How to Drive More New Patients with Referral Marketing

Big brands have been using famous people to advertise their products and services for decades. It works because it creates an association between the brand and the respected celebrity that builds trust and credibility with the customer. While dental practices are too small to justify celebrity marketing, we can still employ comparable strategies to build instant trust. 

Imagine your patients are essentially famous people within their own micro networks. While the size of their influence may be limited, the magnitude of their influence is even more impactful. Leveraging the relationships your patients have with their friends and family delivers loyal new patients with very limited financial investment. 

Referral marketing is the leading source of new patients for most successful dental practices. In our practices more than 80% of our new patients come from patient referrals. When you have a strategy that works organically, it’s important to understand why it works so you can learn how to improve it. We’ve learned how to expand our referral marketing strategy so our teams actively work  together and multiply the success of our efforts. 

One of the greatest benefits to referral marketing is the minimal cost. It will vary depending on the strategy you choose to implement, but our Apex supported practices typically acquire word-of-mouth patients for only $20-40 each.

Who Should Talk to Patients About the Referral Program

Running an effective referral program requires involvement from every team member. It also requires the specialized attention and leadership of key players in the practice – primarily the dentists and the office leaders.  

A successful referral program is a team effort. Some practices fear that patients may feel overwhelmed if everyone on the team is talking about the referral program. It is true that if everyone in the practice tried to make a hard sell on your program it could discourage your team and frustrate a patient. We’re not suggesting every team member push a hard sell. Rather, we suggest establishing each employee’s role in the conversation ahead of time so they can understand the goals and confidently present the program to patients. 

The energy, motivation, and mood of your team will typically mirror that of the dentist and those chosen to lead. If dentists are not excited and engaged in the program and its benefits, then your team won’t  be onboard, and the referral efforts will fail. You have the ability to lead your team in a way that will motivate and encourage each person to make the referral program a success. 


How To Ask for Referrals

It may be tempting to offer deep discounts and financial incentives to referring patients, but we  caution against this for two main reasons. First, you may have restrictions imposed by your state dental board or other governing bodies. For example, the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners restricts any incentive for referring patients to no more than $10 in value. 

Additionally, practices need to maintain a respectable, trustworthy tone with patients. By offering a gift card in exchange for a referral, you establish a transactional relationship with the client that can seem distasteful. 

The “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” approach is not the kind of relationship we seek in our dental practices. Instead, your conversations should focus on developing goodwill and leveraging the relationships you have with your patients and those that your patients have with their social networks.

Instead of offering an incentive to the patient, try leading the conversation with something more relationship based like, “Mrs. Jones, your smile is looking great! It’s been a pleasure working with you. We would love to see more patients just like you. May I tell you about our referral program?” Wording the invitation this way is more effective because you can express gratitude for their loyalty and let them know how they can support the practice in return. 


How To Motivate Your Team To Participate

There are many strategies you can use to motivate team members to participate in a referral program. We recommend starting with an incentive plan, and making sure you have appropriate expectations around the amount of leadership that will be necessary to manage the program.

Weigh the costs involved in bringing in new patients through other marketing channels. Consider that: 

  • A well managed Google Ads campaign could average $300 per new patient. 
  • A direct mail strategy requires thousands of dollars of consistent investment each month
  • Effectiveness of social media can be near impossible to directly measure by looking at the number of new patients. 

Word-of-mouth marketing is far more efficient and measurable. You should seek to share the financial savings with your team for their hard work and diligent effort. Take a look at our article ‘How to Create an Incentive Program that Inspires Results’ on our website for more information about incentive plans. 

Participation in any new initiative requires consistent leadership. It is unreasonable to expect that you can introduce a new program once and have it operate perfectly without consistent guidance and direction. Your leadership team should seek opportunities to motivate, inspire, and reward team members, as consistency will prove to be a driving force behind the success or failure of your referral program. 

If your team is struggling to get motivated, here are some suggestions we recommend you try:

  1. Discuss specific patients and referral goals in morning huddles.
  2. Set realistic monthly goals you can track.
  3. Reward stand-out employees for their effort.


Bringing it All Together

Your dental practice probably doesn’t have the financial resources to hire Michael Jordan, Tom Hanks, Jennifer Aniston or any other big name celebrity as a brand sponsor. But you don’t need them because you have a database of thousands of patients who have even greater influence in the community you serve. 

Managing an effective referral program is just one of the many strategies Apex Dental Partners uses to drive quality new patients to our practices and we’re confident there is a system that will work for your office too – whether you choose to go it alone or put your trust in the expertise of the Apex Team.

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By choosing the right partner, selling your dental practice can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your professional career. At Apex Dental Partners, we work closely with you every step of the way to ensure you feel comfortable and confident you're making the best decision for your future.