In this episode, Barbara and Steve discuss:

  • The 7 fool-proof tactics of referral marketing. 
  • The power of having a book (no matter how short or long). 
  • Referrals through presentations, both online and in person. 


Key Takeaways:

  • You need to have a social media profile that represents you well for when referrals come to find out more about you. 
  • Do a really nice and unexpected thank you. 
  • Create first steps for new potential patients. Create entry points where people can get an idea of what you do and who you are in a low-risk way. 

“The key is in finding something, sticking with it, being consistent with it, and repeating it until you’ve mastered it more than having a lot of different tactics.” —  Steve Gordon



Barbara:         Hey! This is Barbara Hales with Marketing Tips for Doctors. We have a great episode today. Steve Gordon is a best-selling author, the founder of The Unstoppable CEO, and the host of The Unstoppable CEO podcast.

He has written over 400 articles on marketing for service businesses. Through his firm, he helps service business entrepreneurs create leveraged marketing systems so they can spend less time on business development and more time on what matters most. And for you doctors and healthcare professionals out there, we will know what that is.


When he was just 28, Steve became the CEO of an engineering firm but he knew nothing about marketing or selling services. Twelve years later, after growing that firm’s revenue by 10 times, Steve started his second business consulting with businesses across 30 industries including manufacturing, professional services, and consulting to design sales, marketing, and referral systems for high-ticket and high-trust products and services. He’s here today to share what he’s learned throughout his journey to help you attract your ideal patients and clients and achieve the business goals you’ve been dreaming of. Welcome to the show, Steve.


Steve:             Hey, Barbara. Thanks for having me.


Barbara:         Well, as we all know, to grow a practice and have success, we depend a lot upon referral marketing. And I understand you have seven foolproof tactics for successfully doing this. Could you tell us a bit about it?


Steve:             Yeah, I would love to. So the big challenge with referrals, I think it’s important to understand that first, the big challenge with referrals is that we’re going to our patient, to our client and we’re essentially asking them to do the most difficult thing in any business which is to identify a new potential patient and then to convince that person to come and see us.

That’s one of the reasons that in most businesses salespeople are paid so much because it’s a very difficult job to do and it’s a valuable job. And we’re delegating that or often just abdicating that responsibility to this unpaid and untrained salesforce called our patients or our clients. And so that creates some challenges when we begin to think about referrals.


And so in most cases, the way that we look at referrals, we’ll have two sources. We’ll have our existing patients and clients and we’ll have some partners, you know. So, there may be other physicians or other professionals that send people to you. And in both of those cases, we’re hoping that they’ll just stumble upon the right conversation with someone who will need our help and then they’ll remember us and they’ll send folks, you know, along with and, you know, then great things happen.

We get a new patient, we get a new client. And we’re really happy. But that relies on a lot of luck and chance and hope and then it also requires that patient or client doing something that’s probably pretty unnatural for them and that’s selling someone on coming and seeing you. And so I think it’s important to understand that what we’re asking of our patients and of our partners is often quite a lot.


Barbara:         Yes, that’s absolutely true. Now, I always found that if I wanted a referral from specialists in the neighborhood that it’s best to actually go and shake their hands and meet them head-on, you know, on a personal level to let them know that we’re located in the area, what insurances we accept and the services that we provide. Do you feel that that is the best technique?


Steve:             I think it’s certainly important to establish the relationship. They’re going to send people to you based on the level of comfort and trust they have in you. I think the first thing that you’ve got to do is create some level of relationship but then beyond that, you’ve got to make it easy for them to refer. And I mean, one of the things that I think is an advantage in the medical profession is that once you build those relationships, if it is a physician-to-physician referral, you know, when the need arises, they’re going to send someone to you because there’s the medical need. But beyond that particularly for specialists who are trying to generate, you know, business that’s maybe outside the realm of insurance, so they’re looking to do elective procedures and things like that which often can be very profitable and you’re dealing with people who have money and often they can be very good clients and very good patients, but to get those sorts of things you got to go a little bit further because it’s optional.


You know, it’s one thing when another physician basically writes a prescription that says you need to go see my friend across town and, you know, they can help you with this particular problem. It’s another thing when it’s a completely elective decision that they’re making. And to make that happen, you’ve got to begin to establish yourself as an authority in that discipline and communicate in a way that removes the risk from that potential patient.

