The latest release of Zoho's flagship Customer Resource Management (CRM) product shows the impact of social networks on managing and tracking customers. It also demonstrates the importance of tight integration with other applications. Zoho made it a design focus to simplify the process of bringing in information from external applications and to provide integration points to internal data through an Application Programming Interface (API) and something Zoho calls Webhooks.
It comes as no surprise that the tightest integration is with Zoho applications like Zoho Creator, Mail, Projects, and Support. They also offer ways to integrate with their Web conferencing tool, commercial PBX systems from Asterix, Avaya, Elastix and Trixbox, and all the major Instant Messaging (IM) providers. The new Pulse module adds a rule-based activity monitoring tool, making it possible to automatically receive notifications based on user-customized queries. Pulse presents your CRM information in much the same way as Facebook's Timeline.
First-time Zoho users must sign up for either a paid or trial account to start using the system. Zoho offers a free three-user option. It share many of the features of the Professional Edition, which costs $12 per user per month. There's also an Enterprise Edition, at a base price of $25 per user per month, with many more features. The Zoho CRM pricing page has a complete run-down on features available in each edition.
Once you get signed up, you'll receive a blank slate from which to start tracking customers, leads and everything else related to making a sale. The "Setup" page is where you start adding basic information about yourself and your company.
To import information, you'll need to have data like your contacts in a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file. The first row of the file must contain the field names of your information and must have "Account Name" and "Last Name" fields. As a part of the import process, you must map your input data to Zoho CRM fields before the data can be ingested.
There's a well-written help document available from the Import screen with complete instructions. A similar process is used to import data for other modules like Leads, Potentials, Vendors and Price Books.
User Interface Redesign
One of the goals in this release was to reduce the number of clicks required to accomplish the most common tasks. Managing contacts is probably one of the most frequently used pieces of any CRM tool, and Zoho has added new functionality to make it easier. A new Quick Actions menu simplifies the number of clicks needed to add information associated with the selected contact. This includes things like adding a new call note, event, potential or task. Selecting an option, such as new call, brings up a new dialog right on screen for you to enter the pertinent information.
There's a quick link to check availability when adding an event involving other parties. Previously you had to jump to another screen to do this. Adding notes to either an account or lead is another common task. Older versions required multiple clicks to enter a note, while the latest version opens a note screen with a single click.
Social media shows its influence here with a new Follow feature. It's somewhat analogous to Twitter, but with rules added to surface important events such as time elapsed since last contact.
Zoho CRM integrates with other applications in a number of ways. On the social media front, there's a new LinkedIn tool to make it possible to connect a CRM contact with their LinkedIn profile. This will bring in all activity and position updates, along with a profile photo if they have one. You can also send a note through LinkedIn from within Zoho CRM.
Zoho Creator is another integration point, making it possible to automate custom workflow activities and include them as a part of the CRM tool. You must sign up for a Zoho Creator account through the "Setup" page before you can use it.
Once that's done, you can build custom tabs with any number of different fields and actions to automate virtually any process. Webhooks make it possible to build event-based connections to external systems using a REST API. It can also trigger internal activities such as enabling access to a customer support portal once a deal is closed.
Zoho CRM might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of customer resource management, but it's definitely worth investigating if you're looking for such a tool. With the free three-user edition, you can give it a test run without spending a dime. Zoho also offers a mobile edition for iPhone and Blackberry for a minimal fee.