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The Essential Guide To Market Your ADR Practice

“Experience has taught me that there is one chief reason why some people succeed and others fail. The difference is not one of knowing, but of doing. The successful man is not so superior in ability as in action. So far as success can be reduced to a formula, it consists of this: doing what you know you should do.”

— Roger Babson, the man who called the 1929 market crash and made enough money to start Babson College.

Since most mediators and arbitrators are self-employed, we are probably our best promoters. No one else is as believable, as passionate or convincing. This isn’t to say that there aren’t professionals who can’t assist and guide you, however, most ADR service providers simply don’t have the funds available to outsource their prospecting.

However, you know best what you can do, the benefits of your practice and most important, the marketing activities with which you’re most comfortable and adept. I don’t recommend that you try to be someone you’re not. If you’re not a great salesperson, don’t force it. Let your media speak for you. If you’re not comfortable in front of an audience, don’t speak publicly.

Do a little self-analysis, and determine both your strengths and weaknesses. Using your strengths design some marketing activities that you can handle on your own, and outsource those activities that you are unable (or unwilling) to tackle, to a professional. Remember, in all of your marketing, just be yourself. Your prospects will feel the authenticity and enthusiasm in your practice and reward you with their respect, their referrals, and their business.

The end result will be a powerful combination of professionalism and sincerity. A nearly unbeatable recipe for success.

The 4 Ps (& more)

“You don’t buy coal, you buy heat; You don’t buy circus tickets, you buy thrills; You don’t buy a paper, you buy news; You don’t buy spectacles, you buy vision; You don’t buy printing, you buy selling.”

You frequently hear about the four P’s in marketing. Traditionally they are Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. However, these “P’s” are just the beginning. For any service provider who’s serious about their marketing there are a few more “P’s” (in fact, we think there should be 15 “P’s”). They follow.

1. Product:
For our purposes, product should be read as “service.” Product (or service) is what you sell. For ADR professionals, this may be just one process along the spectrum of dispute resolution services or many. Frequently, when providers offer potential clients a vast array of processes up front, the consumer is overwhelmed with options they may or may not understand. If you offer more than one service, consider educating your consumer about each process, or offer them a “customized” process that is created on a customer-by-customer basis. You must also consider that you’re not just selling a process. Remember to take into consideration those intangible Products you are selling (e.g. hope, solutions, resolution, peace of mind, etc.).

2. Place:
Conrad Hilton’s belief that success has to do with three things: location, location, location, does not necessarily apply to our industry. If your practice is designed for clients to come to you, then of course location is very important. Providing a convenient location (think about available parking as well as amenities like restaurants, and so on.) may be key in attracting clients. On the other hand, if your practice “delivers” its service to clients, then location can be a secondary concern.

3. Price:
This “P” is a particularly sticky wicket in the ADR industry. With so many providers offering their services at no charge, and numerous private and public organizations requesting, if not demanding, that services be provided on a voluntary basis, many of us are stuck about pricing. In some geographic, demographic and psychographic markets, there remains an argument about whether non-attorney practitioners should be paid the same as attorney practitioners. What it all boils down to is this: First, choose which of four categories your practice falls into: voluntary, for pay, mostly voluntary with some pay, or mostly for pay with some voluntary.

If your practice is of the volunteer variety and you like it that way, then you have no pricing issues, only of finding enough community and court panels for volunteers. If your practice is primary volunteer with some for pay cases and you want to move it into the paying category as the primary portion of your practice, there are solutions. To make a transition from a primary-volunteer practice into paying cases you should be careful to volunteer within groups who will provide you either referrals to paying cases or who, as repeat clients, will pay for future services. Another avenue of transition lies in your calendar. Allow paying clients access to your calendar at their convenience and your volunteer cases access to your calendar at your convenience. Be sure to let the volunteer cases know that you can more quickly accommodate their case if they would like to move from the no-pay category to the for-pay category. If your practice falls into the for pay bracket, you’ll want to research what your market can bear. What do the attorneys in your area charge hourly, what do the other providers charge, and is this fee appropriate for the service your practice provides? Keep in mind that most Westerners believe that they get what they pay for. If you charge little or nothing for your services, then you relay to the consumer that your service is worthless.

4. Promotion:
Promotion involves those various methods of touching your target market to make them aware of your practice. Promotion may include advertisements, public relations, special promotions etc.

5. Perception:
How your target market perceives your practice may be more important than any other factor in your marketing. It doesn’t matter whether or not you provide the best service in town if your target market thinks someone does.

