by David Schmiege
Whether assessing a varicose vein or an ulcer, giving clinical recommendations, or making it easier for primary care physicians (PCP) to refer to you, relationship marketing is fundamentally about delivering value. It might also mean that your staff needs to spend a lot of time in relationship-building activities that don’t seem, at first, to produce revenue. Physicians often find relationship marketing challenging because of the perception that it is “selling.” To get beyond that, keep in mind that the best marketing tool is what you do in your vein practice, and how well you do it.
As you consider implementing relationship marketing techniques, remember that each referral source is looking for something completely different, but they all want their individual needs met. Build relationships with potential referral sources by meeting their needs as they have defined them, which might take some research. Once you understand their needs, align your services to meet those needs. This demonstrates your practice’s value, how well you listen, and how much you care.
Tailoring your operations to be more time-sensitive and reliable than your competitors’ entrenches the working relationship. Your goal should be to make it easy to do business with you by being more responsive than your competitor.
Building evergreen referral relationships
When was the last time you evaluated the effectiveness of your efforts to build a long-lasting referral relationship with primary care physicians in your service area? Think about these proven tips to strengthen rapport and increase referral volume.
- Think strategically about referral patterns. Do you know who refers to your vein practice, who doesn’t, and why? Ask your front desk staff to generate a weekly or monthly referring physician report by procedure. Which physicians currently refer and which types of cases do they send? Do the non-referrers know about all the conditions you treat or has a patient of theirs experienced a less-than-favorable visit to your office? Identifying the reasons why these physicians do and do not refer can provide the foundation for improving relationships and referral patterns.
- Identify other vein practices courting your referral physicians. Success is not achieved by ignoring your competitors but rather by anticipating competitive issues and influences so you can always have a proactive plan and strategy for staying ahead of your competition. Referring physicians often report dissatisfaction with specialists who are slow or late in providing consultation reports. Review your internal processes to make sure communication flows back to the referring physician within 48 hours of seeing patients. Before and after pictures are a good idea to support your clinical skills in the referring physician’s mind to encourage additional referrals. Use case studies to bring attention to additional benefits of vein treatments.
- Good idea! Improve the speed of consultation reports by asking whether referring physicians can receive them via secure email. This also allows you to build a valuable email database that gives you instant access to your referral physicians.
- Be available. Get patients in as quickly as you can.
- Listen. Patients tell their PCP doctor when specialists or their staff are rude or abrupt - which makes the referring physician look bad for sending the patient to you.
- Say thanks. Whether it’s a telephone call or handwritten note, show your appreciation by thanking referring physicians for their confidence in you.
Relationship marketing is only one of several approaches you can use to promote your vein practice, but it is unquestionably the most valuable. Relationship marketing, supported by the right integrated strategy, produces more new patients than any other method. Relationship marketing can also be one of the least expensive marketing approaches, but it is rare to find practices executing it effectively because it is hard to do well.
When most physicians think of relationship marketing, they think of establishing and entrenching their relationships with key referral sources, such as PCPs. That’s only partially right. While PCPs account for a lot of the referrals that vein practices get each year, some practices rely or focus on them too much and miss out on establishing solid relationships with their largest referral source: current patients.
Market research has repeatedly shown that previous patients refer about 40% of all new patients. Interestingly, from a clinical standpoint, former patients are the least qualified to make those referrals. Instead, they base their referrals on how they feel about you as well as their experiences with your staff.
Before you spend another dollar on external resources to market your vein practice, devote time to ensuring that the service you deliver to patients doesn’t just produce satisfaction or loyalty, but also creates patient advocacy. True patient advocates are your most valuable marketing assets. They will not only return to you for additional services, but will rave about you to others.