This article originally appeared in June/2023 on DentistryToday.com.
Build a Solid Referral Network for Your Dental Practice
By: Jackie Ulasewich Cullen
Dental practices continue to rely heavily on referrals, and each practice needs a strong referral network in place as part of their new-patient pipeline. It may seem odd that a digital marketing company is advocating for an analogue approach like a referral network, but it makes sense if you consider referrals as one piece of a practice’s overall marketing strategy. Having a robust referral network will contribute to a practice’s success and enhance its digital marketing efforts.
How to Build a Referral Network
Having a good referral network is as essential today as it was before the age of digital marketing, when dental practices counted primarily on word of mouth to attract new patients. Now, with digital tools available in the arsenal, building that network is a bit easier and can be even more rewarding. Some practices are naturals at getting referrals and do not need to put in a lot of work, while for others, building a referral pipeline takes a concerted effort. These practices make a point of asking for referrals directly from their patients in the office and may also offer some type of incentive to patients who make referrals.
Rewarding patients for referrals is nice and gives them an additional reason to refer, but it usually takes more than that. I’ll touch on that a little later. Practices typically find success when they provide incentives to motivate their team members to ask for referrals. The more they ask, the more likely it is that they will actually get a patient to make a referral. To inspire a little healthy competition, some practices offer a reward to the team member who gets the most referrals. To promote a more cooperative atmosphere, however, an incentive program could be set up so that any team member who reaches a certain number of referrals receives a bonus or prize. The important part is to be consistent and follow through to keep the team excited about getting referrals.
Where Does Marketing Fit In?
When the team is mostly responsible for generating referral opportunities, customer service becomes a crucial factor. Patients will refer their friends and family if they have a positive experience and feel appreciated. But marketing is also important to getting patients to refer.
The practice has various channels at its disposal for reminding patients to refer others and reinforce their in-person efforts. Signs in the lobby with QR codes, social media posts, direct emails, blog posts, short videos featuring patient testimonials, additional website copy — all of these avenues work extremely well to promote referrals. Consistency is also key in the digital world for moving patients to act. The more they see, the more they remember, and the more likely they will do something.
Give Patients a Reason to Share
The ultimate goal is for patients to be so engaged with your practice that they share your digital content with others. Sharing digital content is the modern-day word of mouth and vastly more powerful because digital content has the potential to reach so many more people. Patients share digital content effortlessly these days, but only when it resonates with them. Content that is engaging, timely, personal, and interesting is far more likely to be shared. Practices that make a point of creating and posting content consistently are more likely to have it shared by their patients.
A solid referral network is just as important in the digital age as ever. The way a practice builds and maintains that network, however, can be multifaceted and does not have to rely solely on word of mouth. Combining digital marketing with an in-person approach strengthens appeal and elevates the practice’s reputation, giving it the potential to reach a wider audience and creating more notoriety within the community.