Clients Ask The Darndest Things (About Their Big Business Issues)

I’m going to admit something here. . . most of my fellow analysts here chuckle when I profess my love for the insurance industry. Why do I like it so much? Well, one reason is because when I do my "Carney. . . like Art" spiel when someone asks how to spell my last name, insurance people "get it". Yep, they watched "The Honeymooners" and "The Jackie Gleason Show" and know exactly what I’m talking about, unlike most of my co-workers who, with the "Carney. . . like Art" thing, realize that I have more in common with their parents (or grandparents), than them.

 Kids say[1]...  
Another admission here (and it's probably a good predictor of who'll like the insurance industry) is that, as a kid, I also loved Art Linkletter's show, "House Party." Why? Because he had a segment called "Kids Say The Darndest Things" in which he interviewed little kids and they said amazing and often hilarious stuff.

Every year, Forrester fields on the order of 15,000 or so inquiries, most of which are pretty main stream, asking questions about spending trends, industry adoption of cloud, best practices around some process, which are usually easy to answer, but frankly not all that fascinating. But every once in a while, you get a beauty about something piece of software or process that's a bit more on the fringes, like these recent inquiries:

  • VIN Decoder Software for RVs, Trailers, and Boats. The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters assigned by the manufacturer when a vehicle is built, and every car built for sale in the United States and Canada is required to have a VIN. Like a fingerprint, the VIN uniquely identifies a specific vehicle to the insurance industry, law enforcement, government, consumers and concerned stakeholders. This software extracts out all kinds of detail about the vehicle. The problem here? The client's existing software didn't generate the level of detail needed for non-auto or truck vehicles. The real question they're asking? Is there another vendor decoder will give us more detail?
  • Fair Lending, Community Reinvestment Act, and Home Mortgage Disclosure compliance software. Among the many regulations (and more coming) that lenders have to follow and report their performance on issues like predatory lending, data reporting, and affordable lending programs. The problem here? The client had a very short list of vendors who could provide this functionality, with the client no doubt concluding that there would be little in the way of pricing flexibility. The real question they're asking? As the sourcing and procurement function, did we overlook any vendor supplying this functionality that could help us maximize our budget?
  • Leasing software that will track and manage "unusual" collateral. This was a great one from an agricultural lender making business loans and leases to agricultural businesses and big farmers. They were replacing some of their core banking platform and wanted to know if we were aware of any of these systems that were particularly strong in managing one interesting kind of collateral and loan type. . . cows (well, livestock, actually). The problem here? There'’s big differences in the loan or lease terms associated with breeding versus feeder livestock. The real question they're asking? Do you know any firm that specializes in our niche that can help us better handle our business risk?

And my all time favorite:

  • "Death Matching" best practices. This one came from a life insurer who wanted to understand the use of data triggers to initiate a death benefit claim, a process that is known as "death matching." The problem? This client thought their process might be too manual and wanted to understand where they fell in the Bell curve. The real question they're asking? Could our process be costing us too much? We did a few interviews and were able reassure this client that their processes were more typical than not — they were quite manual — but that claims outsourcers might be a better answer.

I'm not implying that these inquiries are humorous like the kids on "House Party," just that clients might expose the real business problem in more oblique ways.   

As we see from these banking and insurance examples, industries have business processes that if not tuned, do have big impacts on their business. The bank that was financing RV homes, snowmobile trailers, and boats is worried about fraud and needs to ensure that the asset that they're lending against is in fact the real deal. The lender that's dealing with a stream of existing and coming regulations is trying to pick a solution that won't consume budget that could support a more critical business need, like growing a profitable bank and managing bigger risk issues. The Ag lender has to manage risks in the short (and fungible) "asset" life of cattle destined for the supermarket meat case. And the life insurer needs to understand how they could prevent "leakage" — fraudulent death claims or paying out an annuity payment to a deceased policy holder, and then having to incur the expense to recover or write off the overpayment.

What does all this mean to sales teams and the sales enablement teams that support them? There's often more to what the customer is asking for than meets the eye. The client or prospect might be asking about the functionality of a particular piece of software or an outsourcing offer, but they've got a business problem they need your help to solve.