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How to Increase Referrals Through Relationship Building

Referral marketing, for the uninitiated, is the act of sending a marketer out on behalf of a medical practice for the purpose of building relationships with potential referring physicians. At Points, we’ve taken this concept a step further to include community marketing, which allows us to build relationships within the community as well.

Referral and community marketing is not to be confused with pharma reps or other vendor meetings. It is all about relationship building and trust. Trust that when primary care physicians send their patients to a specialist that their patients will receive excellent, compassionate care. Trust that the flow of information between the two practices will be in the best interest of the patient’s overall health.

In order to support this relationship building, the referral and community marketers thrive with the backing of strong marketing campaigns. In addition, it is beneficial when a practice understands the role they play in keeping the relationship on solid footing. Below are what we’ve found to be the top five ways to support referral marketing:

1) Excellent patient experience

When referral marketers are meeting with referring practices and community organizations, their messaging is very clear: Send your patients to my practice. But all the referral marketing in the world cannot overcome a lousy patient experience. Inability to seemlessly schedule appointments, rude or disorganized office staff and dingy waiting rooms will all be a turnoff. It’s important to get your internal house in order so it’s ready to welcome new patients to the practice. Points has written extensively on patient experience, so please be sure to check out our other blogs.

2) Three-way communication

There are three parties that need to stay in communication in order to maximize the effectiveness of a referral and community marketing program:

Referral Marketer: Referral marketers can gather a wealth of information during their meetings. They are the eyes and ears of the practice taking the pulse of the referral community. What initiatives are/aren’t working, what services or features of the practice draw the most positive feedback, which print materials are the most captivating, what’s the overall patient experience feedback – these are just a few examples of the types of information a referral marketer can gather. All of this information needs to be captured and communicated to the practice and the marketing team.

Practice Staff (clinical and administrative): The practice staff is typically the first to know of any changes within the practice (e.g., when a new procedure is being offered, a new location is opening or a new physician is joining the team, changes in insurance coverage or hospital privileges, etc.). If you read those examples and thought, wow that’s important information to know, you’re 100% correct. And it’s imperative that the referral marketers and marketing operations team know, too. They are the people who will communicate this information to referring physicians, the community and your patients. The sooner your staff informs the team, the better. This gives time for new materials and messaging to be created and for a rollout campaign to be planned.

Marketing Operations Team: The marketing operations team develops everything from a single flyer to an entire marketing plan and strategy. They are the people who take the practice initiatives and the information learned from the referral marketers and turn it into the deliverables needed to support both parties. In order for their work to be on target, priorities from the practice and feedback from the referral marketers is needed. Additionally, referral marketers and the practice need to know about the initiatives being driven by the marketing operations so that they are aware of any campaigns that are planned or in progress.

Bottom line – establishing a line of communication between the three groups is essential for both effectiveness and efficiency. You don’t want anyone unintentionally working against each other, and the best way to avoid that is communication.

3) Direction

In this case, direction has two meanings:

  • Directions, geographically speaking
  • Directions from the practice regarding which referral and community groups to target

Geographic Direction: If you’re a one-location practice, this question is much easier to answer. Identify the catch basin for that practice by determining the average distance the majority of patients are willing to travel for your services. Points has a custom software that we’ve developed – the Catch Basin Analyzer – to help take the guesswork out of that question. However, if your practice has multiple locations, there may be other factors at play. A newer location or a less busy location may need more referral marketing than a location that already has a bustling schedule. Geographic decisions may also be based on specific physicians that need to be marketed, such as a new member of the practice whose schedule isn’t as full as an established physician.

Target Group Direction: Your practice needs to work with the referral marketer to identify target referral groups. In some cases, it is common sense (e.g., you’re not going to target OBGYNs to get patients for prostate exams). However, there are plenty of instances where the target referral groups are not as obvious, which is why defining and refining target groups is a necessary step in building a referral and community marketing program.

4) Time and budget

Referral and community marketing is a strategic investment in your practice. Building relationships takes time and doesn’t transpire simply by making phone calls. A referral stream needs to be nurtured, which means follow-up visits and other touchpoints. It takes months with repeat visits and interactions. Because of this, very rarely do we recommend a short-term referral marketing program – and you shouldn’t want one, either. While we often experience immediate traction and interaction with referrers and community organizations, we have also uncovered that it takes about six to nine months to start seeing a meaningful impact. By investing both time and budget, your practice will reap the long-term benefit of a steady stream of patient referrals.

5) Marketing campaigns

Marketing campaigns that incorporate referral marketing are a great way to build interest in the practice. Providing fresh messaging and materials to the referral marketer allows them another opportunity to revisit a practice, and can even provide a foot in the door to visit a new potential referrer. Along with referral marketing tangibles, the marketing campaign is typically spread across multiple channels including digital marketing, media and the physical office locations. This unified message can be adjusted according to the intended audience and allows the practice to come out strong with a new physician, location, procedure, awareness month – you name it.

If you’re a practice that isn’t actively working to build your referral base or perhaps you’re looking to take your referral marketing to the next level, contact us.