Your biggest mediation competition isn’t who you think it is.
It’s not the mediator down the street who’s been in business for a decade and whose name is synonymous with mediation in your region. It isn’t the legal firm one building over. It isn’t the newly minted mediator across town who’s known well from a prior career. And it isn’t the ADR star from out of town, called in on his white horse for high profile cases that make the news.
Long the traditional task of good business planning, analysis of the competition has inadvertently lead too many mediators astray. It’s focused you too much on what others are doing, on what you believe is working for them and should therefore emulate, and on trying to figure out how to be distinctive in a crowded market.
Like the marathon runner so focused on the runners near her that she fails to notice the runner steadily gaining ground from two blocks back, mediators who focus primarily on other professional competition waste time, energy, and opportunity.
I’ve talked to mediators so overshadowed by the professional competition around them that they’re paralyzed by it. I’ve taught business development to groups of mediators so worried about someone else in the room stealing their thunder that they fail to capitalize fully on the workshop. It’s time to do something else entirely.
Your Real Competition
Think of your two biggest competitors as the following and you’ll not only focus your services and marketing more effectively, but also save yourself the frustration of playing keep-up.
Clients themselves. Most prospective consumers of dispute resolution services are not choosing between you and another provider. They’re choosing between doing nothing, continuing to try something on their own, and hiring someone to help them. The last option is a distant third to the first two – only a small percentage of business, workplace, community, public and family disputes result in the hiring of a professional for assistance.
Conflict itself. Think of aligning yourself with your prospective and current clients against destructive or entrenched conflict. When you consider “conflict” your competition, it changes the marketing game considerably. It forces you to address the questions your market is inevitably asking: How do I prevail over this mess? How do I know a conflict this messy is even resolvable? How do I know that hiring someone to help is a better option than severing the relationship and moving on? How do I know staying in conflict for the time being won’t serve me better?
How to Compete
Marketing guru Seth Godin says, “Stop worrying so much about comparing yourself to every other possible competitor you can imagine and start comparing yourself to [doing] nothing. Are you really worth the hassle, the risk, the time, the money? Or can’t the prospect just wait until tomorrow?”
If doing nothing is the status quo, then the most effective mediation marketing helps the prospective client understand why the hassle, risk, and cost are better than no action at all. It helps them understand why the pain of mediation and similar services is better than the pain of things as they are. It helps them understand whether you’re really worth it.
To compete against conflict and against consumers’ “do nothing” apathy, you must answer these questions, both for yourself and in your marketing:
- When is hiring me better than taking no action?
- Why is hiring me better than taking action on your own?
- Why am I worth the hassle and cost?
- What will I do to eliminate every ounce of hassle I can? How will I make hiring and working with me easier?
- How will I ensure that hiring me doesn’t increase the hassle of this conflict?
- What are the risks of hiring me instead of doing nothing and what will I do to minimize or eliminate them?
- If they think I’m not worth it, what can I change about what I do to make what I offer compelling?
There’s a side benefit to focusing your energy on the real competition instead of on beating out your fellow provider. Right now, the field is fractured by mediators so worried about losing an inch to a “competitor” that they hold close to their vest the approaches and strategies that have real impact on the bottom line. Imagine the leaps this fledgling field could take forward if we pooled our insights and success strategies instead of hid them.
I’ve said it before and I still believe it: More good work for any good mediator means more work for all mediators. When you focus on the real competition, you help build not only your own business, but the field as well.
This article was originally printed in the ACR Commercial Section Newsletter, November 2010.