Information technology execs may waver when it comes to purchasing big-ticket enterprise hardware and software tools, but there's one thing that virtually all companies are willing to pay for: CRM. Though the latest data from research firm Gartner forecasts a relatively flat 2014 after several years of explosive growth, CRM is still expected to be a $23.9 billion market this year, and will grow to over 50% $36.5 billion by 2017.

What's driving the CRM market? First and foremost is cloud technology. But utilizing the cloud to manage sales, marketing, and business initiatives is only part of the equation. Social media, mobile access, and incorporating big data analysis are all key components that IT gurus require of their CRM systems. And let's face it, some are better than others at delivering what the CRM market is demanding, and right at the top of that list is (NYSE:CRM).

Who are these guys?
When CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff started in 1999, out of his apartment no less, it was a revolutionary concept: providing access to software and services without the need for expensive and time consuming CD-ROM's, and huge investments in hardware. Essentially, implemented the cloud before there even was a cloud. It's no wonder then that Benioff's dream has become the industry's reality -- and is still leading the way.

You don't lead the market by standing still, and certainly isn't. Mobile, which was once a weak point in's arsenal, will, by most accounts, become another one of its strengths in the coming quarters and years. After failing in earlier attempts to make compatible with mobile devices, its new Salesforce1 solution appears to be the answer. Unveiled late last year at its Dreamforce gathering, Salesforce1 is now integrated with iOS and Android mobile devices, and could be the mobile answer has been searching for. It's still early, but it will be interesting to see how's mobile ambitions fare on Feb. 27's earnings announcement.

If Benioff and team's recent guidance for this year and next -- $4.05 billion in 2014 and $5.15 billion to $5.20 billion in 2015 – are any indication, is expecting big things and investors should, too.

The competition
It's not like has the CRM playing field to itself, there are some big players who'd like nothing more than to knock it off its pedestal. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is one of the first that comes to mind, and its Dynamics CRM poses a serious threat to's CRM leadership position.

There were several reasons Microsoft's recently announced fiscal 2014 Q2 impressed, including growth in its devices and consumer unit. But just as telling, if not more so, was Microsoft's $12.67 billion in revenue from its commercial division, including a more than 100% jump in cloud-related revenues, which includes Dynamics CRM. The seamless integration of Dynamics with it wildly popular Office 365 is a natural for small and large businesses alike, and will have looking over its shoulder for years to come.

Oracle (NYSE:ORCL) is another big boy on the CRM block contending with Despite only so -so fiscal 2014 Q2 results, including flat overall cloud revenues, Oracle's CRM sales were a bright spot. According to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, its cloud-based Fusion Salesforce Automation revenues jumped over 100% last quarter, and there's little reason to believe that growth is going to stop any time soon. Add in Oracle's enterprise solutions, and implementing big data into its CRM is a natural.

Final Foolish thoughts
At just under $38 billion in market capitalization, is just a blip on the radar compared to Oracle and Microsoft. But when it comes to the exploding CRM market, stacks up against anyone and everyone. If Gartner's forecast for the future of CRM is even close to being right, there's room for all the players in the game to continue growing. But it will be that leads the way, just as it always has.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.