So, a great example of this one — My wife actually works in an ophthalmology practice and, you know, they’ve got all of these sorts of things that people come to them on a need basis and they get referrals from optometrists and from other, you know, other general physicians, you know, for things. But then they also do some fairly high-end and sophisticated implants related to cornea transplants and they do some other treatments that aren’t typically covered by insurance that are high profit for the practice and tend to deliver good results for patients.


The way to make things like that happen is to arm your referral sources and arm your patients with information that makes it easy for them to introduce you to the next potential patient. And what I mean by that is, you know, most of the time when we’re asking for a referral, Barbara, what we ask for is for a client of ours, a patient of ours or a partner of ours to essentially bring someone 100% pre-sold, deliver them to us into what is essentially a sales meeting. You know, in Medicine, you don’t usually call it that but that’s what it is. You try to sell them on the service that you’re offering. That’s a high-risk place for that patient to go as a first step.


And one of the things that we work with our clients to do is to create a lower barrier, a lower commitment first step. And oftentimes, that’s just a piece of information. And I’m happy to go through how, you know, the process of how that works but the thing that I think everybody listening wants to think about it, how can I make that very first interaction with me as a friendly and as low commitment as possible? And coming to your office, coming to any medical office is a scary thing for most people. And there’s a big commitment barrier there to get them to come. I think you’ve got to think about how do I begin the interaction with them in another way first.


Barbara:         Well, absolutely. Especially for doctors who are converting to concierge medicine, it’s going to be even more important to find that special patient that is no different than the ordinary that is willing to spend the money for your attention and for your time. So how do you get them to come to you as opposed to someone that their insurance company would pay for?


Steve:             Well, I think that really starts with understanding the type of person that you’re attracting. So, someone that is going to rely on whomever their insurance company will tell them to go to has a certain type of mindset. They think in a certain way. Someone who is willing to say, you know, it’s great to find insurance covers this but I want the best possible care or I want this particular type of experience, that’s a different type of mindset. And so, you’ve got to think about who that is and how they approach their own medical care differently. And then you’ve got to begin speaking to that person and that type of mindset.


One of the most effective ways to do this once you’ve identified who that is and kind of how they think and what challenges, what health challenges that they would believe are important that you can help them with is to take that and put that into some form that’s easy for your current patients and your friends in the community whether they’re medical professionals or anyone else can then help you distribute.

And the way we like to do that, the best kind of gold standard way to do that, Barbara, is to create a book. And it doesn’t have to be a long book. It can be a fairly short book. In fact, the shortest one we’ve ever created with a client was, I think it was 12-typed pages in Microsoft Word. So even calling it a book is being a little bit generous. But it was a very effective tool because it was narrowly targeted to exactly who this professional wanted to reach and it addressed the biggest problems that were on their minds that he could solve for them. And when you do that, you now have something that’s easy for people to pass on.


The challenge you have in healthcare is that not a lot of people want to have conversations about their health problems. They’re often very personal issues and private issues. And I think that makes it difficult sometimes for referrals to happen.


Barbara:         Yes, absolutely. You know, it’s better at this point to take a proactive stance for a person’s health and not just, you know, treat illnesses themselves. So, are you a fan of social media?

                                                        Social Media

Steve:             Social media, I think, is one of those things that you need to have in place. But you know, in all of the high-ticket businesses we’ve worked in where you’re selling something that’s really high trust, what we’ve noticed with consumer behavior is that they’ll get a recommendation from someone that they know so they’ll get kind of a traditional referral. It wouldn’t even be a referral where they’re brought to the practice sort of by their friend but they’ll get a recommendation. Well, the first thing that they’re going to do is they’re going to go to Facebook and LinkedIn and maybe Instagram and look to see what information you’ve got out there. And so you need to have a profile that represents you well and so that you can check that box off. So when they go and look through, they go, oh okay, these people are credible, they look friendly. You know, they’re publishing some useful information that’s helping me understand their philosophy on how they practice Medicine.


What we don’t typically see happen is we don’t see a lot of leads come directly from social media without some other connection usually. And so that’s one of the reasons, you know, for a lot of our clients, we advocate that they have a book because you can take that to your patients, you can take that to your referral partners and have what we call the value conversation which — It sounds something like this, Barbara.

You might go to them and say, you know, I’m really passionate about this particular, you know, solving this particular type of problem for our patients. And I know that I’m not ever going to be able to help everybody in the town or the city but I want to make sure I educate as many of them as possible on what the potential consequences are of not doing anything and what the solutions might be. And to do that, I’ve written a book and that’ll, you know, allow me to touch as many people as possible. And I’m on a mission to get this in the hands of everybody that I can literally put it in the hands of. So you know, Mr. Patient, Ms. Patient, Mr. Referral Partner, let’s brainstorm together people that you know that might benefit from having this book.


