SaaS teardown: A Side-By-Side Comparison Guide Between HubSpot CRM vs Zoho CRM
I lived in Chennai (Zoho's headquarters) for 8+ years and didn't know about Zoho's existence until a few years after moving to the city.
On the other hand, I was well aware of HubSpot (located thousands of miles away) even when I didn't know what exactly the company did.
That's because Zoho lacks the flashy marketing brouhaha that other software companies often ride on.
HubSpot basks in the glory of its inbound marketing fame.
To be clear, both companies have a lot of things in common between them.
Both are companies that were founded at the turn of the 21st century—much before the software categories like SaaS CRM became a hyper-competitive landscape.
Both Zoho and HubSpot are also market leaders in their own right.
Both of them have flagship products that were born in places outside the Silicon Valley and found their strong footing in the global SaaS stage.
The founders of both companies have immense admiration for the local talent in their respective hometowns.
But the companies also have their stark differences. The HubSpot vs Zoho story gets better as you dive deeper.
HubSpot Rose To Fame As An Inbound Marketing Leader
Just like how Duracell or WD-40 are household names etched strongly in an average B2C consumer’s mind, HubSpot is a brand that every B2B audience is aware of. Even if you have never used any of HubSpot’s free or paid software, it’s likely that you might have come across one of their blogs that circulate in the online ether.
And there’s a very good reason why HubSpot has gained such huge mindshare among the B2B audience—they pioneered the concept of “inbound marketing” that has forever changed the course of B2B marketing.
Here’s a brief story behind how that transpired.
HubSpot’s two founders—Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah—launched a software tool called “LegalSpot" while they were still in grad school.
After graduation, Brain worked with a venture capital firm (Longworth Ventures) in Boston as an entrepreneur in residence. During the nine months in the job, Brian had the opportunity to help the firm’s portfolio companies grow their business.
As an industry outsider, Brain noticed that all the startups he interacted with were doing the same thing—they were following a cookie-cutter playbook of:
hiring inside sales reps
buying big lists
hiring PR firms
sponsoring trade shows
Basically, these startups were taking an approach that didn’t align perfectly with the way customers in the new digital landscape were buying products.
Brian wanted to challenge the status quo and started wondering if there was a better way for businesses to market themselves and match the way people actually bought software products.
At the same time, Brain and Dharmesh realized that tinkering with LegalSpot wasn’t a profitable venture and they eventually pivoted and launched HubSpot in 2006.
Since they were fresh college grads, they started raising funds for their business idea from the very beginning. They raised about $1 million in angel investing—mostly from their classmates and one of their college professors. Funding has been a powerful growth level for HubSpot since its early days.
There was another interesting observation that lent itself to the co-founders during the initial days of HubSpot. While HubSpot was struggling to get traction online, Brain noticed that Dharmesh’s one-man blog which he had maintained as a hobby since his college days received more traffic than HubSpot’s websites.
They understood that Dharmesh’s blog was offering something of value to people who were looking for interesting ideas online while HubSpot failed to do something similar through its business.
The duo added two and two together and that’s how the idea of outbound versus inbound way of marketing to consumers cropped up. HubSpot embraced inbound marketing as the core of its growth DNA and the idea single-handedly led HubSpot to places that it would have probably never seen.
Today, HubSpot is a Unicorn with over 3K employees worldwide, 70K customers across 100+ countries, and over $20 million in revenue. The company went public on NYSE in 2014 under the ticker symbol “HUBS.”
Since its launch, the company has raised over $100 million in total funding and acquired 13 other companies.
Here’s a look at all the companies that HubSpot has acquired:
The Hustle (2021)
Acenna Data (2019)
Motion AI (2017)
Evolve App (2017)
Zoho Has A One-Of-A-Kind Operating Philosophy
Zoho is the square-peg-in-a-round-hole oddball of the software world. Unlike HubSpot—or the majority of SaaS businesses—Zoho is a late bloomer in the popularity index because it lacks the flashy marketing like HubSpot of other tech companies.
This, despite the fact that Zoho was born way back before the Y2K Scare or the dot-com bubble. Actually, Zoho precedes Salesforce—the biggest player in the CRM space with nearly 20% market share—by exactly three years.
