I wish I could write such a wonderful headline, but I’m not that good. This was an advertisement for SAP, and I dont know what it was in regards to. When I saw this ad, it spoke to me in a way that not too many people have had to. It talked to me about data security.

I have personally been on the negative of a massive data breach. It was my data that was breached, and many of my customers who were stolen from me. I wish that on nobody, and I want to take this as an opportunity to talk about tools and systems I have used, tested, and know well.

When you start a business, especially one that is technology centric, you probably know less than you actually know. Notice, I didnt say you know less than you think you know. I know many smart people who know a lot about a lot of things, but small business will throw you for a loop of insurmountable proportions.

Most business owners,

especially those on a tight budget,

don’t think about CRM’s and data.

They think about the next sale and paying the bills. The downside to this is migration. It is often hard to migrate data, and almost always misses a few pieces. In the “marketing automation for small business” world, one name will pop up more than most, and that is Infusionsoft.

I LOVE Infusionsoft, by the way.

I think the campaign builder is great, their staff and especially their onboarding team/client success coaches are wonderful, and the software is very easy to use. BUT, there are a few major gaps with infusionsoft that I want to share with you.

There are 3 main pieces of software I have tested and used in depth in the creation, formation, and growth of my companies. They are Google Suite, Infusionsoft, and Zoho, and I have implemented them in that order. Before I go into reviewing them, I will exclude Google Suite. It is great for email and docs and storage, but a real system it is not. Dont bother trying to use it as such, it will only frustrate you. I would not even suggest using them solely for email, but I will get into that later.

Unlike most reviews about Infusionsoft vs Zoho, I am not just looking at data sheets of specs or small blurbs about them online. I have used both, very heavily, as marketing platforms, CRM’s, HR tools, and subscription services. I know both systems better than your Average Joe. I have stumped the guy who wrote the book on Infusionsoft (yes, there is a guy who wrote a book on IS, and he works for them [side note – he’s a really nice guy]). I would be what is considered a “Power User”.

Below is some back story, and this will be broken down by topic comparing the two. Feel free to scroll past my rant.

 When I signed up for Infusionsoft, I went for their largest package, and I started with 30 users  for my then current employees and accounting for growth. I paid $800 per month and the $1,500 onboarding fee. I was told, specifically, that Infusionsoft was attempting to showcase itself as a real competitor to the big CRM’s like Salesforce, and with all of its features, I believed it (I had never used Salesforce until then, and still havent until now). I was sold.

IS (I will just abbreviate it from now) was wonderful. The onboarding success coach I had was Stephanie Hitchins. I can’t say enough nice things about her, having met her at the IS ICON event they hold, I desperately tried to poach her from IS, even trying to convince her husband to convince her. She really was the best. With your onboarding fee, you get 6 hours of private, one-on-one training to really get you to understand the software, and it is essential.

My biggest gripe actually came not while using the software

But when I needed to add more licenses to my account

My team had occasionally complained that the CRM was slow, but I just though it was our network, as we had a lot of data flowing through it. Whenever I used the CRM (being on an entirely different network and with a very good computer), I never had any problems with is. I digress, so I called up IS and asked for 30 more licenses, bringing my total to 60. Most companies would be very happy to have a customer call and tell them I want to give you more money. IS was different. They put me on hold. For a looooooong time.

After waiting for over an hour on hold (they did come back on every 5-7 minutes to say they hadnt forgotten about me, it just had to do with pricing approvals), I was told some rather unfortunate news. Infusionsoft was built for small businesses. It was built for marketing automation. And it was build to not scale with people using it very much. They said that if I go past 50 users, IS would not work very well, that the servers would be dog-shit slow, and that I would probably be better off looking for another solution. WTF?!?!? I thought you were trying to compete with Salesforce. They have HUGE customers. 50,000 users on SF, no problem. 51 users on IS, crash the servers. I also found out then that IS doesnt use IS. They have “outgrown” it. They use Netsuite as their CRM.

After a lot of back and forth with them, it turns out their infrastructure is only meant to handle back end processes, it is not meant to scale with users, because user input cannot be streamlined in the same way.  Their data tables are beyond confusing, make no logical sense, and dont play nice with others. The backup data is split in such a way that there are many copies of certain data sets and none of others. From a technical standpoint, Infusionsoft is a nightmare that you dont want to deal with.

So, needing a CRM that can do everything I need and handle all of the users, I look at Salesforce. I had to do some painful math. At $125 per user, per month, paid annually, and 60 employees ($125 x 12 x 60) = $90,000, all up front. To add some extra pain, data migration was another $3,000 to $5,000, and someone to customize and train my team would be roughly another $20,000. So, I just had to spend $115,000 in one shot and be up and running in 4-6 months. There had to be a better way.

I stumbled upon Zoho (I saw them when I first started the business, but I couldn’t afford them then) and decided to see what it had to offer. I would be paying about $50 per user, per month, paid monthly. $3,000 per month I could handle. I needed some of their other add-ons, so it ended up being about $4,000 per month. Much better.

