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December, 2010

The Referral-Centric Practice: The Ripple Effect

By Lawton W. Howell

Practice referral marketing tactical strategies and your practice will explode with new patients. I have the pleasure of working with "chiropreneurs" everyday - here in the U.S. and around the world. Virtually each initial conversation with them includes feedback that while most of their new patients are from referrals, they are not attracting as many new patients as they desire.

Most, if not all, chiropreneurs don't seem to grasp the power of implementing referral marketing strategies and most do not have a systematic referral-centric marketing initiative as the cornerstone of their marketing mix. So first let's discuss the value of a structured referral-centric marketing plan:

  1. Creditability. When a trusted friend or center of influence shares their experience with your brand of chiropractic, they transfer their trust to your practice, even if they have never heard of you before.

  2. Higher lifetime value. People who are referred to your brand of chiropractic tend to invest more in their health and wellness. This reality has been demonstrated beyond any doubt as people tend to refer like-minded people and tend to be better qualified than those who responded to a promotional offer.

  3. Reduced acquisition cost. The cost to acquire a referral is significantly less than the cost to acquire a patient from other marketing initiatives.

A Model Referral-Centric Plan

If you are more convinced about the value of growing your practice with a referral-centric strategy, the next step is a model plan that could boost the number of referrals you receive from each and every patient in addition to those who are "centers of influence."

First, have a target. Without one you will be unable to quantify and track the effectiveness of your referral-centric marketing efforts. Research has shown that most people know 200 people at any point in their life, and this group of people can change during a lifetime. So, the potential number of referrals is significant.

That said, a benchmark target of three referrals per person, per year is not unreasonable.

When conducting audits, it is often revealed that the actual number of referrals is less than one per patient. So, in virtually every case, there is an opportunity to grow the practice by improving the results achieved from a patient-centric referral marketing plan.

There are two basic referral-centric sources: patients and "centers of influence". The fact is that you can attract more referrals from non-patient centers of influence than from patients. Each of these groups may require a separate marketing effort (based on their areas of interest) to increase the number of referrals.

Centers of Influence

Anyone who has influence over others (a center of influence) can be a tremendous source of referrals. This includes, but is not limited to: attorneys, other health care providers, business and civic leaders, marketing alliances, your employees and YOU! Many of these people can be a significant source of referrals, even if they have never received an adjustment.

Whether or not you have given them a treatment is not the reason they will give you referrals.

Centers of influence are motivated by relationships and trust. For example, a single M.D., who trusts your brand of chiropractic, can be a significant source of referrals each and every month. Create a list of the top 100 centers of influence in your area and get to know them.

Never eat lunch alone! Armed with your top 100 movers and shakers in the community, invite each to lunch and find out what their "aliveness" (or interest) is and focus the attention on them. Remember, you build your relationship with your centers of influence over time, not on the first "date".

Communicate with them regularly on topics of interest. If they are in the news - send a clipping of the article, a hand-written note of appreciation for their contribution to the community and a complimentary "stress-massage" gift card they can use or share with someone.

Here's a recap of the process:

  1. Develop a list of the ultimate 100 centers of influence in your community.
  2. Never eat lunch alone.
  3. Communicate regularly - continuously focusing on their area of interest.
  4. Monitor their activities in the community and recognize their efforts.
  5. Deliver a "dimensional" gift to your list monthly (e.g. fruit basket, flowers, food, etc).

In Part 2, we will exam how to maximize the number of patient-based referrals.


Lawton W. Howell is the founder and chief executive officer of WellnessOne Corporation, a chiropractic alliance marketing group based in Las Vegas. Direct questions and comments regarding this article to 877 WELNES1 (toll free), send an e-mail to , or visit www.growmypractice.wellnessone.net.

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