And if the book is well-targeted, your patients will now be able to share you really, really easily. Your referral partners will be able to share you really easily. And you get now a strong and authoritative introduction to your next best patients, you know. And the reason that the book works so well as a device for doing this is that most of the time we’re not offended when somebody gives us a book even if we’re not that interested in the book, you know. I don’t know, Barbara. Have you ever been offended when somebody gave you a book?

                                             Book Writing

Barbara:         No, not at all. And I think writing a book and having it passed around is a great idea. You know, people will throw out postcards and they’ll throw out reminder cards but nobody ever throws out books.


Steve:             They don’t. And the advantage of having a book and having a physical book and not an e-book is that you now will own some real estate in that future patient’s world. And you can’t control when they’re going to decide that they need you. You can maybe influence it a little bit but you can’t control it.

So, you’ve got to begin thinking about how can I get into this person’s world and how can I stay in their world over the long term. And so, we see this with our clients. And you know, I’ve written three books myself. I know it happens with our own books. They’ll occupy that real estate on the corner of somebody’s desk or on their bookshelf or on their coffee table. I have one client tell me that he had my first book, Unstoppable Referrals, on his nightstand for like two and a half years and he never read it. And he finally just said, I realized I wasn’t going to read it and I just needed to call you and work with you. And that’s what happened.


So you know, it’s interesting how that can work on someone over time. Just the presence of it can help influence them. And so it’s power from that standpoint. But for those who actually read it, it allows you to make the full case. So, you mentioned this trend towards concierge medicine which I think is actually a great thing. But you can make the case in there for why someone who, you know, has the means to pay for that should pay for it. It’s going to save them time. They’re going to have a quarterback, you know, for all of their medical issues who are going to really be able to coordinate coverage which I can tell you often doesn’t happen in medicine right now. There’s an awful lot of siloing going on.


So, you can attack all of these issues that they would have with the way traditional medicine is set up with the insurance companies now and why your concierge practice is, you know, going to be an advantage for them and for their longevity and for their health and it allows you to lay all that out. By the time they get to you, they’ve already bought into the idea that yes, they want that approach to Medicine and they’ve also bought into the idea that you’re the one they want.


Barbara:         That’s absolutely true. And one thing that a lot of people are lacking is a professional that’s going to connect the dots. You could go to a lot of different, you know, health professionals but you need someone to gather the information and connect the dots to put everything together so that the correct diagnosis and the correct treatment ultimately is done.


Steve:             Absolutely, absolutely.


Barbara:         Tell me, what do you think about loyalty programs for patients that refer to other patients?


Steve:             So, let’s work with specifics. So, what would be an example of one of those that you think works particularly well or that you’ve seen a lot?


Barbara:         Well, we always ask patients to, you know, refer other patients. The least of which would be, you know, a thank you card for the referral but you might want to give a premium like a tip sheet or again a small pamphlet or something that they consider of value with more information.


Steve:             Sure. We’ve seen everything from, as you say, the thank you note kind of. And that ought to be the minimum. You need to thank people that send you referrals for sure. All the way through, you know, offering prizes and gift cards and things like that. I think on the high end, those can get somewhat problematic depending on the type of business you’re in.

So, the orthodontist that our children have gone to, they do a program actually with the kids where the kids can for, you know, if they refer their friends in and the friends come in to have an initial consultation, they get points. Then the points add up to things that they can, you know, win over time. I think that sort of thing works well because the kids all look at that as an incentive to send their friends. But as you get into higher-level stuff particularly higher priced stuff and when you’re dealing primarily with adults, I think payment becomes more difficult.


What we see is that oftentimes that’ll suppress referral. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s an actual cash payment which in a lot of cases is not going to be legal or ethical anyway but even some of the gifts and other sorts of benefits that effectively are financial compensation, I think those become difficult because people want to be able to go to their friends most of the time and say, you really need to go, you know, see Dr. so and so because, you know, I just love him or I just love her and they’ve done this for me. They don’t want to have to then, you know, reveal at any point that, oh and by the way, if you go there, I’m going to, you know, win a trip or I’m going to get an iPad or whatever. I think on that extreme, you got to be careful about that. It can actually suppress referrals.


