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Mastering the Professional Referral, Part 3 - The Right "Calling Card"

In part one of this series we discussed the powerful Psychology of Endorsement. In part two we reviewed Referral Networks. We learned of the powerful positive impact that comes from having another health professional endorse you and essentially ‘pre-sell’ you to their patients. We then learned that every physician (as well as dentist) has a referral network. For that matter, this is true throughout the business world of professional referrals. It is as true for CPAs, attorneys, financial planners, and stock brokers to name a few, as it is for health professionals.

Every physician has a number of other physicians to whom, and from whom patients are referred for care. Their qualifications and credentials and experience ‘rating’ is already established, so that at a moment’s notice the referring doctor can recommend a colleague to a patient who will assist in best solving the patient’s problems. In addition to the increased new patient flow the obvious benefit to the referral receiving doctor for being included in this networking list is the pre-heated endorsement which the referring doctor creates.

If these two benefits exist, that referral networks exist which create new patient flow and willing patients, then the question that needs asked is: “How does a dentist get invited into a physician’s referral network?”

Odds are that if a dentist were to candidly interview a large number of physicians in their community about their referral practices, it would be quite unlikely that any physician would have a specific dentist in their personal network of allied health professionals to whom they refer patients with specific problems. More commonly, physicians would generically recommend their patients see a dentist, any dentist, if they would be inclined to suggest dental care at all.

Since physicians are beginning to understand the multiple reasons they should be referring patients to dentists, the climate surrounding physician-to-dentist referrals is beginning to change. Rather than be content with our medical colleagues just referring patients to dentists generically, wouldn’t it be great if they would also begin referring to specific dentists – for specific reasons? They already do this in the medical arena when they are dealing with specific disorders or conditions for which they are not uniquely trained. Why should it be any different for medical-to-dental referrals?

The reason they refer to another physician is because they know and respect what it is that the other physician knows, and they believe that specific physician or sub-specialty can best help their patient. In a similar vein a physician probably would not be likely to recommend their patient see “just any dentist” if or when they understand one or two dentists are highly knowledgeable and would likely be the best for their patient’s problems.

So the new marketing ‘job description’ for the dentist aspiring to be invited into a physician’s referral network is, simply, to get into that network! That will not likely occur without two things being accomplished: 1) - demonstrating knowledge and competence, and 2) - building a relationship.

If you are at the beginning of this process, where and how do you begin? One way would be to look at what most dentists do – and do the exact opposite! That is the whole concept behind differentiating yourself and becoming distinct in the market. This can be accomplished through becoming accomplished in your field, and by communicating these competencies in a distinctive fashion. We’ll focus on the later and assume the former is already set in play.

So what would most dentists do? What would most CPAs, attorneys, or any business or health professional do? The most common and ordinary first step would be to make an introduction and share a business card and a small brochure of their business or practice. This might sound like “Hello – my name is Dr. Ordinary. I just landed on the planet and I can fix gum problems in your patients and save them from heart disease!”

While this example is admittedly a bit facetious, even a seriously worded introduction using this ever ubiquitous business card approach has about as much chance of securing that coveted position in their referral network. The reason? Because it isn’t unique, it isn’t special, it doesn’t convey your special training and expertise, and it doesn’t separate you from everyone else doing the same thing! The card or brochure will be tossed or lost and seldom remembered again, just like you, and just like all others who do the same thing.

So what should be your calling card? What can you offer the physician who controls their own referral network in which you desire to be included? What breaks the ice best? How do you go about applying for the job of “Dentist” in their network? How can you present yourself in a manner that grabs their attention and maintains it? In short – how do you initiate and build a professional referral network with a physician?

The answers to these questions will solve the problems that have plagued dentistry for decades – that dentists have not been taught how to approach physicians, and that we don’t know how to talk ‘their’ language. When we finally solve both of these problems, we’ll have created a new stream of new patients into dentistry and into our practices, making dentistry more profitable and more serving of the public trust to preserve health and lives.

The MDReferrals’ PREP marketing system was designed with these important considerations in mind. Providing physicians with the science, taken straight from the medical/dental literature, and packaging it in a binder or book, and delivering it with brownies (or cinnamon rolls, fruit baskets, wine, etc), is a great way to get a physician’s attention ( as well as that of the entire medical office staff).

Complete with referral forms, a biographical sketch on the back side, and filled with up-to-date scientific information which establishes the standard-of-care, this “calling card” is perhaps the best vehicle of all worlds. Nobody throws away books! And it is ‘legal’ to toot your own horn in the biographical sketch on the back cover. By presenting it in this fashion, it speaks to your competence and knowledgeable expertise.

It has been said that if one has to tell someone how good they are, they aren’t! It is much better to let them conclude that from third party validation, from testimonials, and from seemingly circumstantial (although often intentionally manipulated) evidence.

You won’t expect the physician to know or to read every bit of science presented in the binder. You simply want them to know that you know it is there. You are leading them to a conclusion that you are knowledgeable, competent, and aware of the literature. What comes next will be the “logical conclusion” that you will be the natural easy choice for their patients.

Future installments will deal with teaching physicians how to refer to dentists, establishing reciprocity, marketing risk factors, using the physician’s back door to market through, how to maintain attention with ‘drip marketing’ techniques, and how to use referral vehicles successfully with physicians.