Technology has brought not just innovation, but a complete evolution to how small businesses work in a few short years.; Security and cybersecurity systems, upgraded storage and processing power, and all kinds of premium software packages can now be purchased in service contracts in packages that are customized to match small business needs and price points at the same time. Because small businesses no longer need the cash reserves to make massive investments in business infrastructure, it's now possible for them to maximize their efficiency while retaining the advantages of agility that come with smaller size. There is no question that small businesses should be taking advantage of these new possibilities. The only question is where to begin.

Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) is currently the fastest growing business software market. Research firms like Gartner are predicting, as reported by Forbes, that the CRM market will reach $36.5 billion by 2017. And there are solid reasons behind all that growth. The CRM company,, claims that a CRM can increase revenue by 41% per salesperson.—a workflow management software company—claims CRMs improve customer retention by as much as 27%. And Salesforce, who arguably sets industry standards for CRMs, reports that CRMs improve sales forecasting accuracy by 42%. So, there’s really no question whether or not a company should invest in a CRM. The only question is which CRM solution is the right choice. The answer to that question is the same as the answer for most other business decisions: It depends.

As mentioned, Salesforce leads all categories with its comprehensive, cloud-based solution. And even though Salesforce offers basic service packages beginning at $5 per user per month, which include features like accounts & contact management, task & event tracking, Outlook sync, Salesforce1 mobile app, content library, customizable reports, and its company social network, Chatter, small and very-small businesses might feel compelled to shop around first. That might be the case when, for example a business is unsure whether a CRM will really benefit them. Or, maybe they have reason to doubt that it will be implemented fully and given complete top-down support. Maybe they have a need to build a history working with a CRM to present a case-study-type report to upper management in hopes of prompting a more decisive time and resource investment.

In any of those cases, starting with a CRM that offers a free version might seem like a good idea. Salesforce’s bargain basement $5 per month package might seem cheap to a large enterprise, but that price is tallied per user and billed annually, and should a small business decide that they need something else in a CRM solution, then that money goes to waste.

In the summer of 2015, Business News Daily  reviewed a comprehensive A-Z list of CRM software. Afterward, they published a buyer’s guide based on their findings. Each entry in the buyer’s guide gave a basic synopsis of features and benefits for each CRM  software, which is a great resource for anyone in the market. But the real centerpiece of the buyer’s guide was a collection of comprehensive reviews of the CRM’s that rated best in one of three categories. Those categories were Best CRM software for small business, Best CRM software for very small business, and Best free CRM software. Zoho won the category for best free CRM software.
Known as a poor man’s Salesforce, the free version of Zoho CRM has all the core functionalities a small business requires, including lead gathering, contact management, workflow automation, analytics, social collaboration and tools to help turn leads into conversions. It is also a web-based platform that can be accessed by mobile device. The free version of Zoho allows for up to 10 users, a nice feature for small businesses. Other Zoho features that were praised by businessnewsdaily were, third-party app integration, security, and the 360-degree view, which displays all the critical information, from contacts and sales cycles to analytics, that businesses need to make decisions.
The fact that Zoho allows for up to 10 users in a free CRM is a boon to small businesses, but only to small businesses. In addition, it’s only an advantage to small businesses that aren’t looking to grow. That means Zoho’s free version occupies a pretty narrow market segment. It’s also less customizable than a premium CRM like Salesforce. For example, if a business wants to add custom reports, or additional modules, which is a very realistic likelihood for businesses of any size, they would need to upgrade to the package that costs $35 per user per month. Those prices are in the Salesforce ballpark. Zoho’s customization features have also received criticism. While there is a navigation at the top of the dashboard with a tab for each function, some users complain that performing simple tasks and navigating each section requires too many steps.
Up to this point in our Zoho review, we have seen that small businesses with limited budgets that are looking to streamline their customer relationship management and sales process might gain considerable value by integrating Zoho’s free CRM into their organization. We have also seen that businesses that are thinking bigger, or more long term with respect to future growth might want to opt for Salesforce right out of the gate.

The same CRM buyer’s guide that crowned Zoho the best free CRM, also crowned Salesforce that best overall CRM for small business and here’s a few reasons why:

The CRM Industry Standard: Salesforce simply has the reputation for providing the best platform for improving customer relationships. Yes, it can cost more. However, Salesforce is known for setting the standard when it comes to ease of use, customizability, and innovation in the CRM space.

Customize to Business Needs: Salesforce offers access to the AppExchange, which allows users to easily customize their CRMwith thousands of applications built on, and for, the Salesforce platform. In fact, 91% of companies using Salesforce have at least one AppExchange app installed.

No Growing Pains: Perhaps most important of all, Salesforce really shines at being scalable. Many businesses turn to Salesforce right from the startup phase and then implement more and more of its advanced features as the business grows. This allows not only for an attractive ROI from the start, but also one that expands along with the organization.

With Salesforce, there’s a reason why it’s the #1 CRM. Unlike Zoho, it isn’t out only to save money, the platform is designed to make their customers money -- and that’s a huge differentiator between the two products. After all, in the world of business software, free may be good, but profitable is even better.

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