6. Positioning:
Read this “P” as differentiation. Determine your particular position by differing from your competition.

7. Professional Help:
Lots of beginners think that they can do all of their marketing and advertising themselves but smart business people know that hiring professionals is an investment in their future profits.

8. Planning:
Planning is probably the cheapest insurance you can buy. Without it you’ll be running your practice on a wing and a prayer – not the most pragmatic or enviable position for anyone serious about owning a business.

9. Personnel:
Train all personnel (including yourself) who interact with the public. Lack of courtesy is the biggest single reason people stop doing business with a provider. Your personnel are a direct reflection of your credibility, professionalism and business mission. Train the well.

10. Product (service) knowledge:
If you don’t have a complete understanding of your service – how can you possibly sell it? Knowledge of your service should be available to prospects in clear and brief verbal explanations, written material, etc. that shows the clear benefit to the client, the niche of your practice, or what’s unusual about your practice.

11. Policies:
Establishing policies for dealing with your clients is an important aspect to providing a consistent performance. Your policies will make dealing with your clients much easier for you both. You can save money and avoid client dissatisfaction (and create a great source of referral) buy installing some simple policies like fee schedules that include cancellation policies, travel policies, and the percentage of pro bono cases your practice will carry.

12. Profitability:
profit is the sole, sane reason to be in business. You may have other worthwhile goals of a charitable or social nature, but unless you make a profit you cannot achieve those goals. Marketing and market research are your best investments in profits. If you know who your customers are and what they want from your practice – your profitability goes up drastically.

13. Priorities:
Marketing is complex. Like a puzzle many small and large pieces must come together seamlessly. In order to accomplish this you must set priorities to assure continued progress toward your goals. Some activities must be done prior to others or are of higher importance to reaching those goals. The main idea is to make sure that the important activities are done first.

14. Preparation:
The Boy Scouts have the right idea – “Be Prepared”. Marketing is too important to be left to the last minute and ad hoc solutions.

15. Poignancy:
Identify the hot buttons for your target market as well as the hot buttons for ADR. For many practitioners emotions will be the key and for others the bottom line will be a primary concern. Either way, remember that most choices to hire a provider are made by an individual who can be affected by poignant words and ads.

Mother Goose & Marketing

“Advertising which promises no benefit to the consumer does not sell, yet the majority of campaigns contain no promise whatever. (That is the most important sentence in this book. Read it again.)” David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising

Myth #1:
Sell the sizzle and not the steak.

Truth #1:
Sell the solution and not the sizzle. The easiest way to sell a product is to offer it as the solution to a problem. If you tend to look for the sizzle rather than the problem, you are looking in the wrong direction. Your prospects might appreciate the sizzle, but they’ll write a check for the solution. Do all in your power to identify problems that your prospects have then position your service as the best solution to that problem. If you think solutions, you’ll market solutions. If you think sizzle, you’ll sell sizzle. These days, people love sizzle as much as ever. But given a choice of purchasing sizzle or a solution with their discretionary income, customers will put their money on the solution every time. When you present your practice as a solution, you follow the path of least resistance to the sale.

Myth #2:
Great marketing works instantly.

Truth #2:
Great discount sales work instantly. Great limited-time offers work instantly. Marketing a practice is a process – not an event. Great marketing is made up of creating a desire for your service in the minds of qualified prospects over time. This is especially true of ADR consumers. They won’t hire you unless they like you and trust you and the only way they’ll know if they like and trust you is to get to know you over time.

Myth #3:
Marketing should be changed every few years to keep it fresh and new.

Truth #3:
The longer great marketing promotes a service, the better. Successful marketers create marketing strategies with which they can live for five to ten years or longer. How long do you suppose the Green Giant has been jolly? How long have people been in good hands with Allstate? Do you think these firms would have been more successful if they kept changing their marketing around to keep it fresh and new? I think not.

Myth #4: Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.

Truth #4: Bad publicity is bad for your business. No publicity is a lot healthier for you. People love to gossip, especially about businesses that have done something so bad that it got written up in the paper or exposed on the TV news. That’s why bad word of mouth spreads so rapidly.

Perhaps for a no-name politician seeking any kind of publicity, bad publicity is better than none – simply for the sake of name recognition. But I’m not too sure about that. I am sure, though, that bad publicity is something that gives no joy to any self-respecting marketer.

Did you know…..? On average, a positive recommendation will made only 10 times and a negative recommendation will be made 50 times.