Zoho was founded in 1996 as AdventNet by Sridhar Vembu, his brother Kumar Vembu, and two other co-founders.
The Vembu brothers are sons of a stenographer father and homemaker mother—both of whom never went to school. Their humble background of belonging to the middle-class Tamil family is an important attribution that plays out in the way the company and its founders handle Zoho’s operations and make important business decisions till today.
Sridhar has presided as the company CEO since 2000. Before co-founding the company, Sridhar earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Princeton and worked as an engineer at Qualcomm in 1994. Kumar, who also secured an engineering role at Qualcomm, flew back to India in 1995 driven solely by the idea that India had had a very little footprint in the software industry despite its immense talent potential.
The belief that there’s talent outside of the Valley and that they can bring glory to their place of origin is a philosophy that Brian from HubSpot shares with Sridhar.
The Vembu brothers gathered whatever little savings they had from their stint at Qualcomm and launched AdventNet in Chennai in 1996. Their first product was WebNMS—an IT management platform designed for telecom businesses.
After 26 years since its inception, WebNMS still earns a couple of million dollars of annual revenue for the company and has rebranded as the Internet of Things division of Zoho Corp.
Zoho’s first major product came in the form of ManageEngine—the enterprise IT management software that the company launched in 2002. Since rebranding itself from AdventNet to Zoho in 2009, the company has developed over 44 products including Zoho One—an all-in-one software suite that integrates all kinds of apps designed for sales, marketing, accounting, and team collaboration, all under one roof.
As a tech giant that competes with the likes of Google and Salesforce, Zoho is a bundle of contradictions. Zoho has, for instance, always pushed VC money aside because of its philosophy around building a sustainable business that doesn’t want to crash and burn under the rapid growth mandate of external investors.
Despite the anti-VC approach, Zoho has an annual revenue turnover of $500 million and—according to experts—an approximate market value somewhere between $5–$15 billion.
The company valuation is more of a guesswork because Zoho—a completely bootstrapped and privately held company—has the luxury to keep its valuation figures private from the public.
Zoho grew into a multi-billion-dollar software enterprise because it invested heavily in product R&D (research and development) from its early years and “built instead of bought” other products under its wings. This is in sharp contrast with HubSpot which has leveraged mergers and acquisitions (M&As) as one of the powerful tactics in its growth.
Instead of acquiring other companies, Zoho has actually inspired about 22 SaaS companies in the Indian SaaS ecosystem. In the investor circles, these companies are colloquially known as the Zoho Mafia. Here’s the list of 22 companies that were started by former employees who worked in Zoho at some point in their careers:
Hippo Video (2016)
Yaali Bizappln (2016)
Survey Sparrow (2017)
Today, Zoho has over 13 million users across 130K companies around the world.
So What's The Difference Between The Two?
Fast forward to the present day, both Zoho and HubSpot companies compete on one of the fiercest red oceans in SaaS—the CRM.
CRM is one of the most-crowded and fastest-growing software categories. With over 379 different tools fighting against each other for market share, the CRM segment is a fierce dog-eat-dog world.
Because of the sheer volume of software available in the CRM space, it's incredibly overwhelming for B2B SaaS buyers to evaluate and choose the right CRM for their use cases.
For instance, when you are ready to buy a CRM software—you have to look at its price point, ease of use, market positioning, product capabilities, scalability, best-of-breed vs all-in-one offerings, etc. Most players offer the same set of features, similar pricing, and sometimes copycat functionalities in the CRM's context.
But an important aspect most buyers often overlook is that when you buy software, you also buy into the company's philosophy that makes it.
If you dive deep into the crowded space of CRM software, you will notice that Hubspot and Zoho have unique philosophies that differentiates them from the run-of-the-mill CRM businesses and continues to fuel their growth.
Hubspot vs Zoho
Going by the G2 CRM software grid, both Hubspot and Zoho are in the 'Leaders' category.
The Key Difference Between HubSpot And Zoho
HubSpot cut its teeth in the SaaS world as a marketing platform. HubSpot did one thing very well at the peak of their business, i.e., it helped users automate repetitive marketing tasks like email marketing, social media posts, and running ad campaigns under the same roof.
