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Zoho’s Major CRM Customization Announcements and Their Impact on Customers – Six Five On the Road

Zoho's Major CRM Customization Announcements and Their Impact on Customers

On this episode of the Six Five On the Road, hosts Lisa Martin and Cory Johnson are joined by Zoho’s Raju Vegesna, Chief Evangelist, for a conversation on Zoho‘s major CRM customization announcements and their impact on customers.

Their discussion covers:

  • The latest CRM customization options introduced by Zoho
  • How these new features can enhance user experience and operational efficiency
  • The potential impact of Zoho’s announcements on customer relationships and business outcomes
  • Strategies for businesses to effectively implement and leverage Zoho’s CRM customizations
  • Insights into the future developments of Zoho CRM and what customers can expect

Learn more at Zoho.

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Transcript:

Cory Johnson: Welcome back to Six Five On The Road. We are here in Austin, Texas. It’s a good thing. We’re at Zoholics. Zoholics, Zoholics, I don’t even know how to pronounce it, but that’s where we are. It’s a really interesting conference, around a really interesting software and nobody knows that better than our next guest.

Lisa Martin: Exactly, Cory. The chief evangelist himself is here, going to be talking about all things news, what’s going on, and he’s been at the company for a very long time. So you’re going to get a great picture of the evolution. Please welcome Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho. Thank you for joining us.

Raju Vegesna: Well, thank you for having me.

Lisa Martin: Lots of news this morning across collaboration, security, privacy, CRM, et cetera. Talk a little bit about some of the things that were announced today and the impact that you see it having on customers.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah, the biggest announcement is really on the CRM side, where we are previewing what’s coming and we provided early access. It’s about changing the game in the CRM. We’re expanding the scope significantly. We think that is the next evolution of CRM.

Cory Johnson: Let’s talk about how you’re expanding it, specifically.

Raju Vegesna: Historically, CRM is very specific to the sales team.

Cory Johnson: Correct.

Raju Vegesna: While you say that-

Cory Johnson: Customers.

Raju Vegesna: Customers.

Cory Johnson: Customer relationship management, CRM, yes.

Raju Vegesna: Customer relationship management, but it is really sales relationship management.

Lisa Martin: Sure.

Raju Vegesna: Because for various reasons, not a lot of other teams were using it. Now, we said, “What if we optimize it in such a way that every team that is involved with the customer benefits from it?” So in this case, we are saying, “Hey, if you have a legal involved with the customer, maybe legal team should have a specific experience. If your finance team is involved, then they should get a specific experience. So if your account management team is involved, they should get a different experience.” So there are multiple parties involved, then how can we create a system so that each party feels that everything is designed for them?

Lisa Martin: Yes.

Raju Vegesna: Because each one of them have their own specific processes, their own set of requirements, their own look and feel that they want, yet still connected to the same core, and make it in such a way that it is extremely customizable. And more importantly, each team feels that.

Cory Johnson: Well, you almost have to, right? If you’re going to go… What legal needs to see is not what sales needs to see, and vice versa.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah.

Lisa Martin: Yeah. Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: Totally, and historically that wasn’t the case where that flexibility didn’t exist. And that’s why that option historically has been restricted to sales. And also it had to be rationed because CRM was pretty expensive, and you would think twice before you would give legal an access and your accounting team an access.

Lisa Martin: Exactly. You mentioned the word customization. We’ve had a couple of Zoho customers on. We had OP360 and we had CIMCO on, and both of them talked about the importance on the customization. In fact, I think it was CIMCO who talked about his IT team not knowing who Zoho was, and them thinking, “Are you crazy for choosing this solution?” But when they saw what it did and the ability to customize, they were blown away and it was next level. And so we’re hearing that from the voices of your customers, but also what you’re really describing is the true democratization of CRM, because to your point before it was sales, customer. Well, there’s a lot of other people that touched the customer, but it’s like in our consumer lives, we want this personalized, relevant experience online and we want this same thing in our business lives, and Zoho is delivering that now.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah, historically, that meant writing a lot of scripts and code and all of that, but can you make it so simple that customizing a CRM is as simple as customizing the home screen of your phone and various other aspects. And that is what we have put together a lot of tools, so that you can simply drag and drop, and place things the way you want, and everything is delivered. A complex functionality but simplified for an end user so that anyone can do it.

Lisa Martin: An end user that doesn’t need to be IT, correct?

Raju Vegesna: Doesn’t have to be IT.

