For very small companies that can't afford a big investment, the free version of the Zoho CRM offers all the core functionality a small business needs. For up to 10 users, everything from lead gathering, contact management and workflow automation to analytics and social collaboration is included. As the company grows, it can upgrade to a paid subscription that offers more advanced capabilities.

A lot of other free CRM software is relatively limited in scope, but the free version of Zoho is surprisingly robust. Just like it's subscription-based big brother, free Zoho aggregates and displays all the critical information a company needs to make business decisions. The software offers a complete view of contacts, pipelines, and sales cycles that will help drive sales, identify trends, discover new opportunities and offer customers the best in service.

With Zoho, companies can manage and automate tasks from lead generation to managing contacts and workflow. Employees can spend more time on their core competency of selling rather than getting mired in onerous housekeeping tasks. The software also includes calendars and call logs that can be automated to save time and increase efficiency and productivity.

The software also functions as an in-house social media platform to facilitate interaction and collaboration among team members. Just like in Facebook, there's a newsfeed to post status updates and share files. There's also an instant messaging feature. And speaking of social media, Zoho integrates with Facebook and Twitter to automatically link contacts with their social media accounts. Consequently, social media interactions are aggregated in the system and visible on the dashboard.

Today no system is complete without a mobile app, and Zoho's app allows users to view leads, opportunities, accounts, tasks, contacts, messages, calls and more from their iOS or Android device. There's an offline mode as well, so losing an Internet connection doesn't render the app useless.

Zoho is also easy to integrate with third-party apps and software so users can integrate CRM data into other operations. It pairs particularly well with Google Apps such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google tasks. Indeed, users can save Gmail messages into the CRM.

The software also offers a variety of analytics that allow users to track performance and results at the business and employee level. While not as extensive as the paid version, the free software still offers an extensive range of reporting capabilities. The system also has robust security features and allows the administrator to assign roles, control access and impose restrictions. For the smallest businesses, this free option yields an impressive array of benefits.

Zoho is constantly updating and improving, from small fixes to major new features. Expect this to continue in 2018. In January 2018, Zoho announced they would offer HubSpot Advanced Reports within Zoho. This allows users of HubSpot to integrate their information right into Zoho. HubSpot is a robust CRM in and of itself, so its integration with Zoho in this way allows for a host of new capabilities. HubSpot offers features like conversation sorting that puts multiple related threads into one centralized conversation to reduce confusion. The combination of these two CRMs allows for powerful new functions. HubSpot Advanced Analytics can offer powerful insights on your customers. That information can now get integrated into Zoho to put all your data in one place.

There is much more in store for Zoho in 2018. Smaller upgrades include features like mail scheduling and an outbox folder in SalesInbox. These changes are slight, but show how Zoho is constantly searching for ways to slightly improve their interface. This will be important as trends and needs shift in 2018. Despite our best guesses about what will work best in 2018, customer preferences can change rapidly. Your CRM software should be able to keep up. Zoho's frequent updates and improvements indicate it is up to the task.

This article was updated February 28, 2018.

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM Software for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

Editor's Note: Looking for CRM Software for your company? If you would like information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner, BuyerZone, provide you with information for free:

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