Marketing for referrals is tough, so arm yourself well with these 10 truth bombs so your marketing program will survive and thrive this year.
It’s rare to hear physicians say that they have their referral marketing program completely figured out. Even physicians who have an employee or two dedicated to growing and maintaining new patient referral sources usually feel like there is something that they are missing, something that just doesn’t seem quite right.
Simply put, referral marketing isn’t easy. There are many factors to consider that can affect the success of your program. I’ve put together a list of 10 truths to center you. I hope they bring you peace and a little friendly guidance.
Truth #10: Keeping yourself relevant and in the spotlight is imperative.
Think of it this way. Marketing your practice is as important as having homeowner’s insurance for your house. Just like you never know when your washing machine is going to malfunction and flood your house ruining all of your rugs and furniture, you never know when your biggest referral source might decide that they are going to start sending their patients to someone else and cause you a tremendous loss of income.
But if you make your identity known, and maintain top of mind awareness, consistently asking other practices to refer their patients to you, you’ll still be standing even if you lose the referral source that you’ve depended on for years.
Truth #9: Just because a doctor knows you and likes you, doesn’t mean they are going to refer to you. Every time I meet with a new physician client for the first time, they say something like this: “I have known Dr. John Smith for years and our kids even play on the same sports team. We get along great, but he never sends me any of his patients.”
It is at this point in our meeting that I ask my new client this question. “Have you ever asked him to send his patients to you?” The answer I usually get back is, “no.”
The truth is, it’s not enough that physicians know and like you. They have to be asked, either by you or someone else, to refer their patients to you. Otherwise, they are not going to change their referral habits.
Why? Because they aren’t thinking about you in this way. Sure, they like you just fine and they are happy when they run in to you around town but when they get back to seeing patients, they are keeping the same referral habits they have had for years. Unless, you have asked them to do something different.
Truth #8: Physicians should visit each practice once, but not more than once, a year. It is just so important that referring offices see you smile at them and hear you tell them how much you appreciate their referrals if they are already sending patients your way. It is also super important that potential referral sources get to meet you and hear you say these words: “Please send your patients to me. I’ll take great care of them!”
But…(and please don’t shoot the messenger) if you are a physician you are a one hit wonder. You only need to go to each office once a year to thank them or ask them for referrals or you will look very desperate and give the impression that no one is sending patients to you and you’re not busy. And we don’t want that for you.
That being said, it is perfectly acceptable and very important that you have someone else visiting these same offices on your behalf, saying thank you and asking for new business.
Which leads me to Truth #7.
Truth #7: Sending your practice manager or a bubbly medical assistant out to visit offices every now and then is probably not going to do the trick. And neither will the buckets of pretzels from Costco with your business card taped to them. (In fact, those buckets of pretzels probably aren’t going to accomplish much of anything at all.)
Sending a representative from your practice on a consistent basis, with a high rate of frequency will make an impact.
Look closely again at that sentence you just read. The 2 key parts of that sentence are “on a consistent basis” and “with a high rate of frequency.” That means you would be better off sending a representative to the same 10 offices once a month than you would be if you sent them to 30 different offices each quarter. Without the consistency, and the repetition of the follow-up visits, they are less likely to impact any of the 30 offices they have only targeted once. But after seeing the 10 offices for the 3rd time, and the 4th time, and the 5th time… they will start influencing their targets.
Truth #6: The conversations that your marketer has with referring offices will be more administrative in nature rather than about your CV. They won’t be very clinical either.
This is probably the thing that I was the most surprised about when I started my career as a medical marketer. I had come from the magical land of pharmaceutical sales where I was trained on every-little-itty-bitty-teeny-tiny detail about the products I was representing. I was told how to deliver my message and I was told what details I should never forget to say about my drugs.
Then when I left the pharma industry and started marketing for referrals for a physician who hired me I trained up on every-little-itty-bitty-teeny-tiny detail about the practice and specialty I was representing. I crafted my own message and confidently set out to deliver it to physicians and nurses and MA’s and hit a brick wall.
NO ONE wanted to hear this type of message. They wanted to hear where our offices were located, how quickly they could get patients in, what insurance plans we accepted, what our NPI #s were (what was an NPI #, I wondered…), and if I had any direct lines I could share with them so they’d never have to wait on hold when calling our office.