Lisa Martin: Right.

Cory Johnson: We’ve talked to so many people at this conference who are saying, “I’m not an IT guy, but… I’m not an IT guy, and…” They can do all these things with Zoho.

Raju Vegesna: With Zoho, and yet, so that also allows these individual groups I was talking about, when legal can figure out how to customize it to their need without having to contact an IT or someone else to do it, that’s a win.

Lisa Martin: Huge win.

Cory Johnson: Because those guys are lazy and not that smart. Lawyers. Lawyers.

Raju Vegesna: Well, each hour they spend costs a bit. So they would rather spend it on-

Lisa Martin: Absolutely.

Raju Vegesna: … on the customer.

Cory Johnson: Billing.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Cory Johnson: I get it. Yes.

Lisa Martin: Yes. Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah.

Lisa Martin: Something I wanted to touch on, AX. I saw this morning in the analyst media session, you said, and this was an interesting quote, “The best use of AI is when a user doesn’t know they’re using AI, but they get value from it.” Explain that more. How realistic is that?

Raju Vegesna: How many of us get excited about HTTP?

Cory Johnson: Right. Right.

Raju Vegesna: It’s there. It gets the job done, and it’s an essential part of what we call as the internet, the web, yet we don’t think about it. AI, we see it the same way. In other words, AI will be everywhere, just that we will not think about it, just that it so happens that we benefit from it on a daily basis. That’s where we see AI headed and that’s what we are taking as a priority. If you take AI as a technology, people don’t get excited by technology. It is the technologists that get excited by the technology. People get excited about what they can do with the technology and the technology doesn’t matter at that point, and that is where we see AI going. And we certainly see AI becoming present as a technology. That means it is pervasive, it is everywhere, in every product. So people just, they do not care about what technology they’re using, it is all about what benefit are they deriving from it. That is what we see going and that is what we are working towards.

Lisa Martin: What about the security angle? Because security is a big concern where AI is concerned. Privacy, hallucinations, how do you bridge those challenges that we know are extent?

Raju Vegesna: Yeah, you can use AI for security purposes. For example, we have taken one of our models, like a phishing model, embedded that into our browser, Ulaa. So you can use AI in the context of a browser. Now look at it from a user point of view, somebody sends me a link, I click on the link and open that link. If that is a phishing link, the system should tell you that it’s a phishing link. The user will be thankful that we alerted them. They’re not thinking, “What AI technology enabled this?”

Cory Johnson: Right. Right. Right.

Lisa Martin: That’s a good point.

Raju Vegesna: What we have done is embedded that phishing AI model into the browser.

Cory Johnson: Put the fire out. I don’t care how you put the fire [inaudible 00:07:00]-

Raju Vegesna: Exactly.

Lisa Martin: Exactly.

Raju Vegesna: It’s not the technology. It is the problem that you’re solving, and that’s what we do.

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: And now how you do it, taking privacy into consideration, is a key thing. So you can obviously solve a problem, but you cannot use or abuse customer’s data.

Raju Vegesna: And that is where we take a different stance in the industry, where it’s a privacy-centric thing, and that is the reason we launched the browser. And that is the reason a lot of what we do is extremely privacy-centric, where the defaults are no, when it comes to using user’s information to train our generic models. So if the customer explicitly says, “Hey, use my data to train your model,” then we’ll do it. But the default is no.

Lisa Martin: Right. Right.

Cory Johnson: Right, which customers surely want, and that’s going to be an issue for more and more companies as the AI model, the large language models out there, are starting to reach some barriers. Because the information that’s public has already been vectorized and crunched in by these models, but all the other information isn’t.

Raju Vegesna: And all that other information that isn’t, particularly that is behind the firewall, it is not just access control, or it is access control.

Cory Johnson: Right.

Raju Vegesna: It is not just hidden from the public that it is access control at the individual user level.

Cory Johnson: Interesting.

Raju Vegesna: So unless you add that access control layer on top of the AI model, you’re not going to make progress there. Or I see the AI analogy with the public and private data, very similar to the enterprise search market.

Cory Johnson: To the what?

Raju Vegesna: Enterprise search market.

Cory Johnson: Oh, yeah, yeah. I would agree.

Lisa Martin: Yes.

Raju Vegesna: Like, Google dominates the search market-

Cory Johnson: Right. Well, the enterprise…

Raju Vegesna: … in the public search market, but why didn’t they dominate the enterprise search market?