Zoho started (so I was told) by a small team in India. These guys were using Salesforce for some business they started, but could not get past the limitations of SF. They thought they could build a “better Salesforce”. They have built a world class software suite and customer service centered process.Their team is primarily in India, but all are very friendly, remarkably helpful, and will coach you without the $1,500 fee. Configured correctly, Zoho can do everything IS can do and SO MUCH MORE. Zoho, for all of its extra costs, has given me more insights, more sales, better retention, better reporting, and allowed for so much inefficiency to be squashed, that the extra cost has never been noticed, because it has paid for itself and then some. Last note, Zoho uses Zoho for their 4,000 employees.

 Now, onto the comparison:

As a Customer Relationship Manager

Infusionsoft stores customer data in a very clean and easy manner. The primary information for any customer is available on the customer screen. Name, address, phone number. If they have a subscription, you can see exactly what they have paid (LTV) on the main screen. If a payment failed, it will tell you. The fields are semi customizable, and they layout is too, but only on a different tab. Not hugely, but good enough for most businesses. They have a very interesting tab system, so going through the tabs will have different data. Also, if you have never used a real CRM before, you will like the fact that things arent broken down into leads, prospects, contacts, accounts, etc. They are either paying customers or customers who have signed up (paid) yet. Thats it. It is very simple and straightforward. This is what most people need (or think they need).

Zoho is a traditional CRM. A lead is some customer data (as little as a name and email address, like from a sign up form). A lead is someone whom you have never contacted. They then have to be transferred to an account once you talk to them, and a contact record is made for the person you talk to (email, phone, in person) and the records attach to each other. For most people, this is where the confusion is and is more difficult to understand. I head account, I think money was made. Not so in a traditional CRM.

The flip side to this is that all of the CRM data and fields are hugely customizable. Screens can change to suit any needs you may have. You can add (or have) up to 100 fields on each screen. They have pre-built customizations for certain industries as well (such as realtors). I think you need to call them and ask about that.

Notes

So, on top of customer data, one of the things you will most often need is notes on that person. IS has two places for notes. They have a tab for notes, but it is just a notes box. Anyone who has access to the record can delete everything in the box, so dont use it. They also have a section where you can add specific notes (i.e. sent email to client about xxxxxx), which will save on that main screen. The downside, I found out, is that when you pass 10, 15, or 20 (I dont remember) notes, the old ones go away. If you thing there is a place to find “Page 2” of your notes, think again. Unless you use a data backup and know how to understand the data tables, you will never see that note again.

Zoho, by contrast, allows you to add (and see) an unlimited amount of notes. Each note is timestamped (unlike IS) and is attached to the person who made the note. All edits, including deletion of the notes, can be seen by the administrator. You can also add triggers to these notes, send emails, surveys, forms, or putting them into a campaign. A nice feature I found out by calling Zoho was after my call ended, I received a survey asking how the call went. I then called them back and asked them how to do that. They showed me that I could integrate my phone system into the CRM (not a feature with IS) and have the trigger on hangup. Whenever a call was had with a customer, I could see the call time, duration, what was talked about, and then send out a survey. When I had to do a timed call (after 60 days of being a client), I could send out a different survey (Net Promoter Score or NPS survey), which I found very useful.

Marketing campaigns and automation

This is where IS really shines. Their campaign builder is so powerful and easy to use, it is the reason I love them. Many large businesses use IS solely for the campaign builder, but nothing else. It has a very easy to use, drag and drop, interface. You can add tags which will trigger events or sequences. You can add tracking codes to everything. They have pre-built templates which will do so much for you and requires very little of your time to setup.This is the reason I love IS. It is by far their best feature and the one that should get used the most.

Zoho, on the other hand, is just as powerful (wait, what?). It can do everything, and I mean everything, that infusionsoft can do, and more. The big difference is tags (it doesnt have them). The tags are just another word of trigger, and you can have trigger events in everything. The big downside with zoho is that everything takes so much time to setup. It really is the difference between taking a picture of the Mona Lisa (very simple to do) or actually painting it (A LOT HARDER, but more beautiful). If a campaign can be done in IS in 1 hour, expect 4 hours in Zoho.

Subscription billing

Subscriptions are great. We all want that monthly recurring revenue to  come in and for it to be easy. IS has a system that is just simple, effective, and efficient to use. It is easy to setup, whether by integrating forms on your website or having simple hosted forms for a salesperson to enter in. They take almost no time to setup, and a sale can add tags which can kick off those sequences with ease. Seeing daily reports, failed payments, items sold, etc., is very easy to do, and you can customize your dashboard to see all of that data. I find it much easier than zoho.

Zoho, like most CRM systems, does not natively handle subscriptions. So, they added an add-on (around $70 a month) which does. Adding product is a pain, it really is. Getting forms setup is a pain. Integrating to your website is a bit of a pain. Refunds are a real pain. Once it is setup, though, it is great. the reporting is 100 times better than IS. Getting is running is just so much harder.

