While most online CRM software providers offer very limited or no free versions, Zoho continues to offer a full-featured Customer Relationship Management software that is free for up to 3 users.
Arguably one of the most valuable of Zoho’s online productivity applications, Zoho CRM allows you to organize and manage all of your sales, marketing, and customer service activities for your business. Their free edition has an abundance of functionality that is more than sufficient for many entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses.
The beauty of Zoho CRM, as with all Customer Relationship Management software, is that it is built on a relational database that lets you connect all of your different types of information. Contacts are associated to the accounts to which they belong, tasks are assigned to specific contacts, sales opportunities to accounts, etc. Each record type or “module” has its own tab where you can view records individually or in a list format.
You can create customized list views that are sorted and filtered for specific purposes. By filtering on the “Account Type” field for instance, you might create a list that shows all of your restaurant accounts (I was hungry at the time of writing this article).
One of my favorite features is the “Zoho Sheet View” which will let you edit your list in a spreadsheet format using Zoho Sheet. It makes for easy editing of multiple records at once.
The software is very flexible and configurable, allowing you to modify fields or add new ones that are relevant to your business. For example, if you sell services like landscaping or IT support, you might want to add a date field to your accounts called “renewal date“. You can add many types of fields including text, email, phone, pick list, website, and more.
The activities module lets you create tasks to remind you of next steps for contacts, accounts, or opportunities. This helps you stay on top of your important to-do items and allows you to maintain an organized, detailed log of interactions with your customers and prospects. No more fumbling through handwritten notes or cramming important details into the “comments” boxes in your email address book. You can also upload and attach files to any record. The paid versions have the added perk of integration with Zoho Docs or Google Docs.
Another useful feature is their customizable “web-to-lead” form which can collect information on a webpage and automatically create new contact records (one form included with the free edition).
In addition to the standard record types for contact management, the free edition includes modules for opportunities (with details and activities related to each potential sale), cases (for managing customer service issues), and campaigns (to track and measure your marketing efforts).
Zoho CRM has a reporting feature that allows you to list and summarize data based on any criteria you choose. There are many built-in reports such as “Accounts by industry” and “Opportunities closing this month“, but you can also custom design your own. And if that isn’t enough, you can also use the reports to create “dashboards” that give you visual representations of information that is important to you. You might want to see a graph that illustrates your current sales pipeline or a chart that shows the quantity of leads generated by each marketing campaign.
As an online hosted service, an additional benefit is that multiple users can access and share their information from any computer. It’s easy to manage responsibilities because your data, such as accounts and tasks, can be assigned to specific users. If you’re nervous about storing your important data in the cloud, you can review Zoho’s data security processes. Their redundant, high security data centers probably protect your data better than the USB drive you carry in your briefcase, but you be the judge. You can export your data anytime if you feel more comfortable having a local copy.
While the Zoho CRM free edition does have its limitations (more sophisticated features like inventory management and sales forecasting are reserved for paid versions), it is a remarkably robust and sophisticated application for zero cost.
If you are a Zoho CRM user, please share your experiences. If not, what software do you use to manage your business information?
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