In recent years, HubSpot expanded its product offerings to build an all-in-one solution to help your go-to-market (GTM) teams across sales, marketing, and customer support.
The HubSpot CRM platform became the company's flagship product, thus transitioning from the marketing automation leader positioning. In Brian's words, HubSpot CRM is "a modern take on evil CRM which has been a category for a very long time."
HubSpot positions its CRM as a tool that can create a competitive advantage for a business' GTM strategy.
HubSpot's philosophy is that sales, marketing, and customer support are different teams contributing to the same goals (i.e., acquiring and retaining customers). Therefore, businesses can benefit when all the teams use one tool to collaborate instead of working in silos and using data scattered across many tools and sources.
However, branding is a powerful, double-edged sword—and HubSpot is finding it hard to break out of its identity as a marketing automation platform.
Dharmesh has talked about trying to overcome this challenge in his podcast interview with SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin:
"The issue with the product line expansion is that you become a victim of your success. We are 5+ years since the launch of HubSpot CRM and, to this day, when we do unaided surveys and ask people what they think HubSpot is—a troubling number of times, the answer still comes back to 'it's a marketing software company.'"
- Dharmesh Shah, Co-founder & CTO, HubSpot
HubSpot currently has an underlying set of software services called HubSpot framework, and they call the individual pieces within the framework their primary colors. Reporting and security are shared services across the entire product line, making them scalable across functions.
HubSpot has a solid CRM and a bunch of related products to cater to the specific needs of modern SaaS businesses. The company also takes its product vision seriously, and there's no doubt they are going to continuously improve their product and offer better solutions for their customers.
How Is Zoho Different Than HubSpot?
From its early days, Zoho’s philosophy has been to build affordable and world-class IT software that SMBs can use to grow their business.
In 2017, it launched Zoho One—an all-encompassing suite of software that helps small businesses manage everything such as finance, marketing, sales, customer support, productivity, collaboration, human resources, among other things.
It was in line with the company’s vision to help business owners run their entire business on Zoho. They position it as “the operating system for business.”
Its broad product vision places Zoho in a unique position to compete with most top players in SaaS—which also means it’s tough for rival companies to outcompete them by sheer brute force.
Of late, the company is investing more aggressively in building semiconductors and setting up its data centers across the globe to add more impetus to its philosophy of staying a self-sustaining business organism.
Zoho is in the SaaS business for the long haul. It’s rare for companies to have a clear vision and plan to build and keep expanding their product line the way Zoho does.
The takeaway—expect Zoho to outlive most of its competitors and build a more tightly integrated product suite that will help its users manage all their business operations from under one roof.
Choosing Between HubSpot Vs Zoho CRM
When you are evaluating between two or more SaaS products, it’s best to slice and dice your comparison from 4 critical lenses:
Key Factors For Evaluation
1. Ease Of Use
The ease of using a CRM product is an essential factor to consider since it will make or break the platform's adoption among your GTM teams.
You have to ask probing questions like:
How hard or easy is it to set up and implement the CRM?
Do you need a dedicated manager to administer the tool?
Can you trial the platform yourself with some automated nurture assisting you?
Will the users need training to start using the tool effectively?
2. Product capabilities
If the CRM's UX gets a passing grade, the next evaluation criteria should be the range of features and benefits it offers.
Ask questions like:
How comprehensive is the CRM in terms of its features?
What integrations does it support?
Do they support the integrations natively or via some 3rd party API connectors?
Are its functionalities out-of-the-box or customizable?
Pricing is an important area to explore considering your team size, budget, and the revenue goals you expect to achieve as a result of leveraging the CRM.
Ask questions such as:
Does the CRM offer a free trial or freemium subscription model?
Is the pricing affordable, flexible, and fair for your business use cases?
Does it have flexible monthly billing options, or does it force you to sign annual contracts?
Does the platform charge for collaboration? Does the platform offer different pricing for different types of users?
Are there any hidden costs?
When you're buying a piece of software, you're not just buying to solve your pressing needs today but also looking to use it for your future needs.
How easy and affordable is it to add more users to the platform?
Does it offer enterprise-level features?
Is it a specialized CRM software or offers all-in-one capabilities?
