Head to Head, Toe to Toe – And Who Are the Big Winners?

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Glückliche Seniorin boxt mit roten BoxhandschuhenLike Jeopardy, I’m going to start by giving you the answer:

  • Patients and Caregivers
  • Smart Health and Patient Advocates

So what’s the question?  That would be:  Who are the biggest beneficiaries when it comes to competition in the health and patient advocate space?

Just want to start with that perspective so we don’t lose sight of it as I begin describing recent events, as a prelude to some big excitement and perhaps, that moment we’ve all been waiting for….

In the eight years I’ve been working on promoting patient advocacy, there was more commotion, more positive movement, more negative noise, and perhaps the most excitement I have seen in the marketplace for patient advocates in just the past 10 days. Quite amazing, really.

That’s the good news.

The bad news?  Sadly, much of it was reported to me in anger and frustration, as if it was a problem – a negative – as in “how could they?”  It’s that C word – competition!  As if competition is a negative thing.

It is not a negative thing – or – at least – it shouldn’t be.  In fact, if anything, competition should be embraced for a number of reasons, with a few whys and hows below.

Here’s what happened that put this on my radar, to give you some sense of my excitement:

I heard about three new initiatives that are building directories for patient advocates. That would make them AdvoConnection competition – head to head and toe to toe, right?

Some of you would instantly think, “uh-oh – I’ll bet Trisha is upset!” – to which I would answer – no, not at all!  I’m actually quite excited. (You’ll better understand this in a minute.)

I also heard about two large initiatives that want to roll out free patient advocacy services to the general public. One was reported to me by someone who is a private advocate now, with moderate success, who is ready to throw in the towel. How can she compete with free?  To which I say – hey! Not so fast!  Let’s think about this!

Agreed – instinctively, subconsciously, our first reaction to the idea of competition is to prepare for battle. We know in our heads and hearts, that competition presents challenges we don’t want to deal with. We’ve got turf to protect!

So let’s examine the problems other advocacy competition brings our way first – just to get this part out of the way:

  1. Competition means that people can compare services and prices and we might lose business to a competitor.
  2. Competition means we have to review and possibly rethink how we do things to be sure people hire us instead of our competitor.

Yup. OK. That’s it.  That’s all there is.  Those are the only negatives I can think of. Instinct and Mother Nature aside – that’s all we’ve got.

From here on out, competition is only good, as follows:

  1. Competition expands awareness.  One of the biggest reasons patient advocacy as a profession and service hasn’t grown faster than it has is because there just aren’t very many of us. Today, in the US and Canada, there are maybe, MAYBE 200 independent advocates working in the private sector to support the needs of patients and caregivers.  That means the public is being exposed to only 200, that only 200 are in the marketplace promoting advocacy, that somehow 200 people are supposed to spread the word to 360 million people (total, between the US and Canada.)  The influx of competition means more awareness, and the rising tide of awareness floats ALL our practice boats.
  2. Competition reflects the value in what we do.  You know – as in (corny cliché #2) – “imitation is the highest form of flattery.”  If what we are doing isn’t valuable, there wouldn’t be so many people who want to do it.  The advent of competition means that those copycats see the value – and want “in”. Can you blame them?
  3. Competition begins to satisfy some of the supply and demand problems we face.  How many times have you gotten a call from someone who really wanted free services?  Or how many times have you gotten a call from a geographic location you couldn’t serve?  Or how many times did someone need a service you couldn’t supply?  Well – guess what – every other advocate is getting those calls, too.  Competition will begin to fill some of those holes.You can begin to worry about competition from too many advocates when you have the same number of advocates in your local area as you have lawyers. THEN the marketplace will be crowded, and only then will competition impact the amount of business you have.
  4. Competition gives us the opportunity to review and possibly rethink how we do things. Yes – you read that right – I’ve turned the negative listed above into a positive. It’s easy to become complacent in how we conduct business, in how we talk to potential clients, in what we charge them, or what services we offer.  Every business needs to undertake this review and rethink process at least twice a year, so when we hear the rumblings of competition, it can become the impetus to do so.
  5. Competition may provide new resources. This is what I call “coopetition” – the idea that your competition may not really be your competition at all.  You need to make that examination, and then, when it makes sense, refer to each other.  (There’s lot’s more about this in The Health Advocate’s Basic Marketing Handbook.)
  6. Finally, competition can also reveal problems – holes in the system (yours or the entire profession’s) – and that gives us the awareness needed to fix them.  For example – at least one of the new directory systems I mentioned above is being populated with anyone at all who wants to sign up to be an advocate, with no barrier to admission.  Josephine decides today she wants to be an advocate – and for a sum of money, she can be in that directory tomorrow.  Now – for Josephine, that’s terrific as long as she can afford it.  But what about the patients who might hire her? Do they have a level of expectation about the quality of service? And what about us as Josephine’s competitors?  How do we make sure we have the opportunity to talk to those patients who might find themselves with even bigger problems if they hire Josephine?  Part of the answer is establishing our reputations as top quality advocates, with plenty of testimonials and endorsements for our good work. But we might not think about that if Josephine and that new directory hadn’t come along.

For those who are scorekeepers – competition wins BIG! with 6 reasons in favor and 2 negatives (one which got turned into a positive….)  Hands down – we need to embrace competition and move forward by using it for our own good instead of regarding it as a problem.

competition

Competition isn’t a problem. It’s an opportunity.

So what’s that “moment we’ve all been waiting for” I mentioned at the start of this post?  It’s the tipping point of awareness – that moment when the public gets it – and your phones begin ringing off the hook.  It’s closer now than ever before…. these events indicate we are almost there…. the tipping point brought about by – yes – competition.  Wait – that’s Reason #7!

Soon the question will no longer be about coping with competition. It will be about how to keep up with the amount of business coming our way – business that is coming our way BECAUSE of competition.

Embrace it. Competition benefits smart advocates – and of course, patients and caregivers, too.

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