Myth #5:
Word-of-mouth marketing is all a great business needs.

Truth #5:
Amazingly, some otherwise well-informed arbitrators and mediators believe this myth to be true. Here and now, I implore you to understand that it is hardly ever true. How will consumers know enough about you to spread the word in the first place? Marketing is the answer. How will people hear of the small business when it is new? Marketing is how. Where will the people come from – those who will make all the referrals? They will come from marketing.

It is true that great marketing can attract so many people to a great business that word-of-mouth marketing is active and effective. But that takes time. It takes coddling of customer, customers who came in because of marketing. And anyhow, that customer coddling is marketing.

I have had a few clients who were able to discontinue their marketing because they reached the limits of their growth. But I have witnessed others who thought they could discontinue marketing only to find that a competitor took their customers away from them.

A good marketing campaign demands that you offer so much quality and service that word-of-mouth marketing becomes one of your most efficient tools. It should always be part of your marketing, and you should do all in your power to encourage and promote it. But I do not recommend that you rely on it solely. The bankruptcy courts are littered with businesses that felt they could save on marketing by leaving everything to word-of-mouth. Business just doesn’t work that way.

Myth #6:
Quality is the main determinant in influencing consumers.

Truth #6:
Quality is second most important determinant in influencing sales. Confidence in the business is the main determinant. Nobody wants to hire the best provider if it comes along with the poorest service. People aren’t interested in quality if they have to sacrifice self-esteem. Just as word-of-mouth marketing is an integral part of marketing –but not the only part – quality service is the key element to your success – but not the only elements.

Customer service must also be present. A friendly attitude must be displayed. The customer must be singled out as special. That customer should be provided with a selection, with convenience, with flexibility in paying for the purchase, with the feeling of a good value. Prospects become customers of businesses that offer credibility – in décor, attire, displays, marketing, employees, and especially in their reputation for offering value. Those items plus quality influence sales. Unfortunately, quality alone won’t do the job.

Myth #7:
Repetition of a marketing message is boring.

Truth #7:
It may be boring to you, but it won’t be boring to your prospects and customers. Repetition implants your benefits in the unconscious minds of your prospects, and reaffirms those benefits in the conscious minds of your customers. Repetition does not bore these wonderful people.

The Magic Bullet

“The sole purpose of business is to create a customer.”
Peter Drucker

In a free-association game with service providers, the most common response to the word “marketing” was “advertising”. The most common response to “advertising” was “sales”, and the most common response to “sales” was “car salesmen” and “telemarketing”. When we then asked them how they felt about these two final responses, they let us know that they associated marketing with the “slick” maneuvering of car salesmen and the untimely and interruptive abilities of telemarketers. In sum, two professions they would never aspire to be a part of.

In short, they were uncomfortable with the task of marketing their practices and more importantly they thought that their prospective clients would view them as equals to the “slick” salesmen they themselves didn’t like. Practitioners told us they were quite comfortable with what they were doing in their own Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) practice, law firm or career of choice that had segued into an ADR practice, but that they had no education or experience with marketing. They didn’t feel qualified to promote themselves so choose not to promote themselves at all. Instead, most hoped that once they received their ADR education, new business would find it’s way to them. This method of marketing does not work.

It especially does not work for arbitrators and mediators. As arbitrators and mediators, we are concerned with maintaining our neutrality and surpassing the codes of conduct and rules of ethics we impose upon ourselves. We expect our industry to conduct itself with the highest possible standards of human conduct. We are after all professional negotiators, facilitators, communicators, listeners, and peacemakers.

So let’s think about how we as mediators and arbitrators think of ourselves when we are marketing or selling our services. First, do we exaggerate by telling everyone we encounter that we can solve their problems? Do we mislead our clients and end users? No, we sell just the opposite: confidentiality, trust and honorability. As an industry, we take ethics very seriously and attempt to dissolve bias at every turn. Then why do we feel cheap when we talk about marketing such a noble industry?

Perhaps mediators and arbitrators need to change their schema of marketers and marketing. We regularly use tools like outstanding customer service, educational opportunities, and community interaction to provide awareness. We market our services every time we answer the phone, answer a question about our industry or our particular practice.


Natalie J. Armstrong-Motin

Natalie J. Armstrong is President of Golden Media, a marketing company that specializes in marketing and promoting the ADR industry and its service providers. She has been involved in the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) industry as both a practitioner and a marketer for more than a decade. She has designed… MORE >

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