If you still have doubts whether customer relationship management (CRM) is trendy, hip and cool, put your mind at rest. Gartner just released a list of "cool" CRM vendors.

But notions of coolness aside, what's equally as interesting is the evidence of specialization among CRM vendors and the signals that point to their potential growth.  

What's Cool Got to Do With It?

This year’s list includes five vendors that cover a wide range of digital marketing technologies used specifically in the CRM space — specifically, applications for robust asset management, marketing resource management (MRM) in a business process outsourcing model, integrated marketing solutions for small and midsize (SMB) businesses and a cross-channel engagement platform.

Who made the list? Adam Software, DataSource, HubSpot, MindMixer and Provenir.

The Cool Vendors list  (fee required) focuses on features and functionality that Gartner analysts expect to be trend setting in the years to come.

It's also worth keeping in mind that Gartner considers CRM and related technologies as a real growth technology area. And others seem to agree. Only last month, despite continuing economic uncertainty, CRM budgets remain strong in Europe. The survey found 50 percent of the 102 respondents planned to increase spending on CRM initiatives in 2014, with an average increase of 2.5 percent over 2013 budgets.

So let's dig into that 'cool' list, in alphabetical order:

1. Adam Software

Adam provides a marketing asset management (MRM) and Digital Asset Management (DAM) solution that combines workflow, asset management and fulfillment. Although a growing number of DAM vendors are targeting the MRM market, few have gained the attention from customers and partners that Adam has over the past year. Gartner describes its partnership with Teradata, which was established in 2013, as one of the first significant partnerships in the MRM spaces.

However, it needs to continue to find ways to distinguish itself from the large number of new entrants into the market and also needs to distinguish itself from established DAM players like OpenText. Gartner also suggests that it establish more partnerships to grow and push revenue.

2. DataSource

DataSource provides products for those who need creative planning and project management along with marketing asset management capabilities. Gartner claims it deserves the ‘Cool’ label based on the fact that it is one of the first companies to offer MRM based on lifecycle and brand management. It is also unique for its BPO model that combines its own software and partner software with managed services.

However it is primarily located in the US, where most companies prefer to select and implement MRM solutions via a SaaS vendor, or from a vendor with an on-premises or hosted model. There is interest in this model in other geographies especially in Asia/Pacific and South America. DataSource needs to find the best markets to expand into through new partnerships.

3. HubSpot

HubSpot caters for the SMB space and offers reasonably priced inbound marketing capabilities. It does this through a SaaS marketing automation platform that supports inbound marketing with capabilities including website development tools, search engine optimization and support for Web landing pages as well as content and social media management. All these are provided as an integrated marketing tool that enables SMBs with limited resources simplify complex processes. Last year it announced $77 million in revenue in 2013, and has raised more than $100 million in funding from venture investors.

Even still, while it has developed a good reputation with marketing professionals in the SMB space it is not first choice for enterprises that have broad functionality and scalability requirements. As it continues to position itself as a marketing automation platform appropriate for companies of all sizes, it will increasingly run into competition from larger competitors like Adobe Campaign, Marketo and Oracle Eloqua.


MindMixer provides products for government and public sector organizations that are looking for ways to gather input and coordinate data across the different departments in organizations. While most other vendors in the space are focused on enterprises, MindMixer focuses on governments, government organizations and the education market.

It offers communities for posting challenges, collecting ideas, running polls and surveys, and gathering feedback. All its functionality is aimed at supporting its clients create active and engaged physical community.

.However, the external community market has some well-established players across multiple industries and international markets. While it has started moving outside its US home base, it is now starting to face challenges from the likes of Salesforce, Jive or Telligent.

5. Provenir

Provenir provides business-to-consumer (B2C) companies or agencies with a platform that integrates customer data to manage the customer journey across multiple channels. It made the mark as a "Cool" vendor for its focus on building a real time customer engagement hub using both structured and unstructured data for deeper customer insights and reactions. The platform also includes channel and data integration, business process decomposition, service orchestration and service composition.

Provenir will be challenged on three fronts. First, it must distinguish itself from business process management software (BPMS) vendors that provide BPM platforms that focus on CRM for customer service. Secondly, it needs to explain how its products are unique as the market starts to mature, and thirdly, there are other vendors emerging that are offering similar products and position. Provenir will need to gain attention in the market quickly to grow visibility, Gartner noted.

Market For Acquisitions

If the vendors here seem specialized, Gartner points out that they should be considered in the wider context enterprise integrated marketing management, even if there is some risk involved in investing because of their small size and specialized market focus and positioning.

In this respect, Gartner points to the example of BlueKai in Washington, which aggregated anonymous third-party audience and in-marketing shopping data, and connects to marketers' private data assets for creating in-depth user profiles across sites and channels.

Blue Kai particularly appealed to major publishers, website marketers and advertisers that looked to it to consolidate user data and reach targeted segments with their campaigns. It clearly appealed to Oracle too, which bought it in February.

What happens to it after the deal is finally closed is still not clear, but Gartner suggests that existing and prospective clients ask for an established road map and business plan for BlueKai to see where all this will finally lead.

This is the problem with small vendors, no matter how "cool" they might be. With competition in a number of areas, particularly around customer management and marketing so intense, the gorillas are out prowling for interesting companies that might give them an edge. What remains of these small companies when bought out is never really clear until the dust settles.

The Cool vendor list is by no means an exhaustive list of players in the market, but has been drawn up to highlight interesting, new and innovative vendors, products and services, Gartner claims.

 Title image by  Korionov (Shutterstock).