I was just briefed yesterday by Raju Vegesna on the launch of Zoho Books, Zoho’s new on demand accounting solution for small businesses. With Zoho Books, Zoho fills in a critical application that has been missing in its portfolio of more than 25 cloud-based applications for small businesses.
The first version of Zoho Books will be a standalone accounting solution, but later this year, Zoho will add tight integration with some of it’s other apps, such as Zoho CRM and Zoho Support (see my recent post). According to Raju, Zoho wanted to get the accounting functionality right before focusing on integration and other extras. Some of the key takeaways from my briefing include:
- Zoho has covered most of the accounting basics. The solution features a dashboard, with tabs from which you can create and send invoices, see profit/loss statements, look at income and expenses, etc. Once you create an invoice, you can email it to customers, and set up a link so customers can make direct payments to you online via PayPal, Google checkout, and Authorize.net. You can set up automatic notifications, reminders and thank-you emails as well, and create recurring invoices. Snail mail is also an option.
- Zoho Books will help users to manage bank accounts, and view bank and credit card statements. Right now, users need to enter third-party financial information manually via a .csv file, but later this year, Zoho plans to add direct connections to banks to automate the import process.
- Zoho has also taken steps to reduce the fees that Zoho Books customers pay for PayPal transactions by teaming up with PayPal on the Business Payments on the PayPal X platform. This cuts PayPal transaction fees for Zoho Books users to a flat $0.50 per payment—instead of the standard 2% to 3% of each transaction. Since 70% to 80% of Zoho customers use PayPal as their primary payment method, this is a pretty big selling point for the solution.
- Zoho Books was designed with non-accountants in mind. The interface uses terms such as “money in” and “money out” instead of accounting jargon. But small businesses that use an accountant to manage their financials can set their accountant up as a Zoho Books user. Accountants can also use the solution to manage multiple small business clients simultaneously, as separate organizations.
- Zoho is addressing multi-currency needs. At launch, Zoho Books enables users to define multiple currency types. Initially, the user will need to supply the exchange rate manually, but later this year, Zoho intends to automate this through an integration with XE.com currency exchange.
- The look and feel are very customizable. Users can configure logos, signatures, tax settings, email settings, etc. from the settings module.
- Integration is basic today, but Zoho has big plans. As I noted, today, you can import data into Zoho Books from spreadsheets, Zoho CRM, Zoho mail, etc. You can also view every module of Zoho Books in Zoho Sheets as a spreadsheet, or export it to Excel. Zoho also has a data migration tool to migrate Intuit QuickBooks data to Zoho Books. Looking ahead, Zoho plans to tightly integrate Zoho Books and Zoho CRM to create a seamless order-to-cash workflow. Zoho also plans to integrate Zoho mail with Zoho Books.
- Pricing starts at $24/month for 2 users, and $5 per user for additional users. If you sign up for an annual subscription (instead of paying monthly) you get two months free. The solution is launching with a 30-day free trial.
With Zoho Books, Zoho is taking aim at Intuit QuickBooks in the U.S., and similar entry-level accounting solutions in other countries. In its first iteration, Zoho Books maps to QuickBooks Online Essentials, but down the line, as Zoho adds more functionality, it could add a higher-end solution more comparable to QuickBooks Online Plus.
Interestingly, Zoho recently announced Zoho CRM integration with QuickBooks, and according to Raju, Zoho will continue to support this even as it introduces its QuickBooks rival. But coopetition is nothing new for Zoho. And, you don’t need to look any further than its relationship with Google to see that this is an area in which it excels. Although Google and Zoho have several competing applications, Zoho apps are a top seller on Google Apps Marketplace and integrate with Google Apps. Zoho Books, of course, will be in the Google Apps Marketplace from day one.
While many on demand accounting start-ups have set their sights on the QuickBooks market over the past few years, they haven’t really made much headway. Zoho, however, is a different animal and should give Intuit a bit more pause for concern. Not only does Zoho already have millions of free and paid users around the globe for it 25 solutions, Zoho is just one part of Zoho Corporation, which provides enterprise level business, network, and IT infrastructure management applications, and software maintenance and support services to some of the largest companies in the world. This not only gives Zoho a lot of expertise to draw on to add new functionality, but the financial staying power to be a serious contender.
Zoho, one of the pioneers in cloud computing solutions for small and medium businesses (SMBs), has added a new customer support management application to its line up of 20-plus cloud-based collaboration, communication, business and office productivity solutions.
Zoho Support helps streamline the process to create, capture, process and manage support tickets. Zoho has combined its own experience with an internally developed support system with that of its sister division, ManageEngine (also part of Zoho Corporation) to build Support. ManageEngine has been providing commercial help desk and support solutions for the past four years to a stellar list of large enterprise customers–giving Zoho a lot of stress-tested experience to draw on.
Zoho Support lets you create support requests in four ways:
- By manually enter information while on the phone
- Via emails that come to you
- From a website from that you create
- From self-service capabilities which you can embed on your web site, which enable both you and your customers to monitor and track the request in the same real-time view.
Other modules in Support include a knowledge base, dashboard and reporting, and integrated chat. Zoho will add capability to initiate and track support requests via chat in the near future. Support also has a contracts module so that you can set service level agreements (SLA) for different support plans, specifying things like response times, hours available, etc. It also features a workflow module to create rules to automate escalation, resolution and other processes, and is integrated with Zoho CRM so that sales and support teams can easily share customer information.
Like other Zoho offerings, Support is offered in a freemium model (pricing here). The free version gives companies the ability to create up to 25 support requests a day, but limits the methods by which you can initiate a support request, and lacks more advanced functionality such contracts and workflow. Support Professional, priced at $12 per agent per month, includes all of the functionality except contract management, and the Enterprise Version offers everything for 24 per agent per month.
Notably, Zoho will also introduce an alternative pricing structure for Support which should be very attractive to many small businesses. As I discussed in my post, Prescription for Subscription Fatigue? Time for New SaaS Pricing Models, the cloud/SaaS per user, per month pricing model has hardly changed in the past 10 years! Although the model been a huge leap forward from packaged software in so many ways, vendors have not taken the next big leap to more innovative pricing models.
While per user per month pricing for an individual solution may seem quite reasonable, subscription fees can quickly get out of control for many small businesses as they start adding more services. This is because most people wear many hats in a small business. In fact, the same person may be selling at 10:00, taking a support call at 1:00 and checking inventory at 5:00.
Zoho Support’s alternative pricing, which should be available within a month or so, is based on requests, but doesn’t limit the number of users. So for instance, if you buy the middle level, Express 100 for $49 per month, you can create up to 100 requests per day, and have an unlimited number of agents handling those requests.
I expect that many small businesses will welcome this more creative and flexible approach–and hope that it will motivate other cloud vendors to create their own pricing innovations.