software Books, collaboration tool Meeting, and many more.

The biggest advantage of this is that Zoho CRM integrates seamlessly with other Zoho products, so you can automatically sync CRM-related data between solutions and efficiently manage your business from a single platform.

Because Zoho CRM is just one of Zoho's line of business solutions, you can take advantage of the company's comprehensive customer support resources. These include:

  • help desk system and customer self-service portal where you can submit tickets by filling out a Web form.
  • Social media support by tweeting your issues to @zohocares.
  • Documentations like eBooks and a User Guide to help you get started, understand its features and learn how to make the most out of the software.
  • A searchable Knowledge Base with frequently asked questions and solutions for common problems.
  • community forum where you can browse issues or reach out to Zoho CRM users and experts for help.
  • Weekly webinars and tutorial videos covering key features.
  • Zoho Blogs for the latest news, updates and changes to the software and the rest of the Zoho platform.

We were also informed by our sales rep that the Zoho team offers one-on-one live demos of the software. The entire session takes about an hour and is held via a Web conference. You can request this demo by emailing sales@zohocorp.com.

Although Zoho CRM is an excellent CRM software for small business, it is nowhere near perfect. As a free CRM software, it comes with many limitations — or deal-breakers — that may make a paid software a better choice for your business.

Here are the main drawbacks we found to using the free version of Zoho CRM:

  • Lacks customization. One of the biggest drawbacks to the free version of Zoho CRM is that it doesn't come with a lot of customization options. So if you need to tailor the software to your business's unique needs — such as by adding custom reports, your own functions and additional modules — you'll need to purchase the most expensive plan, which costs $35 per user per month.
  • Clunky interface. We tried Zoho CRM ourselves and, like some small business owners told us, it felt clunky and not as intuitive as other software we considered. Our initial impression is that it takes too many steps to perform simple tasks, and navigating each section took some time to get used to. Nonetheless, we still found it relatively easy to use. There is a simple navigation bar at the top of the dashboard that contains a tab for each function, such as Leads, Accounts, Contacts and more. There is also a simple button that lets you add new items in just one click, as well as a search bar to help you easily find content.
  • Customer service. Although there are several ways to get help using Zoho CRM, the free version doesn't come with phone support. The company's 24-hour (Monday to Friday) toll-free phone support is available only to users with a paid account, so you're out of luck if you need to speak to someone ASAP. Additionally, we have been told that Zoho's help desk system can be extremely slow or unresponsive even after submitting multiple tickets, so you shouldn't expect to get help from a representative right away.

To give you a better idea of whether a paid CRM software is better for your business, here's how Zoho CRM compares with our other top picks for the best CRM software:

Insightly. Our pick for the best CRM software for very small businesses, Insightly is an easy to use, affordable and customizable alternative to the free version of Zoho CRM.

  • Easy to use. One of the things business users love about Insightly is its easy-to-use interface that anyone can understand, without any tech skills. Insightly also offers a day-long in-person or online training program, so you don't have to train employees yourself.
  • Best pricing. Starting at only $12 per month, Insightly's paid plans come with all the features you need in a CRM software, as well as custom branding, unlimited storage, unlimited users and a wide range of third-party integrations. It also comes with priority customer support. Users have easy access to a real, live Insightly representative by email, submitting a help ticket, requesting a call back or calling Insightly directly using a toll-free number.
  • Customization. Unlike Zoho CRM, Insightly is highly scalable and customizable to your business's needs — because it is a comprehensive CRM software, you can start by using just the basic features, then implement advanced functionalities as your business grows. Moreover, Insightly also offers its own API, which allows developers to further customize the software by natively integrating it with apps and other tools that you use, but aren't currently supported by Insightly.

Note that there is also a free version of Insightly. Whereas the free version of Zoho CRM supports up to 10 users and no customer support, the free Insightly plan is only available for up three users, but comes with free customer support. [Learn more: Insightly Review]

Salesforce. If you're looking for a robust, full-featured and highly customizable CRM software, Salesforce is a better choice for you. Our top pick for the best CRM software for small business, Salesforce comes with all the core functions you need in a CRM software, but is also equipped with all the advanced capabilities a growing small business could ask for. There are also endless customization options with hundreds of third-party integrations to expand Salesforce's existing features, make it work with solutions you already use, and cater it to your business's unique needs.

We also like how easy Salesforce is to use. When we tried the software, we liked its intuitive design and that it was a breeze to navigate the software. The dashboard is also customizable — for instance, you can move tabs and widgets around to fit your preferences — so you can make it look exactly the way you want it to, which is a great bonus that improves the user experience.

Finally, as one of the largest and most well-known names in business tech, Salesforce comes with one of the best customer support systems in the industry. In addition to user guides, online documentations, videos and a community page, Salesforce subscribers also have access to live customer support by phone and live chat, as well as a nationwide network of Salesforce experts and developers to help you use and get the most out of the software. [Read our: Salesforce Review]

If you find that you do like the free version of Zoho CRM, but need more functionality, the company also offers paid plans that start at $12 per user per month. This plan offers everything in the free version and includes other features such as sales forecasting, customizable reports, marketing campaigns, mass email capabilities and more. To upgrade from free plan to a paid version, just log in to your account, then click on the Upgrade button. You'll be taken to the Subscription page, where you can choose your plan and complete the purchase. 

The Zoho rep we spoke with also pointed out that Zoho CRM uses a monthly or yearly pay-as-you-go model, meaning there are no contracts. While many CRM software products lock you down for the long term by requiring a fixed service agreement, Zoho CRM gives you more freedom, making it easy to change your plan or switch to a different provider if it doesn't fulfill your needs.

Ready to choose a CRM software? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Additional reporting by Sara Angeles.

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM software for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free.

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Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro, Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.