5. Integrations and App Ecosystems
As an extension to scalability, while buying into a CRM, it’s important to understand the tech ecosystem supported by it.
Ask questions like:
How rich are its integration offerings?
Does it offer one-way or two-way integration with the tools you want to connect to your CRM?
Which of these are native integrations, and which of them need a connector (example: Zapier)?
Comparing HubSpot Vs Zoho CRM
1. Ease Of Use
HubSpot Makes It Easy For SMBs
According to Dharmesh, "the #1 thing we are solving for is the ease of use. That's the thing HubSpot was founded on—to make it easy for SMBs."
And it seems to be holding on to that promise pretty well because HubSpot has a fantastic user interface (UI), literally no learning curve, and a cohesive user experience (UX) across all of its products. HubSpot chose to deliberately spend years building its own CRM platform instead of acquiring an existing CRM tool because they wanted to make it easy for SMB users to use the CRM.
HubSpot CRM is a great choice for small businesses because it's easy to use and doesn't require programming knowledge. It also has many features that help you manage your sales pipeline, including lead capture forms, email marketing integration, and contact management.
- Max Benz, Founder & CEO, BankingGeek
Zoho CRM Is Equally Easy To Use
Zoho's applications are easy to get started with and extremely easy to use. And Zoho CRM is no exception. Like using HubSpot or Google products, you will get a uniform user experience regardless of whether you are using Zoho CRM or Zoho Bigin—the company's low-tier CRM software specially designed for SMBs.
Zoho CRM lets you manage your customer relationships all in one place without requiring a technical or dedicated person to run the tool.
There are several things that I like about Zoho CRM. First, it's very user-friendly and easy to navigate. It offers many features and customization options, which allows me to tailor the system to my specific needs. The customer support is excellent and always helpful.
- Morshed Alam, Founder & Editor, Savvy Programmer
HubSpot Is Expensive And Confusing
HubSpot’s pricing page doesn’t seem to align with their “ease of use” mantra because it’s quite tricky to understand HubSpot’s pricing and plans. The company divides its software offerings into different “hubs” listed under its Products and Plans page:
HubSpot Marketing Hub
HubSpot Sales Hub
HubSpot Service Hub
HubSpot Growth Suite
It’s essential to understand the nuances between the different hubs because they are essentially the same capabilities that HubSpot CRM bundles and sells under its CRM Suite.
Depending on your business requirements, you can buy one or more hubs for $50 per hub per month. Each hub has different pricing tiers (i.e., Starter, Professional, and Enterprise) if you want to scale the usage.
If you are interested in HubSpot’s CRM software, you will have to navigate to the “Bundles” tab on the same page, which offers:
Different pricing tiers for HubSpot CRM
Ability to create your bundle
HubSpot CRM has a free forever plan, but it’s not readily available on the pricing page. Instead, the page lists its “Starter” package as its entry-level plan. However, if you search for “free HubSpot CRM” in Google, you will be able to land on the right page and unlock the free plan tier in no time.
To complicate matters further, the HubSpot pricing page has confusing call-to-actions (CTAs) like “Talk to Sales” or “Calculate your price.” The page does offer a self-checkout process for first-time buyers to get started with HubSpot, but you can’t do it intuitively unless you do some digging around.
In an attempt to make its pricing flexible and interactive, HubSpot has made its pricing information convoluted. The cost of its hubs and the CRM are also on the higher side—contradictory to the company’s claims of being SMB-friendly.
While Hubspot CRM is a nice, straightforward consolidated system that does most of the things SMBs need, I think that it is no longer a market leader. For no justifiable reason, HubSpot is more expensive than almost all CRMs. HubSpot had many great and unique features a few years ago, but nowadays, those same features have become a commodity. Competitors offer the same things for half the price.
- Kelly Chan, Marketing Manager, AccountantOnline.ie
Zoho—Simple And Transparent Pricing
Zoho pricing information is available in a simple format that is pretty standard for a SaaS business. But compared to HubSpot’s overwhelming pricing page, Zoho’s pricing and plans feel like a breeze.
