New Catalyst hyper-customization platform in Zoho CRM release likely to interest partners

Zoho CRM also enhances its Zia conversational AI for sales teams, with a voice capability, as well as other improvements its predictive AI and lead enrichment.

Today Zoho is introducing the new version of their Zoho CRM offering. While the company is highlighting Zia Voice, the addition of speech and chat capabilities to their Zia AI-based recommendation engine, the addition most likely to first catch the attention of channel partners is likely Catalyst. Catalyst lets partners both build and distribute serverless applications, which in conjunction with Zoho CRM’s existing Vertical CRM capability, will allow for even greater customization.

Zoho, originally founded in Chennai India, but whose head office is now in Pleasanton CA, is now in their 22nd year in business and has over 5000 employees. They have approximately 40 applications, which they have consolidated into Zoho One, one of their flagship products, which differentiates them in the market.

“We took all our applications, including Zoho CRM, and included them together in  Zoho One for one dollar per employee per day,” said Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho. “We call it an operating system for business, although customers can just get individual suites, or even license individual applications.”

Zoho’s sweet spot historically has been the upper SMB to the mid-market, although Zoho One has expanded their addressable market above that – and well below it.

“Zoho One strengthened us as an enterprise play, and we have seen more large companies adopt us broadly as a suite,” Vegesna said. “It has opened us up to some very small plays as well, as a one person shop can get everything for $30 bucks a month. That broadening the market is part of our strategy. We aren’t going after the very high-end Salesforce and Oracle market, but we are going more broadly after anyone else who does work where they need these applications. Because we are really broadening the market, we anticipate the future price points will actually be lower.”

Most of Zoho’s business historically has been direct, although there is a channel business, which has been increasing, and the company now has about 1400 partners worldwide.

“Our revenue through the channel is now 28 per cent, up from 24 per cent last year,” Vegesna said. “It has been steadily increasingly, and we are looking to get to 40 per cent over the next couple of years.”

The channel will benefit from the new Catalyst hyper-customization platform, because it will allow them to create more differentiated offerings.

“Partners have been asking us for this,” Vegesna said. “In the past, partners would customize for their own particular vertical, and between 30 and 40 customizations have been created. Now along with Vertical CRM, which we introduced a couple of years ago, this takes it to the next level.”

Catalyst consists of  mobile and Web Software Development Kits (SDKs) as well as widgets to build custom UI components that will work in real time with Zoho CRM’s data.

“Our infrastructure can also now be used, so that without adding physical servers. they can add code and execute it on the server side,” Vegesna said. Mobile Device Management [MDM] is also part of this, in order to distribute it.” Distribution can be through either Android or iOS.

Multiple enhancements were also announced to Zia, the AI-based recommendation engine Zoho introduced last year, as part of the recent rush to market of such tools by software vendors. Unlike some of these tools, however, which are sold as a separate add-on, Zia is included within the standard package.

“We have added more depth to the predictive AI, including a prediction as a percentage of how likely a deal is to close, so a salesperson can plan their time accordingly,” Vegesna said. “It looks at things like the amount of time a prospect spends on a website, events attended, the percentage of emails opened, as well as salesperson performance, to come up with a prediction number.”

More depth has been added to Zia’s personal productivity tools, which include lead enrichment.

“This includes reminders for the best time to contact particular people, based on criteria like time zones, historical interaction, and times they visited the website,” Vegesna said.

Other CRM AI recommendations already have these capabilities. Zoho is highlighting the first to market status – for CRM specifically, of its new Zia Voice capability. It provides capabilities like AWS Alexa provides specifically for CRM, is part of the mobile app and will initially be on mobile applications. It can answer questions, through voice or chat messages on everyday CRM information like new leads created, average deal revenue, or  monthly forecasts, as well as contextual things like traffic status.

“It is basically a smart chat bot, which can provide leads by source without having to reprogram, or redefine queries, and which can be extended to do custom functions,” Vegesna stated. “It means that you don’t have to create a skill for every single thing.”

Email sentiment analysis, which was already part of Zoho CRM, is being extended to other apps. It analyzes emails to discover relevant positive or negative sentiment, so that the most critical emails can be answered first

“It lets you start with the unhappy customers,” Vegesna said. “It is in CRM now, and is being extended to Customer Support.”

Enterprise support in CRM has also been enhanced.

“A customer portal has been added, so customers can manage information in CRM system in one place, with fine-grained control, Vegesna said. “A data encryption capability has been added, giving customers the option to encrypt. A new Canvas feature allows all the data in the CRM system to be completely customized.”

In addition, Blueprint has added SLA and checklist capabilities that can help managers optimize their sales processes. Translation capability now allows Zoho CRM users to view their CRM data in a language that’s most comfortable to them.

Zoho CRM is available in Standard, Professional, and Enterprise Editions, and as part of Zoho One.