Cory Johnson: Because they couldn’t crawl the enterprise data.

Raju Vegesna: Exactly, because it is behind an access controlled environment and the permission structure and all of that comes into play.

Cory Johnson: And that gave the world room to have an elastic or something.

Raju Vegesna: Exactly.

Cory Johnson: Companies that go in and look at private companies’ data.

Raju Vegesna: Private companies. So in other words, in order to get the enterprise search right, you need to have an access control authorization, access control and authentication layer.

Cory Johnson: Well, it puts you guys in a position to have some really important AI tools, really useful AI tools, because you’ve already got that access. You’re already there.

Raju Vegesna: Exactly. Exactly. Not a lot of companies do have that layer. That is why security, to your point, is important… If you don’t have that layer and if you do not have the data, which is controlled, if you don’t have both layers, it is almost impossible to protect.

Cory Johnson: You have the keys to the kingdom.

Lisa Martin: Yes.

Cory Johnson: Now you can exploit what’s in the kingdom if the customer wants you to.

Raju Vegesna: Exactly. I won’t use the word exploit. Now, yeah, customer can decide whether they want to exploit the data that they have-

Cory Johnson: Well, we were using the word conviction later. We didn’t mention handcuffs. So we can use exploit and also mean it in a positive way.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah. Yeah, certainly. That’s-

Lisa Martin: Maximize leverage, yeah.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah.

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: So just because we have that, we are not using all our customer’s data to train our models, but we are providing models so that the customers can use their data and refine the models that we provide on the data that they have, and then they can decide what they want to do with that.

Lisa Martin: So we talked earlier about CRM for everyone and everybody from sales, to legal, to finance, to HR, across an organization is going to be able to have this contextual access, this democratization. But there’s also news that came out today where Zoho is focusing even more on the developer experience. Can you share a little bit about that and where does that fall in your overall vision?

Raju Vegesna: Sure. Zoho is a platform. Now, you can only call it a platform if you can extend it. The platform has to be…

Cory Johnson: …everyone calls themselves a platform, doesn’t mean they should.

Lisa Martin: That is true.

Cory Johnson: Right?

Raju Vegesna: Yeah, that’s a good point. Now, to extend it, you need a series of tools. Some tools will be like a no-code tools at all, make it easy so that you simply drag and drop like your iPhone home screen, or sometimes maybe you don’t mind writing some scripts. Those are the low-code tools. Then there are pro-code tools out there. So we have about 10 plus tools at various levels of the spectrum, doing various things, whether it is extending the existing application, integrating the application to a third-party application, or creating a brand new application out there. So if you look at these two metrics, where on one dimension you have extensions and all of that, the other dimensions, you have low-code, no-code, pro-code tools. We have about 10 plus tools. So we are doing two things here. One, we are adding a new tool to the toolkit. We’re calling it Apptics, for developers.

Lisa Martin: Apptics, yes.

Raju Vegesna: And then we are also deepening an existing tool called Catalyst.

Lisa Martin: Catalyst.

Raju Vegesna: And there we are adding several services out there, to deepen that. So it’s yet another iteration of our tools, providing additional tools for the developer to expand the platform.

Lisa Martin: Can you share a little bit more about what some of this new capabilities and features are, that developers will get to really double click on?

Raju Vegesna: Sure. Let’s say I’m a developer. I want a good NoSQL database on the cloud. Well, now they can do that on the Zoho platform.

Raju Vegesna: They can, pretty much, create their own database, a structured database, but also unstructured as well, we support. Now we are adding a NoSQL to it out there. Similarly, if you’re developing, you’re continuously rolling out things, and continuous development, so processes are something that we are rolling out, called pipelines. And whereas the developer applications, they need some tools to create some user interfaces, but we are rolling out some tools for that. Similarly, we are also rolling out tools to manage events and all that. Obviously these are all developer-related things. What we have done is to create this platform that scales to, say, a hundred plus million users. We had to develop a lot of technology. We took portions of the technology and we are making it accessible to all the developers so that hey, we don’t have to be restricted to Zoho. You can use it to develop anything between any two third-party applications that Zoho has nothing to do with. So we are creating and exposing some of the basic infrastructure through the developer platform.

Lisa Martin: Okay.

Cory Johnson: But you’re also at a point where you really know how your customers are using your software.

Raju Vegesna: Yes.