There are several good things about Zoho’s pricing page:
It has plans that most SMBs can afford
The pricing and feature information is organized in a straightforward, organized manner
It communicates the availability of free trials within each plan
It has customer testimonials on the same page to help prospects speed up their decision making
I also like Zoho’s pricing page because it promotes two of its other CRM products—Zoho Bigin and Zoho CRM Plus—on the same page to improve its CRM adoption. Thankfully, the ads don’t interfere with the pricing table or the overall UX and live separately in the subsequent folds below.
3. Product capabilities
HubSpot Is An All-In-One GTM Hub
HubSpot CRM offers a world of possibilities for SMB sales and marketing teams to run their GTM activities effectively. Although expensive, HubSpot's Starter plan packs everything a growing business needs to amplify its sales and marketing efforts.
Here is a glimpse of some of the most important features that HubSpot CRM offers:
Forms: Create standalone, pop-up, embedded, and collected forms to gather the contact details that your business needs.
Email marketing: Send bulk emails that are tested and optimized for different devices and inboxes. Create better emails with a drag-and-drop editor and personalization tokens.
Ad management: Connect accounts from supported ad networks to your HubSpot account. Create audiences from your HubSpot contacts database, and see which ads generate customers.
Ad retargeting: Show ads to users who have visited your website. Retarget ads on Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn.
Landing pages: Create responsive landing pages built to convert using drag-and-drop editor.
List segmentation: Create static or dynamically updating contact lists based on various criteria using properties in your HubSpot database. Use them to power more personalized content in email, on the web, and more.
Reporting dashboard: Get in-depth, customizable data on your marketing performance to know how you're doing and where to improve.
Canned snippets: Create a bank of reusable answers for prospects' most frequently asked questions that you can quickly add to live chats or emails to save time and help prospects faster.
Documents: Build a library of sales documents that you can easily share with prospects. Get insight into when and where prospects are most engaged.
Meeting scheduling: Share a link with customers that lets them see when you're free and book meetings with you, cutting out those tedious 'what time works best for you' emails.
Email templates: Save and reuse your best-performing emails, and share them with your team for a faster and more consistent way to communicate with prospects.
Sales automation: Automate your sales process and cut time-consuming operational tasks.
Apart from sales and marketing, HubSpot CRM also offers a host of features as part of its Service Hub to help customer support effectively manage customer communications and relationships. The Service Hub features are included in the same price range as Marketing Hub and Sales Hub for each tier.
Zoho Fosters Sales And Marketing Alignment
Zoho bundles its features under four essential categories:
It doesn’t separate its features by marketing or sales functions. Still, it offers functionalities based on common business use cases like sales force automation, process management, analytics, sales enablement, performance management, predictive sales and intelligence, customization, and meeting automation.
Although most of Zoho CRM’s features favor the sales functions, it also comes with powerful marketing automation capabilities. For instance, its marketing automation allows users to segment customers, nurture leads, organize online events, communicate with participants, or integrate the CRM with Google Ads to measure a campaign’s performance.
Similarly, Zoho CRM has a built-in predictive sales and intelligence capability that helps you take notes, retrieve essential information from customer conversations, make sales forecasts, detect anomalies, and automate repetitive tasks.
The lack of differentiation between sales- or marketing-specific features brings the two functions together on the same page. Zoho CRM also has powerful collaboration functionalities such as feeds, chat, notes, tags, and project management to bolster sales and marketing alignment.
Zoho CRM is a great all-around product, except that some of its past customers think otherwise:
”Before switching to HubSpot CRM, we used to have Zoho CRM with us. There are a few things that I like and dislike about Zoho CRM. On the plus side, it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. It also has many great features, like the ability to track sales and manage customer relationships. However, I have found that it can be buggy at times and doesn't always work the way it's supposed to. Additionally, their customer support could be better in response time and helpfulness.”
- Max Benz, Founder & CEO, BankingGeek
HubSpot—Scalability Is Subject To Your Choice Of Plan
From the scale point of view, buying HubSpot CRM will give you plenty of opportunities to cross-buy other related subscriptions or features to help you in other business use cases.
The fact that they started as a marketing automation platform and have grown to become a full-fledged CRM suite is a solid testament to their commitment to growing HubSpot to accommodate new use cases.
