Growing your referral practice

Chris Barrow gives us seven tips to stand out in an age of information overload

In our private lives, experts claim that we are subjected to around 5,000 advertising impressions everyday; whether online, on TV or on a billboard, our subconscious minds are drowning in notifications.

Don’t think that fast forwarding those advertisements as you watch your favourite TV series is working, or that your vacant stare from a train or motor car isn’t taking in every logo, strap line or visual image – our brains are cleverer than we realise, storing those impressions for future recall.

In the middle of all that noise (and I write as the annual seasonal retail-fest approaches), how is the specialist orthodontist expected to grab the attention of GDPs for long enough to engage with them and call them to action?

Let’s face it, every independent business owner, dental or otherwise, has their work cut out ‘staying alive’. My GDP clients regularly complain of overwhelmingly long hours on non-clinical work to add to their chairside time and the mounting responsibilities of compliance, financial analysis, marketing, customer service and HR.

In comes your letter/flyer, announcing an open evening or a CPD lecture at your clinic – it’s going to have to be something special if your audience are already struggling with work/life balance. Now the good news – there are solutions and I’d like to share here with you some ‘best practice’ tips I’ve noticed as common to those specialist referral practices who thrive and prosper from GDP referrals.

Tip 1 – there is no quick way

If you are looking for a quick fix to generate GDP referrals, then you are reading the wrong bloke’s article.

In my world, it takes time to build trust and credibility and the only way that you will accelerate that process is via third-party trust – in other words ‘word of mouth’ referral from one GDP to another.

So, when planning the growth of your referral practice, be very cautious and realistic as to how long it will take – ask the people you know who already have successful referral practices how long it took them – and then manage your expectations accordingly.

Tip 2 – remember the Pareto Principle

It applies in many areas of dentistry and this is no exception. Eighty percent of your referrals will come from 20% of your referring GDPs – there will be a VIP club made up of those people. They will be few in number and steadfastly loyal in their support. 20% of your referrals will come from 80% of your referring GDPs – there will be a ‘long-tail’ of GDPs who rarely support you, either at CPD events or by referring patients.

The challenge is to remain equally relentless, keeping in touch with them, never giving up hope in the knowledge that every now and then, one of them may self-promote into the VIP club (and you’ll never guess which).

Tip 3 – your study club needs an identity

You need a study club – the occasional evening will not cut the mustard any more. The study club should have its own identity and brand, distinct from your practice.

Create a separate website and a private (and well-moderated) Facebook group, where you can discuss cases.

Create a monthly email newsletter on a subscription basis. Create a data-capture feature on your dedicated website that collects GDP email addresses and subscription consent, in return for the free download of useful technical information as a PDF.

Tip 4 – create an annual curriculum

The best practices will publish a full year’s meetings, giving their GDP community plenty of time to browse speakers and subjects that may be of interest to them and their team members (a client has recently started offering practice manager courses for referring GDPs).

The curriculum should be available online and as well-designed PDF download or print media handout. When choosing topics – think well outside of the box.

Tip 5 – mix it up a bit

Not wishing to make hardworking Jack or Jill and even duller boy or girl, I would strongly suggest that there are three parallel tracks to your curriculum:

1. Clinical lectures given by leading dentists, technicians, experts and other DCPs who have something to say that will be of topical interest to the target audience;

2. Business lectures given by those who provide training, consultancy, coaching and mentoring – people like me!

3. A social trackhave some fun – a go-karting evening for the VIP Club, a trip on a canal boat followed by a summer BBQ, tickets for a sporting event, a track day – you get the picture

Tip 6 – follow through with every referral

I may well be preaching to the choir here but taking a personal interest in the progress of each referred patient, keeping the GDP well informed and delivering a remarkable treatment co-ordination process will all help to encourage repeat business.

Tip 7 – follow through with every referring GDP

I have a long-standing and very successful principal of a specialist referral practice who invests every Tuesday evening having dinner in a local Italian restaurant with one of his VIP club – and has done for years.

It takes dedication to sit down weekly and listen to his dinner guest talk about their hopes, fears and ambitions. One could argue that he is coaching his clients. The proof is in the resilience of the GDP referral database and, especially, his VIP Club members, who have stayed loyal for 20 years. That’s undoubtedly a lot of pizza and pasta, but the payback has made the exercise more than worthwhile. After all, it’s a pleasure to do business with friends.

Let’s return to where we started – an information age that wants to drown us. No matter how clever the technology, nothing replaces the magic that can happen when two people commune or when a tribe gather. That’s what we are really wired to do.

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow

Author at Orthodontic Practice

Chris Barrow has been a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry. @CoachBarrow

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