At one point in my career, I served as a motivational lecturer at the Parker seminars. In fact, the opportunity to offer words of encouragement and professional insight to my peers inspired me to become a Parker associate lecturer.
In many of those lectures, I imparted information about what we were doing successfully in our daily practice to achieve status as one of the most respected and productive practices of its day.Often, my lectures focused on the marketing strategy for our Minnesota-based operation. We divided our marketing efforts into two categories: "in-house" and "out-house" (a perfect title for rural Minnesota, eh?). And the philosophies that held true then still are relevant today.
First, let's discuss in-house or referral marketing. I am confident that any doctor of chiropractic with practice management experience would agree with me that upward of 80 percent of new patients are introduced to a practice through existing patient referrals.
Clearly, I recognize that certain patients have a special talent and passion for referring their friends, family members and colleagues, and I call them "chiropractic missionaries." I did not fully appreciate their personality type until recently, when I read a popular strategic management book titled The Tipping Point. In that text, the author refers to this personality type as a connector. Connectors are individuals who are well-known throughout their community. They are active in reaching out to their personal and professional networks to refer (or connect) people to services or initiatives in which they believe.
I am fortunate to benefit from the efforts of a connector who visits our clinic in Phoenix. This person will not only refer a patient to us, but also literally put that person in a car and bring them directly to our office. I have even known him to pay for the new patient's first adjustment as evidence of his endorsement. This is in-house marketing at its zenith.
Another example of in-house marketing involves the story of a filling station owner who started a contest against his key competitor across town. The filling station owner, who also was a patient at our clinic, proudly posted the thank-you notes we sent to him on his bulletin board, showcasing our written acknowledgments of appreciation for the new patients he referred to our office. One day, a customer told him his competitor, who also was a patient of mine, was posting his thank-you notes as well - and the contest commenced. I never failed to send a note of recognition to my patients for referring new people to our clinic. And that year, I wrote more than 50 notes to the filling station owner. The contest motivated him to actively refer, and our practice benefited from his friendly competition.
But there's a caveat I feel compelled to share: The filling station owner was not a personal acquaintance - we enjoyed a strictly doctor-patient relationship - but I wanted to reward him in some way for all the referrals he had provided. Quite by accident, I learned he was an avid golfer. So, I invited him to our club for a round of golf, where he proved he was a much better player than me. When the game was over and he had beaten me handily, he said with good humor, "If you practice like you play golf, I don't know why I sent you all those patients." From that day forward, he never referred another patient. The lesson here is, don't relax the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship, as you may compromise the mystique that surrounds what makes you so special to that patient in the first place.
And now let's address "out-house" marketing, which has evolved in process but not in concept. This type of marketing requires active communication on a regular basis with patients, especially with those who might visit your practice less frequently. Decades ago, we were the first chiropractic practice in Minnesota to utilize a computerized mailing list, and that database was used to maintain ongoing contact - at least every six weeks - with existing and prospective patients.
With today's technology, sustaining contact with patients is much easier and far more cost-efficient. For example, I went to my dentist last month, prompted to make the appointment after receiving an e-mail reminder that it was time to schedule my semi-annual visit. What a convenient and simple reminder for me, the patient, and a virtual guarantee that I would be a returning client for the dentist. In our chiropractic office, we manage an e-mail program that enables us to connect with our patients on a consistent basis. We know through research that one of the first activities of the day for most people is checking e-mail, and by communicating via e-mail, we know they think about us first. E-mail outreach yields other benefits, as our chiropractic assistants no longer have to spend their days making the dreaded reminder calls, and the use of technology reinforces to our patients we are an up-to-date and savvy operation.
Successful "out-house" marketing efforts also involve doctors becoming heavily involved in their communities. Participation can take a variety of forms and does not automatically require membership in multiple networking groups. In fact, I have a friend who never joined a service club or networking organization. Rather, he simply contacted all the service clubs in his large metropolitan area and volunteered to speak at one of their meetings, often as a substitute in case of last-minute cancellations. By offering this service free of charge, this person spoke at more than 40 meetings in one year. These clubs knew they could count on him to help out, and he formed close relationships with numerous individuals as a result. The assistance he provided made him a trusted ally and thus led to increased patient volume for his practice.
The most effective tenet to follow in "out-house" marketing is simply being prepared to respond. Years ago, my wife gave me a wallet I still carry today. The wallet has space for about 10 business cards, and I always check to make sure my inventory is full. You never know where your day will take you or who you might meet along the way. I have referred at least one new patient a week to our Phoenix office by having business cards on hand. Whether on an airplane, at a restaurant or in line at the grocery store, you might strike up a conversation with someone who could benefit from a visit to your clinic. To grow your practice, you always must be thinking about how you can help people heal; not just when they are visiting your office, but in any given social environment.I hope the advice and anecdotal evidence I have shared regarding marketing strategies helps you maintain or develop a thriving, robust practice. And though some things never change, I hope my words inspire and motivate you to take advantage of these constants as you strive for continual improvement in your practice and your life.
Click here for previous articles by Arlan Fuhr, DC.