My company sells and implements customer relationship management systems. Although we get a small margin from the price of each application, we really make our money through services: training, customization, integration, consulting, etc. We have about 600 active clients and ten people. There are many great CRM applications available today and a few - such as ProsperWorks, Insightly and SugarCRM - that I love but don't sell...mainly because we've pretty much got all we can handle.

Of the five that we do implement, three of them - Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Zoho CRM - comprise the lion's share of our revenues. So, which one of these three popular applications is best for your business? That depends. Here's what we tell our clients.

Salesforce

The pros:

Salesforce is the grand-daddy of CRM applications and the one that's most recognizable. It's stock ticker is even CRM! Salesforce is powerful, scalable and includes just about any feature you would want from a CRM. The company has a large and passionate developer community and thousands of add-ins. Most major software vendors write tie-ins to Salesforce because of the application's popularity in the business world. If you want to do anything with CRM, you can likely do it with Salesforce.

The cons:

Salesforce is the most expensive option of the three. Sure, there are price points below $50 per month per user but if you want to compare versions apple to apple with Microsoft and Zoho you'll need their Enterprise model which is about $125 per user per month. Yes, there are many add-in choices, but these also add to the monthly cost. Most Salesforce partners charge at the higher end of the consulting rate scale and most of the companies that really take full advantage of the application's power are large enough to have both internal and external resources (and the money) for development and support. For a small company (less than 25 users) it's likely overkill. But don't tell that to Salesforce: their sales team are about as aggressive as wolves. Hungry wolves.

Bottom line: You won't get fired for buying Salesforce. But be prepared to spend.

Microsoft Dynamics 365

The pros:

If you're a Microsoft shop internally - you use Outlook, Exchange, Office, Sharepoint, accounting, etc - then it makes perfect sense to add Microsoft Dynamics 365 to the mix. It's a part of Office 365, has the same look and feel of many Microsoft products, integrates and scales well and is very customizable. To me, Dynamics has all the features and design capabilities needed by most companies and the software giant has been committed to growing Dynamics 365 as a key part of its business offerings. The price for one of its versions - which starts at about $40 per user per month if you have the Office 365 Business Edition - is also very competitive and there's an available on-premise option so you don't always have to be in the cloud. Get ready for Microsoft's purchase of social media giant LinkedIn to really kick in too!

The cons:

Microsoft has done a fantastic job of thoroughly confusing its customers over the past two years with a complete re-branding of its CRM and Dynamics product lines. It seems like there are about as many versions of Dynamics as there are colors in a rainbow and its core CRM has been broken into separate lines for sales, service and marketing with different versions (and price bundles) nested within each line. Setting up Dynamics can be a little heavy-going as it still retains some on-premise installation features - or headaches, depending on how you look at them. Finding the right Microsoft partner can also be a challenge as there are so many all with different expertise.

Bottom line: A great mid-market and enterprise product especially if you're a Microsoft shop.

Zoho CRM

The pros:

I call Zoho "the poor man's Salesforce" which is probably the reason why it's the CRM my company uses internally! Zoho has most of the CRM features needed by small and medium sized businesses, is very customizable, fast and reliable. We love it. Perhaps Zoho's biggest draw is that it's part of a suite of integrated products - from project management to accounting to recruiting apps - that actually helps a company realize the dream of one system doing it all (the company's recently released ZOHO One application is an all-in-one suite of its products at a startlingly low price). Zoho has a community of more than 30 million users, a growing partner channel, a large choice of add-on products, a fast mobile application and its own email client - and it syncs with most Microsoft and Google apps. Its price-point for CRM - which tops out at $35 per month per user (it's very powerful Professional version is only $20 per month per user) - makes it highly affordable.

The cons:

You won't find a nicer bunch of people than the ones who work for Zoho. But unfortunately most of their support is done overseas (primarily in India) so our clients (and we have more than a hundred that we serve using the application) routinely grumble of time delays and some communication problems when resolving technical issues. I shouldn't complain too much because these support challenges turn into more service for my company! But still, that means more money spent by my clients. Zoho is powerful and perfect for a workgroup under 50 people but I'm still not convinced of its scalability.  It also faces very stiff competition from a number of equally powerful CRM applications (like those mentioned above).

Bottom line: For small and mid-market businesses you'll get a powerful CRM without paying the higher price.

Here's your takeaway: regardless of price, if you decide on any of the above three products it is highly likely you'll be fine. The key is in how they're setup and implemented. So instead of getting crazy over the features (they mostly have the same) take the time to find a good consulting partner (ahem...) and invest in training, training, training. You'll find that just by using the out-of-the box features of these applications with minimal customizations will likely push your company a thousand miles ahead of where you are now.

(Final Note: I have not been specifically compensated to write this article but, as mentioned above, my firm profits from the sale of these three applications.)

Published on: Feb 1, 2018