The rest

Where IS fails is that it is limited by what it can do and what it can integrate with. A lot of its integrations have to be done through the campaign builder, because IS was never meant to be a CRM (according to the company). It is marketing automation software that has a CRM (ish) attached to it. The tags are essential to making everything work, but that has its limitations too. If you add too many tags, something may fail. As you move someone into on sequence, you must remove the tags, in order for there not to be too much confusion for the system. I like being able to see, via tags, what has been accomplished for a client. But what I want and what IS wants are 2 very different things.

Where zoho shine is its full suite of products. Zoho has done an incredible job of self integration. Instead of just connecting to quickbooks or xero (accounting software) like everyone else does, they have a team that just built their own accounting software (Zoho Books). All the reviews about it say it would beat either quickbooks or xero if it just did payroll. If you get your payroll done by an outside vendor such as ADP or Paychex, Books is probably better for you.

They have created their own version of the following “mainstream” applications: Slack, Gmail, Zendesk, Chargify, Wix, Lastpass, HR Software, Expensify, etc. The real beauty is in how they all work together. Imagine if everything you needed out of most of your generic business function software (these are things every business needs, like HR, accounting, website, marketing, email, documents, sharing, internal and external communications, customer data, etc) worked seamlessly together, providing the most efficient use of everyone’s time. This is what Zoho provides, and I believe it does it batter than Salesforce. Salesforce is great because of the fact that it has an almost endless amount of connectivity with other software. Zoho has some, but only about 3% of what Salesforce can attach itself to. Because, however, Zoho builds everything from scratch, it is all built with the same base code to run on a fully integrated platform, and it is a beautiful thing. In fact, I am currently writing this in Zoho docs (which allows me to connect to a blog and post directly from their system, very nifty), and I use zoho email, which I can attach to customers in zoho crm, see when they opened in through sales inbox, and will now get told when the best time to contact a lead is based on their new addition of Zia, the Zoho Artificial Intelligence system. Yes, they keep on innovating new ways to make you more productive.

So, you have probably forgotten by now, but this post is about data security, but I havent talked about it at all. I havent forgotten about it, I just wanted to give you a background of two very popular systems which are both meant to keep your data safe. 

Infusionsoft and Zoho both have permission settings for users. In IS, you have options for each part of the system and whether or not someone can view, edit, or delete a part of that system. That sounds great, but it doesnt work. If you limit the amount someone can view (say in a customer service role), they usually cant view enough. Often, if they need to write to a file, they can edit an existing record, although they cant delete the record. They are able to change a previous note to be blank. In IS, there is NO WAY TO TRACK THIS!!! They dont track it on a user basis, and they cant tell you what was there before. I found this out by actually calling, and they sent me a spreadsheet of users who has accessed the account in a time frame (and it was sent about a week after I called). This does not bode well for data security. The sole exception is credit card data which IS does take very seriously and can be limited very well and never exported.

Also, although there are settings to not allow you to export data, there are ways around it, and someone who is mildly technical can figure it out. This means if you had a disgruntled employee, they could easily steal your customer data and then destroy it within the system, and you wouldnt know who did it. They could access the system from home over the weekend and destroy your business from the comfort of their sofa. You would have no idea until it was too late. Note –  If you do decide to use IS, I will suggest a backup solution from Novak Solutions. They are great guys and do better and more thorough backups than IS themselves. Highly recommended! 

Now this probably wont happen to you, but do you want to take that chance? I have, it cost me, and I will scream it from the rooftop that IS has major downfalls.

Zoho, on the other hand, has taken their data security to an enterprise level.

You can track everything everyone does.

You can limit what your employees can see and do down to the T. You can limit where they can access the data (only your office, only on a company cell phone, etc). You can ensure two factor authorizations are in place. You can track their every move in ecosystem. If you had zoho setup correctly, some network firewalls, and disabled usb drives on the computers in the office, you could guarantee (to a factor of about 98%) that your data would never leave you.

It may be clear to which side I am biased, but I prefer Zoho because of all of the inherent features over IS, and I never would have known if I didnt have too many people in the system. It is trickier to setup, and will require more training. If you are spending approximately $2,000 to setup IS, it will probably cost you about $3,000 – $5,000 (for most businesses that is accurate, but it can go to upwards of $25,000, depending how much you might need done) to setup Zoho. The monthly costs are actually less than IS, and the features you get are well worth it. You pay for what you need with no hassle from them. You might have 20 employees, but only one of them does webinars. You arent paying for the webinar feature for all 20 employees. You pay for that one person, and thats it.

It is software that is build and sold the way software should be built and sold. Ground up development, working beautifully, and you pay for only what you use. Perfect. If everyone else in your life worked the same way, everything would be magical. But thats not happening, so get back to work. Chop, Chop!

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