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Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt
Every so often, I come across a product that isn’t on everyone’s lips, but which seems to offer a lot of capability for the money it costs. Then I find that people who do know it are quite enthusiastic about it and I start wondering why it is comparatively unknown.
I often come to the conclusion that it has been spending its money on R&D and customer relations rather than on getting its name into the papers and on schmoozing its way into the big Analyst conferences.
I suspect that this might be the case with an app toolbox – it calls itself “the operating system for business” – I’ve just met from Zoho. It tells me that it is starting to put more resources into raising its profile, beginning with a name-change from Zoho Reports to Zoho Analytics. I was quite impressed by what I saw and am looking forward to customer use-cases in due time.
Zoho’s numbers look good. It’s been around for 22 years and has around 6,000 employees. It has over 40 apps and claims over 40 million users worldwide (in over 180 countries). According to Forbes, it is privately-held, profitable and especially popular with US and European small businesses. It appeared on the Forbes Cloud 100 list (the only Indian company to do so) for 2016.
Its offerings include multichannel CRM; mail; smart accounting; a custom app builder; and now analytics. You can buy it all (as Zoho One) or in specialised bundles: CRM Plus; Workplace; Finance Plus; IT Management. Or, you can buy individual apps. The user experience seems to be rich and visual. I noted, for instance, that it has an AI-driven software sales assistant for Zoho CRM, called Zia, which can make sales predictions, provide suggestions, generate alerts, etc. Zia is proactive and even learns how each salesperson uses Zoho CRM.
Zoho’s customers, on its website, include Amazon, Facebook, KPMG, Netflix, Renault, HP and others (although with over 40 apps, one might expect lots of companies only using 1 or 2 apps to swell the list).
Zoho Academy appears to be mainly a set of user guides, at different levels from, e.g., Marketing 101 to, e.g., using the About Page on your website. They do look useful. However, it also has a program called Zoho University. It hires high school students and trains them, thus providing over 15% of its engineers, and it says that: “not only is the program good for our company, it is also good for the communities we live in”.
I hadn’t actually heard of Zoho before it called, although other Bloor analysts have heard good things about it (we even have a Zoho user from some years ago), so I did a bit of due diligence on the Web. It checks out well, although, it did suffer from a domain registrar making a mistake recently. Not a problem that is likely to recur, but worth mentioning as it is a threat others may be overlooking – it should be part of everyone’s business continuity plan. Sridhar Vembu (CEO, Zoho Corporation) says: “we will not let our fate be determined by the automated algorithms of others. We will be a domain registrar ourselves”.
I asked David Norris to confirm my opinion of Zoho and provide some context from his point of view. He says: “It’s one of those products that you wonder why it has remained such a well kept secret. It looks to do all that the others do, it has enthusiasm in its user base, it is probably affordable etc. etc. It has clearly never been able to match the marketing dollars of the big and mid size companies – the reason that Tableau and Qlik have prospered is marketing spend. It will not disappoint those who buy it: technically, looks good and on a par with everything else in the market, except for the AI driven big data tools such as ThoughtSpot”.
Well, that is a positive endorsement for my view of the company – and, as I said, I think it may be ramping up its marketing now. However, looking at Zoho’s customer base, I’m thinking that it could probably afford to match the marketing spend of mid-sized companies but perhaps, as a privately owned company, it doesn’t want to and doesn’t need to. Its attitude to privacy seems to have been ahead of the curve too – it says “we’re not interested in tracking your clicks to feed the marketing monster” – and this may reflect the ability of well-run private companies to value customer service and ethics above column inches and the stock market. As an aside, Zoho appears to take GDPR seriously, so it is also keeping its privacy attitudes up-to-date.
Although marketing is important, I do expect companies to research what is available for themselves too. If they aren’t doing this, it is both a pity that vendor marketing spend should be the sole driver of industry product choices (sometimes valuable innovation comes from companies who don’t talk about it), and an opportunity for risk (because buying the wrong or overpriced tools, because of marketing hype, impacts business outcomes).
Readers will have to decide for themselves whether Zohoapps are more appropriate for their particular needs than those supplied by the sort of names that are on everyone’s lips. I do think, however, that they are well-worth taking a look at.