Cultivating from these classic relationships should not be overlooked
by Jay Geier
It starts with trust
I doubt there is an orthodontist in this country who wouldn’t say that cultivating referrals is great for your business. According to the global market research firm Nielsen, people are four times more likely to buy when referred by a friend, and 84% of people trust recommendations from people they know.
Making referrals is the most influential form of advertising. Yet, think about it: If someone is four times more likely to buy something referred by a friend, how much more likely would they be to buy when referred by the dentist they trust?
In the wake of online and social media marketing trends, have you found your attention fading from this truth?
When you were just starting out, you may have depended solely on referrals from general dentists to get new patients. Generally, it’s less expensive to get referrals than patients from direct-to-patient marketing; it doesn’t take any special training in advertising or public relations and can be a great way to grow your practice.
In fact, 22 years ago, I started the Scheduling Institute based entirely off referrals. I cultivated relationships with other consultants whose clients would benefit from what we did, and they’d introduce me to their clients. Some even built the SI program into the services they were selling their clients. That’s the same as many of you in the early days of your practice—you relied solely on the general dentists in your area to feed you new patients into your office.
Build from within
But I’ve always told my clients that you never want to get into a situation where you are too dependent on a single referral source. It’s bad for them and it’s very dangerous for you. The art of a great doctor referral program comes through being intentional and casting a very wide net.
“While referring dentists account for a large amount of my new patients, I don’t focus on just a few referring dentists,” says Dr. ?Llon Clendenen, a Townie orthodontist and SI client who practices in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Referral relationships change all the time—you never know when your top referring doctor’s nephew is going to move into town and he’s going to start sending all of his referrals to him. Consistency is key: I try not to ignore anyone. If they aren’t going to refer to me, then I at least want them to feel bad about it.” That’s a great mindset.
Ultimately, I want my clients to be independent in everything they do, meaning they are in full control of their practice and all of the areas that help it succeed—including their new patient flow. We teach them how to turn the new patient flow on and off like a water faucet. Doctor referral programs definitely have a place, but keep in mind that it’s an evolutionary process where the end goal is to have strong referral sources and create your own referrals.
Consider building your pediatric or general dental capacity within your current practice. Hire general dentists and pediatric dentists as associates, and then you’ll create your own referral network within your office.
Several of our most successful clients are following my advice to do just that: Anything they normally have to refer out, they’re instead adding as a service in their practice.
A successful Townie orthodontic client, Dr. Nicole Teifer, has taken my advice and built a pediatric dental capacity to create a source of new patients. Because of this, she can focus on traditional marketing sources she controls, and has only about 7% of her new patients coming from outside doctor referrals. Before doing that, her number one referring doctor had stopped referring because they sold the business. And then her second best referring doctor had a family member move into town, and started sending patients there. About that time, she came to a Scheduling Institute event where I talked to the group about building the proper referring scenario without being a parasite.
She decided to take control of her new patient sources, and while she still makes sure to maintain relationships with doctors in the area, and does something special for her top referring doctors, she is no longer wholly reliant on them.
While your ultimate goal should be freedom of a dependence on outside sources, don’t neglect them! Even the most successful practices should keep at least 5% of their new patients coming from referring doctors. There are simple ways to reward referring dentists—and, perhaps more importantly, their hygienists and front desk staffers.
Seven signs of a good program
Here are few easy ways to build your doctor referrals and reward them.
1. Become intentional with your lists.
Not all referring doctors are alike, and you shouldn’t treat them as if they’re the same. Segment the general dentists in your area by the amount they refer, their location or even their size and potential to refer.
2. Customize your gifts.
Keep a list of how many team members are at the referring doctor’s practice and note any favorites or dislikes you know about. Update this information at least every six months; that way, you’re always ready to send a custom gift when a patient is sent your way.
3. Think outside the gift basket.
Don’t send the expected generic gift basket on the expected generic holidays. Everyone gets a basket at Christmas; how will yours stand out? Don’t send something impersonal—that makes it feel like you don’t have a real relationship with the doctor and your gift will highlight that. Be original, and make sure it’s obvious who sent the gift.
4. Be where the referring
doctors can see you.
Seeing your practice’s name or your name around town adds credibility to your practice. And the patients see it, too! For instance, if a pediatric dentist sponsors the local elementary school’s outdoor movie night, you should, too, as the local orthodontist. Not only will potential patients see your banner but the pediatric dentists see your name, too. You will scoop up new patients and potentially add a referral source.
5. Don’t forget the team.
Of course, you need to target the owner–doctor of the practice, but don’t forget that most patients trust their hygienist’s opinion. They look to the hygienist for what they should do after the doctor makes a recommendation. And if the doctor is recommending a list of five or six options, the patient will look to the hygienist or even the front desk to help them narrow down the choices.
6. Don’t let your ego trap you.
You’ll never be too successful not to accept a little help. The goal is for you not to need it to survive. So, make sure you don’t stop rewarding general dentists who refer to you, and don’t stop welcoming new dentists to the area.
7. Delegate as needed.
If your time or talent is the reason you’re not doing well at something, delegate it to someone in your office. Who’s the social butterfly on your team who doesn’t get enough opportunity to interact with new faces? That’s probably someone who’d enjoy this and be good at it. It doesn’t mean you’re making him or her more important than you; it just means you’re delegating the responsibility of paying attention to this, making a plan and executing it on your behalf. You’ll still need to sign the cards, show up at the open houses, make personal phone calls, etc. The relationship should start with you but include your team.
I’ll always be the champion of the independent doctor, but I think we need to stay true to what works and “go back to the well” to what makes us successful. Doctor referral programs are one of those things.