Zoho guns for Salesforce.com with major upgrade to its SaaS CRM software

It also announced Zoho CRM has reached the 25,000-customer mark

Zoho unveiled a significant upgrade to its on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) software on Thursday with new features including an overhauled user interface and an integration with LinkedIn.

The new user interface is geared to improve productivity, Zoho's vice president of marketing, Rodrigo Vaca, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

"Our goal was to make users spend less time inside the Zoho CRM app, so they can spend more time selling," he wrote. "So we re-designed many workflows and screens inside our app. A small example: we realized that everybody wants to add notes to their contacts/prospects. So, we made it very simple for them to add more notes. We made it easier for a sales rep to check availability for scheduling a follow-up call with a prospect right from the contact screen."

Other new features in the CRM upgrade include a module called "Pulse," which allows users to follow accounts, leads and other data objects within the system much like they would follow a friend or business associate on social networks.

The LinkedIn integration allows users to tie a contact's Zoho CRM profile with their LinkedIn profile, so they can send them LinkedIn messages from within the CRM system, for example.

Zoho has also built an integration between the CRM module and its Creator software for building database-driven applications. "If you want to build a Travel Expense app, you can have one field ask what account or deal this travel was related to, and display a list of deals right from Zoho CRM," Vaca wrote.

Other new features include two-way synchronization with Google Calendar as well as WebHooks, which can call out to external applications based on actions that occur in Zoho CRM.

"If you want to update your accounting system every time you close a deal in CRM, you can configure a WebHook to notify the external system about the change," Vaca wrote.

Also Thursday, Zoho announced it has reached 25,000 customers for the CRM application, a number that suggests it is making some inroads against the likes of Salesforce.com. That figure refers to paying customers, a Zoho spokeswoman confirmed via email on Thursday.

Not all of the features will be available to all users. The new UI and LinkedIn integration are included in both free and paid editions, but Pulse and Google Calendar will require a paid version. WebHooks and the Creator tie-in are available in Zoho CRM Enterprise Edition.

Zoho CRM professional edition costs US$12 per user per month, while the enterprise version is priced at $25 per user per month.

Salesforce.com is currently offering its low-end Contact Manager CRM application for $2 per user per month and the Group edition, which adds features such as opportunity tracking and lead scoring, for $15 per user per month. The pricing for those two versions is part of a promotion for new Salesforce.com customers only, and runs out on Jan. 31.

Salesforce.com's Professional version jumps up to $65 per user per month, and the Enterprise Edition runs $125 per user per month, but the broader array of features in those versions make them difficult to compare to Zoho CRM.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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