They were interested in administrative details.
Truth #5: Identifying and talking to the right audience in each office is one of the most important factors in your marketing program. And it’s not always going to be the doctor!
A couple of years ago we conducted a study to determine which audience had the most influence on patient referrals in the medical practices we were calling on. I was interested in the roles each sector of people played in the referral process and wanted to make sure that our reps were targeting the right audience during their office visits.
I was shocked at the results as are many physicians when I share this information with them.
It turns out that physicians only determine where their patients will be referred to 28% of the time. Referral Coordinators determine where patients will be referred to 30% of the time. The lion’s share of the decision-making regarding referrals goes to nurses and medical assistants at 42%.
There is so much to be said about how this information changes the way you should be targeting various audiences in the medical practices you want to get referrals from. I will be writing a blog post focusing on how to target each audience in the next few weeks!
Truth #4: Every piece of marketing collateral you use for referral marketing needs to serve a purpose.
During one of our Lexicon Medical training seminars a few years ago, I asked all of our representatives to bring a sample of all of their marketing materials to share with our group. I then invited a panel of referral coordinators from various family practice offices to have a Q&A session with our reps so we could improve our marketing knowledge by learning what would work best from the very people we were calling on.
Our reps then displayed all of their marketing materials on the conference room table and our panel of guests went through each and every piece sorting them into 2 categories: stuff they liked and stuff they didn’t.
There was a very consistent pattern to the things they either liked or didn’t like so we all caught on very quickly. Basically, if it served a purpose by providing information that they needed in order to do their jobs more efficiently they liked it. If it was just a glossy visual aid they didn’t, and they said that those things hit the trash can pretty much the minute the reps walked out the door.
If you are just starting your referral marketing program, here’s what I recommend you make. You need a postcard that tells about you and your practice, an insurance list that details every-single-itty-bitty plan that you take (add your NPI #) , a referral form (preferably with diagnostic codes), and about a zillion business cards.
Truth #3: Technology is great but there are still 3 main ways offices refer. I conducted another study a couple of years ago by asking offices about their referral processes. We learned that 1/3 of offices refer patients by handing out business cards for specialists to their patients, 1/3 of offices refer patients by using a referral form, and 1/3 of offices refer patients by handing their patients a Preferred Provider List that showcases all of the specialists that they recommend they use. Hardly anyone uses the new technology available to them. Yes, paper is still the industry standard in the medical referral world. It’s not that these technologies aren’t useful or brilliant, it’s that there is a learning curve to use them and not everyone uses them.
Now imagine that you have been visiting medical practices and only handing out business cards. You have been leaving 2/3 of the potential referrals on the table because they don’t have your referral form and you’re not on their Preferred Provider List. The same goes if you have been leaving referral forms but not enough business cards.
If you are missing one or all then you are missing out on the possibility to get those referrals. Ever!
Truth #2: Marketing takes time! And if you are like me, you are impatient. I have had to learn to be patient when it comes to marketing for my clients and my own business, Lexicon Medical.
The most important thing you need to consider when setting out on a new marketing frontier is this: Can you afford to do it for at least 6 months? If you can’t, then you should save your money and look for alternatives.
Why? Because if you invest in a marketing plan for 2 months or 3 months and then decide to pull the plug before you’ve gained momentum then you have literally thrown that money away. You are not likely to see results from any type of campaign you tried for just 3 months if there is no follow-up and then more follow-up to your follow-up.
The good news is however, that the pot of gold isn’t too far away. Once you have engaged your audience repeatedly, consistently, and frequently, you are gonna get results. Hang in there!
Truth #1: You’ve got to start somewhere! Whether you’ve already got a marketing rep or just started venturing out to shake hands and kiss babies on your own, I applaude you for doing something!
Basically, don’t do nothing.
A truly successful marketing program gets better with time. It goes from being version 1.0 to version 2.0, 4.0, 6.0 and so on.
Even the best laid plans will face curveballs. Even the most driven business owners will wind up on different paths than they originally envisioned. So if your marketing program isn’t mapped out by 9:00 tonight, take heart! Just set goals for yourself, make a plan, and head in a good direction. Set a positive trajectory so that when you do head out there asking for referrals, you’re ready to soar.