On the larger issue of researching the background of smaller CRM vendors, there are several things to do. First the obvious, which is to "Google" their name in quotes and read what you find. Don't be afraid to go to other sources either, like blogs or communities that might be of interest. Don't hesitate to send an email to people like me who cover the industry and ask about them. My email is email@example.com. Within the constraints of time, you'll find that many of the experts are wonderfully accommodating to inquiries -- without charge. Talk to the principals at the vendor companies you're considering and ask questions forthrightly. Then make a judgment about your comfort level. Remember you should check into their financial stability too because support after the purchase and installation will be necessary. It would be a little difficult to get that support if they weren't in existence anymore. Investigate how well they are doing with customers -- that means talking to their chosen references and also finding a few who aren't chosen by the vendor (again, Google can be wonderful for helping to find them) and talk to them too.
All in all, researching small vendors isn't hard, though it takes effort. Most of them are reputable, and many provide the right functionality in general. It's always a matter of what works for you functionally, in combination with your comfort level with the company you're going to have to deal with.
This was first published in April 2009