Zoho – ready for enterprise prime time? What do customers say?

Zoho – ready for enterprise prime time? What do customers say?

Zoho is well-known as a technology vendor for the SMB market. The company has products that support the whole range from single proprietors to larger companies. This range in itself is remarkable. For some time now, the company is diligently working on moving upmarket and to also support enterprises. This is not in the least, as with a growing customer base, more and more existing customers grow into the enterprise segment.

The transition from SMB to enterprise is far from trivial. Sales models change, messaging, consulting approaches, support infrastructure, even the demand for the size and structure of the ecosystem are different in the enterprise sector.

So, how does Zoho fare? To find out, I had a conversation with Parl Johnson, “Chief Nerd” at Nuvia Smiles. You can find our complete conversation on YouTube.

Interview with Parl Johnson, Chief Nerd at Nuvia Smiles

Nuvia Smiles is a dental implant company and currently has 1,500 Zoho seats. The company has more than 30 locations across the United States. Its specialty is to provide a 24-hour turnaround time to get permanent teeth into the patient’s mouth. This way, they do not have to wait long periods of time to get dental replacements. This requires a very rigorous process and having a lab at every location. Decision making is highly decentralized to support this fast process. The challenge with this degree of decentralization is that there are many disconnected applications and with that also very decentralized data. Nuvia Smiles identified 80 different applications with a scope of consolidation across the 30 locations. While this initially facilitates fast growth, it can become a liability once a certain company size has been reached. Applications and especially data become too siloed to be helpful anymore. Sooner or later, every company needs to establish a central governance framework to be able to ensure compliance and coordinated growth, even the ability to work effectively, or  negotiate favorable prices – in summary, to leverage the economies of scale that being a large company offers.

This need for consolidation across a variety of different applications is what brought Nuvia Smiles to Zoho, after looking at Salesforce and finding that it didn’t meet Nuvia Smile’s requirements or fit into the company’s budget.

The broad implementation scope and the need for fast results that Nuvia Smiles looked at, made it important to work with a partner. This is where a good ecosystem with different partners that have different skill sets – and the possibility to identify them – comes into the picture. Nuvia Smiles identified its first partner during a regional user group event and subsequently another one that could help out with more specialized knowledge via the partner marketplace.

One way to achieve the first successes fast is a focus on data and analytics. It didn’t take Nuvia Smiles long to see first benefits. In the words of Parl Johnson: “I would say it’s because of Zoho Analytics and as soon as we started feeding some key metrics into Zoho Analytics, getting results was almost immediate from an analytics perspective. So, we got some benefit out of that right out of the gate and then some of the other benefits were bringing in some less important data, I guess, into Zoho where we can play around with it, where it had previously just been in spreadsheets or other things. And so, you know, we kind of picked off the lowest hanging fruits right out of the gate.

How to go on from there? One thing that surely is important beyond measure is including the users. Says Johnson “I would say our first attempt at core a process was an absolute failure, and it was largely related to that. [Not integrating] the users was a big failure on our part because we came in with a development mentality. We were using an agile methodology. We were using sprint cycles and we were developing but we were developing to the software we were trying to replace, instead of to the actual user experience. […] We were so focused on the technical parts though that we ended up failing miserably on the user experience.” The team learned from the experience and very successfully started to migrate and consolidate patient processes and the internal communications platform from Slack to Cliq. The latter he considers a big win “because Cliq has a lot more HIPAA-compliance relevant elements to it that helps us be HIPAA compliant in all of our conversations.”

OK, but how about integration? In significant projects and especially in bigger companies, new software finds a lot of legacy software that is needed to perform business processes. While Zoho offers integration and workflow tools, moving away from legacy integrations fast is not always possible. “We knew right off that we needed to have some element of control in the middle between Zoho and many of the apps that we’re using. And so, we went ahead and decided we were going to invest in at least a cloud service that would be in charge of doing all that handshaking where it’s necessary. Sometimes there are some data that’s just simple enough we can just stick it into Zoho, and we’re done with it. But a lot of the baggage that came with some of the old systems are things like Zapier and you know “zapping” some data into Zoho and then zapping some data back and there is a lot of moving parts and we’re trying to figure out how to migrate those into workflows or [Zoho] Flow itself so we can get off that platform [Zapier].”

This, in turn, might require quite some documentation and support. Documentation is readily available, but sometimes confusing. Support initially ran into some hiccups but improved as well. Both strike me as ubiquitous challenges across all vendors.

My analysis and point of view

Given all this, one can say that Zoho is well on the way to be a strong enterprise player. For sure, there are things that can be improved, like documentation or the support infrastructure. But then, this is nothing unusual and a challenge that every contender has as well. Is this an excuse? Certainly not! And, judging by what we hear from Nuvia Smiles, Zoho is actively addressing weaknesses, which is also in line with the principles that Zoho’s CEO Sridhar Vembu laid out during the recent Zoholics event in Austin:

  • Invest into a full product portfolio with breadth and depth
  • Offer attractive bundles that have deep value
  • Invest into exceptional service and support
  • Improve interoperability with more prebuilt integrations
  • Get close to the customer with a strong local partner ecosystem

From a Nuvia Smiles perspective, it appears that Zoho offers a portfolio with more than sufficient breadth and depth, with attractive bundles and a strong local partner ecosystem. Given, that Nuvia Smiles opted for investing into what Parl names “middleman software”, there appears to be scope for additional prebuilt integrations and flows. The other topic that initially seems to have been a cause of frustration for Nuvia Smiles is support. This improved with the growth of Nuvia Smiles’ Zoho footprint. This is a mixed message, as Zoho is still predominantly an SMB player.

So, back to the original question: How does Zoho fare on its way to be a strong player in the enterprise market?

As measured by the own aspirations and the Nuvia Smiles experience, the company is on a good way. Some principles show a high degree of maturity, others are addressed. Something that Parl did not talk about, but which is worthwhile looking at, is the value of the combination of product (bundles) and implementation effort with its consulting rates. I do not say that SIs overcharge – none that I know does – but bigger implementation projects can cause high efforts and cost. These can increase the time to value for customers considerably. This is certainly a dilemma. Still, it is in the best interest of Zoho and its implementation partners, to find a solution out of it. Preconfigured (industry) bundles and so-called consulting solutions may be part of this way. The solution for the deep value challenge may very well lie in the partner ecosystem principle.

In summary: No one is perfect, but it seems that Zoho fares better than many and is certainly ready for enterprise prime time.