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.