On the other end of things, I think it’s great to do really nice and unexpected thank yous, you know. So a thank you card is great, you know. A thank you, you know, where it might be a little gift basket this time and the next time, you know, it might be a gift certificate for a massage or the next time it might be something else but where they’re sort of a variety of things and it’s unexpected, you know. And if you can tailor it like that, I think those will work actually really, really well because they keep this element of surprise and delight in the whole process.


Barbara:         Oh, this sounds really great. Now, another tactic that I think works pretty well is having lectures or participating in community health fairs. Have you seen that to work well?

                                                        Referral Kit

Steve:             Yeah, I think — So in my book, Unstoppable Referrals, we kind of coined the term referral kit as anything that you do to package up information in a way that it can be easily shared. And so, we talked about one form of that which is the book and that’s sort of the gold standard. Well, if that’s the gold standard, the silver medal goes to presentations. And whether that is an in-person presentation where they come to your office and you’re giving an educational workshop of some kind or it’s an online presence where it’s delivered by a webinar or an on-demand video, those all work really, really well. They serve sort of the same purpose.

They give the people that know you and trust you an easy entry point to send new potential patients to where they can go and they can get information, where there’s not, you know, a huge risk or expectation that they’re going to sign up right away. And so anything like that that you can do where you’re able to share your message without there being, you know, a lot of risk to it or a lot of fear associated with it, you know, I think those are all very effective.


Barbara:         Yes, that sounds good. Besides what we’ve already discussed, are there any additional tactics that you would recommend?


Steve:             Well, again, to the extent that you can create first steps, first entry points, you think in terms of where does someone come into my practice and, you know, begin to experience my way of thinking about Medicine and the problems that I solve, the better future that’s created for my patients because we solve those problems and then give that to them in a very low-risk way. So, we’ve talked about a book is a great way to do that, presentations are a great way to do that. You can do that on specific problems with short reports or white papers and those can be very, very effective. But I wouldn’t get too concerned about having lots of different ways to do it.


One of the biggest mistakes that we see businesses make is that they look for the 50 tactics that they can use. And Barbara, I know you probably run across this with your clients. I do all the time. Somebody will come to me and ask me, will XYZ tactic work for me? And I guarantee you I can find an example of it working for their type of business. And the question is not whether that could work for your business.

It’s are you going to commit to that one way until you’ve mastered it and got it really working before you jump to the next thing? And we see unfortunately in most businesses they dabble. And so, they’ll do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a little bit of this other marketing thing, never really get good at any of them, never really get much in terms of results at any of them because they never got to the point where they mastered it.


And so, my best advice is to pick one thing. So, if you want to focus on referrals and you’re comfortable speaking and you want to get started quickly, I’d start with some workshops on specific topics that are really important to your future patients. And then I’ll get all of your current patients and all of the people who are in your referral network to help you fill the seats in those. And if it’s 10 of the right people or 15 of the right people or 20 of the right people and you repeat that, every month for the next year, you’ll dramatically change your practice.

But the key is in finding something and sticking with it and being consistent with it and repeating it until you’ve mastered it more than having a lot of different tactics, you know. Similarly, if you’re more comfortable writing than speaking, well, put a short book together.

You can do it yourself fairly easily and you can work with a firm like ours or lots of different companies around the country that will help you put together a book so you don’t have to write it. And do that and then execute, you know, the referral strategy where you’re having that value conversation with all of your patients and with all of your referral partners and execute that for a year. And if you execute that consistently for a year, you’re going to dramatically change your practice.


Barbara:         Well, Steve, I think that’s great advice. For our listeners out there, how can they reach you for more information?


Steve:             Yeah. Barbara, we’ve set up a page just for your listeners. If they go to, if they go to that page, what they’ll find is some links to some free resources we have, one of which is my latest book called The Exponential Network Strategy which is really how we teach our clients to expand their referral network and do it in a really easy and very leveraged way so you’re not running around, you know, in a million places every week trying to network with folks. And if they’d like to, you know, talk with me one-on-one more about what they’re trying to accomplish, there’s a link on there where they can book a call. And I’d love to talk to your listeners. Happy to do that.


Barbara:         Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Steve. It was really very informative and my listeners are sure to enjoy it.


Steve:             Thanks, Barbara. It’s been a lot of fun.


Barbara:         This is Barbara Hales from Marketing Tips for Doctors with another great episode. See you next time.


Connect with Steve Gordon:  

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Connect with Barbara Hales: 

Twitter:   @DrBarbaraHales



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