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Cory Johnson: And you’ve been able to learn, for a long time, what that is, and you’re in a better position to analyze that better now. And then finally, you’re in a position to write new code using AI tools, so quickly. So again, based on knowing what your customers do, knowing more about what your customers do, because thanks to the more modern tools and AI analytics, and BI or whatever, and then use AI… It seems like you’re at a point where you’re going to be able to launch so many new things, so much more quickly than you ever have.

Raju Vegesna: Totally. You nailed it. That’s the advantage.

Cory Johnson: That’s one in a row for me.

Raju Vegesna: So yeah, I think the pace of innovation is a critical piece for us, as is we have one of the broader platform and the deeper one. It’s a progression from here on. So we are excited about all these new announcements and new things, but I think the developer productivity will increase and there are other things that will go on.

Lisa Martin: What’s been some of the feedback, over the last day and a half or so, from customers as well as the partner ecosystem, in terms of all these new capabilities that are being unleashed and some of the freedoms that you’re giving developers, as you just talked about, to do with the other third party tools?

Raju Vegesna: Yeah. The feedback has been amazing. To some extent, there are some people that basically say, “Hey, you’re overwhelming again, yet another Zoholics.” So there are a lot of cookies here, and which one do I start now?

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: There are some partners who already got early access to this and we have been getting some good, positive feedback. But this typically happens at every Zoholics. There are a lot of new things coming. There are also enhancements to existing ones. And then there is always things, “Hey, I want to quickly migrate. Can I do that right away?”

Lisa Martin: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: So it’s a lot of real good, positive dialogue. We’re excited about where we are.

Lisa Martin: Last question for you. You’ve been, you said, 24 years-

Raju Vegesna: Yeah.

Lisa Martin: … at Zoho.

Cory Johnson: Wow.

Lisa Martin: And it’s 28 years young, but you’ve been there pretty much from the beginning, really.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah.

Lisa Martin: What excites you about the direction the company’s going, the philosophy, the vision as its chief evangelist.

Raju Vegesna: It’s a fundamental, core beliefs and values that drives it, because the reality is what we create now, at some point, may be 10, 20 years from now will be irrelevant.

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: Because what we created 20 years back, the products don’t exist today.

Lisa Martin: No. No.

Raju Vegesna: And what we create now may not exist 20 years from now.

Lisa Martin: That’s innovation.

Raju Vegesna: Yeah, that’s innovation.

Lisa Martin: Yeah.

Raju Vegesna: Now, what really drives is there are fundamental values that become the platform for the company, the beliefs, the people. People are the same. Products changed, people didn’t, right? And industries changed, but the philosophy didn’t. So what excites us is basically the group of people that we love working with and constantly creating things. So love creating things, and that’s part of the fun. So we’ll keep doing it.

Lisa Martin: And you have the platform to do it. Raju, thank you so much for joining Cory and me on program.

Raju Vegesna: Appreciate it.

Lisa Martin: This has been a great, really, dissection of the evolution of the Zoho, what you’re achieving for customers, for developers across industries and across the globe, for a hundred million users, and more. So thank you for your insights.

Raju Vegesna: No, thank you for coming, really appreciate it.

Lisa Martin: Our pleasure.

Cory Johnson: Well, we’ve got more great stuff from Zoholics in Austin, Texas, when Six Five On The Road continues.

Author Information

Lisa Martin is a Silicon Valley-based technology correspondent that has been covering technologies like enterprise iPaaS, integration, automation, infrastructure, cloud, storage, and more for nearly 20 years. She has interviewed nearly 1,000 tech executives, like Michael Dell and Pat Gelsinger, on camera over many years as a correspondent.

Cory Johnson is the Futurum’s Chief Market Strategist and the host of the Drill Down podcast.

His peripatetic career has seen him in prominent roles as a hedge fund portfolio manager and investor, technology journalist and broadcaster. Fundamentally he’s an entrepreneur -- helping to start media companies such as TheStreet.com, the Industry Standard, Slam (the world’s best-selling basketball magazine) and Vibe. He was CNBC’s first Silicon Valley correspondent and later helped create the TV show Bloomberg West for Bloomberg TV and the radio show and podcast Bloomberg Advantage. He was a senior executive at the blockchain startup Ripple, a portfolio manager for Kingsford Capital and a principal at the Forensic Research Group.

Johnson is also an advisor to Braintrust, C3.ai, Prolly AI, Provenance Bio, Stringr and serves as a delegate to the Episcopal Diocese of California.

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