Cloud CRM Systems for Small and Medium Businesses

This is the first part of two articles discussing the most popular and prevalent CRM systems for small and medium businesses (SMBs).  If you are interested in learning about on-premise solutions, click here.

CRM systems are mission critical to the success of any sales organization, small or large.  So what are the main considerations when implementing a small business CRM system or for a medium sized business (Small or Medium Sized Business = SMB)?  This article focuses on the first step of CRM implementation:  system selection for small and medium businesses.

There are hundreds if not thousands of choices for CRM system.  How can you quickly cut through all they hype and find the best, most cost-effective solution?   I’ll give you my impressions, and I will divide my answer into 2 parts:  premises-based solutions (think “old school”) and cloud-based solutions (think “the future of computing”), which is in another article.

Cloud CRM Systems for Small and Medium Businesses


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Salesforce was started back in 1999 and has become the gold standard for not just CRM systems, but cloud-based software in general.  The company employs over 16,000 people, is publically traded and has annual revenues in excess of $5 billion.  It has grown faster and larger than any other CRM system and is the standard by which other CRM systems are measured.  It has a vast ecosystem of integrated products and a community of developers without parallel.  To give you a sense of perspective,  Dreamforce ’16 (the annual conference for SF) had over 170,000 attendees.   It is no doubt a great system.  However, it usually is not the best choice, in our experience, for a small or medium business.  The reasons are simple:  cost and complexity.  Salesforce (SF) has always been oriented toward the enterprise market and while SF is trying to move “down-market” and become more relevant for medium-sized businesses, it is still roughly 3x as expensive as the clear #2 product, Zoho.  There is a very stripped down version of SF for 5 or fewer employees for $25/per month per user, but the professional edition (what I would consider minimum feature set for SMBs) starts at $65 per month per user and goes up from there.  Why is SF so expensive?  Well the saying goes that for each $1 you spend on SF, they spend 50¢ trying to sell you something more.  While this might be a bit of an exaggeration it isn’t by much.  SF is a hard-driving sales culture with lots and lots of addons, upcharges and upselling opportunities.   They sell very hard and very effectively and their stock price reflects this.


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Zoho is, in my opion, the #1 CRM solution for SMBs world wide.  It is the clear #2 CRM system in the world (despite what Gartner’s Magic Quadrant says, and I can prove it).  I remember Zoho from back in 2007 when I started SMB CRM consulting for ACT!.   At that time it was just 3 years old (started in 2004 in India) and it was “free only” and wasn’t much more than a rolodex.  It wasn ‘t something I took seriously for another 5 years.  Boy did it change in that time.  Zoho is modeled in many ways after SF.  For example, it is what I refer to as an “ecosystem” software, which means that Zoho can provide an SMB with everything it needs software-wise.  Zoho has over 30 apps that cover accounting, CRM, email marketing, social marketing, email solutions, project management, HR, Helpdesk and many others.    It allows an SMB to (eventually) replace most or all other software vendors.  Furthermore, it integrates with most major modern platforms “out of the box”.  So, if you have Gsuite (fka Google Apps), Office 365, Outlooks and Quickbooks(or hundreds of others)  Zoho can integrate with any or all of them with “push the button”, free integrations that are fully supported by Zoho.

In early 2016 we made the switch.  Prior to that we had a server, MS Server 2008, MS Office (Outlook/Excel/Word), Hosted Exchange and Quickbooks, plus a few other outliers.  We converted all of this to Zoho.  We used Zoho CRM, Books (accounting), Campaigns (emarketing), Email, Projects, Helpdesk and SalesIQ (Live chat and website intgeration).  We are also using Google drive and Google mail, which are fully integrated.  Every Zoho app has a desktop version and an app that can be found on the app store, both Apple and Android.   Zoho was designed from the ground up to work well on any platform.  We no longer have any software to install or maintain, no payments to Microsoft, no IT hardware consultants, no server and no network.  Everything is wireless, integrated and 100% mobile.  I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to move our business into the cloud.

The other thing that I think is great about Zoho is how it’s culture differs from SF.  It is the opposite in several key ways.  First, it is a soft sell, mostly by word of mouth.  There is no culture of hard selling, it is a private company that will always be private (according to it’s founder and owner Sree Vembu).  Second, Zoho is obsessed with product quality.  Their belief is that if the product is great that it will sell itself.  To illustrate this point, they don’t have release dates or deadlines.  They won’t promise delivery dates because they will not make a major release before it is ready.  They believe that deadlines reduce quality, so they don’t use them.  What?  Who does that?  I’ve never encountered a company like this one.

Zoho has a “forever free” version and then paid subscriptions ranging from $20 – $40 per month for most of our customers (there are cheaper and more expensive options, but most of our clients use either Pro or Enterprise, which are the prices shown).


Hubspot deserves and honorable metion as it is then next most popular CRM related cloud system.  Hubspot isn’t really a CRM system, but more of a marketing platform with CRM-like capabilities.  When it is included in the CRM universe, it comes in 3rd behind Salesforce and Zoho, and a distant 3rd at that.  However, when you look at the entire universe of cloud-based CRM systems Hubspot beats all of the lower-ranked systems as it relates to Google Trends (search volume) and Alexa Global Page Rank.  Hubspot bills itself as an “Inbound Marketing Platform”.  Prices are hard to decipher.