HubSpot CRM is a carefully crafted CRM platform that’s not cobbled together like other CRM tools that need to be integrated with other software in your tech stack.
Since HubSpot CRM is a painstakingly built homegrown solution, it offers the same UI and UX flavors that other apps in the HubSpot ecosystem. If you are ready to expand your HubSpot usage to other areas of your business, there won’t be any rude shocks that will ruin your user experience.
The only downside to HubSpot’s scalability is its pricing.
HubSpot CRM gets expensive very quickly when you scale up from a low-tier plan to a high-tier plan—or if you add more people to the subscription plan.
Zoho—Scalable Yet Affordable
Zoho CRM is scalable too, but its scalability extends beyond HubSpot’s software suite because Zoho has a broader range of products that transcend beyond sales, marketing, and customer support.
If you want to minimize your dependency on buying too many SaaS products to simplify your software administration and usage, Zoho CRM makes perfect sense. There’s a Zoho product for every possible business scenario, and you won’t face problems integrating them since they all are products from the same family.
Referring back to one of my other blog posts on all-in-one vs. best-of-breed solutions, it takes a strong understanding of the possible use cases to build an engineering layer that’s broad and flexible enough and yet offers focused GTM layers.
From the pricing point of view, scaling Zoho CRM’s usage for your business needs is an easy decision.
Even its premium CRM product—the Zoho CRM Plus—comes for $57/mo/user, which is reasonably priced compared to other CRMs in the SMB category.
On the flip side, there is also a lower version of the CRM (Zoho Bigin) that you can scale down to if you want a bare-bone CRM without too many bells and whistles.
5. Integrations And App Ecosystem
HubSpot—An Extensive And Dependable Ecosystem Of Integrating Apps
As you would expect, HubSpot CRM natively integrates with all the apps in the HubSpot ecosystem. Thus, it broadens HubSpot’s application for teams that want to use the CRM for their unique use cases.
The Hubspot CRM platform, as of January 2022 is home to more than 1000 integrations that span use cases in marketing, sales, service, and more. The number went up from 500 apps in 2020 reflecting HubSpot’s commitment to building an ecosystem that serves the needs of customers and partners.
HubSpot recently also launched “Operations Hub”—yet another product in the HubSpot suite of software to help its client companies unify their customer data in a single platform.
Zoho—Key Integrations And An Equally Dependable Ecosystem
Just like HubSpot, Zoho CRM also connects natively with all other apps in the Zoho ecosystem—making it extremely flexible for users to create workflows, manage data, and easily access key information across the organization.
Zoho CRM too has an extensive library of integrations and offers a dependable ecosystem with all the tools you need. They launched the Zoho Marketplace in 2008 with an aim to help its user base find and install ready-to-use apps and extensions to expand the utility of Zoho apps—including its CRM.
Zoho Marketplace is a scalable platform that helps both its customers and solution partners access and create better-productized solutions and solve their problems. It closes the demand and supply gap between Zoho, its partners, and buyers who are looking for plugins and extensions that they themselves can’t build.
Despite being launched 14 years back, Zoho Marketplace currently has a little over 1000 apps and extensions in its ecosystem—which is equal to HubSpot’s App Ecosystem that came much later.
In my previous SaaS teardowns, I have compared Otter vs Fireflies and Salesloft vs Outreach—and generally speaking, it's relatively easy to conclude a winner between two players if one fails in one or more of the four critical evaluation criteria.
But it’s tough to decide between HubSpot vs Zoho CRM given how competent they both are when it comes to user-friendliness, pricing, product capabilities, and scalability.
Based on my observations, here’s what I think:
If you have used (or have been using) any of HubSpot’s products, and if you are okay with HubSpot’s current pricing, you can stay within the HubSpot ecosystem because migrating everything from one platform to another is usually a huge pain. You can decide to scale up or down HubSpot’s usage based on your budget restrictions or specific needs. And in general, people who prefer Hubspot also appreciate their UI and UX in comparison to Zoho.
Zoho’s UI and UX are equally appreciated by its users. If you are looking to keep your software expenditure low, minimize your SaaS fatigue, and have software that scales up with your needs without breaking the bank—go for Zoho CRM and its sister products.
NOTE: This blog originally appeared in the Avoma blog.