I was pleasantly surprised to receive from insurance industry powerhouse A.M. Best a copy of a new publication entitled, "The Guide to Understanding the Insurance Industry." Its 84 pages offer the best plain language explanation of the insurance industry I have ever seen, along with key industry statistics. Not surprisingly, many of the statistics are drawn from various A.M. Best publications, and the text does a subtle yet solid job of showing where A.M. Best products fit in the overall industry picture, what they do and why they are important. In short, A.M. Best is working hard to educate the marketplace about the insurance industry and how its products support that industry.

Nice, but what's the point you say? I have seen several examples lately of clients whose data products are so sophisticated that their subscribers weren't tapping into their full potential, and in at least one case, actually misusing the product. And when subscribers under-use or misuse a database, they don't blame themselves. They blame the publisher -- and don't renew.

This is an interesting new challenge for the industry as publishers increasingly introduce "to die for" datasets that their markets can't fully appreciate without some guidance. The only real solution is to educate users. Don't be fooled into thinking that if subscribers don't understand how to fully use your product, they'll make support calls. Those subscribers who call for support are typically having a problem getting from point A to point B. There is a whole other class of subscriber that doesn't even know point B exists. Unless you educate them about the possibilities, this is a group at risk of drifting away from your product.

The same problem exists even when your product isn't all that sophisticated, but you are moving into new markets with it. A great example is infoUSA, which built its business selling mailing lists to companies that for the most part had never bought a list before. One thing infoUSA learned very quickly is that making the sale was only part of the challenge. It also had to teach its customers the basics of direct mail and to educate them about such things as undeliverable mail. If you have just sent out your first mailing and get 300 pieces back marked "undeliverable," it is not unreasonable to conclude you've been cheated. But if those 300 undeliverable pieces came from a mailing of 10,000 pieces, that's not a bad result -- but the customer would not know that unless educated in advance. I have long contended that infoUSA's remarkable success in the treacherous small business market was due in large part to its educational efforts.

We all take data for granted. After all, it's our business. But we should never forget it's typically not the main business of our customers, and that an investment to educate our subscribers will yield an impressive long-term return.