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How to Shape Successful Relationships and Increase Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

hand shakeThe six key elements in an effective CRM program for specialty practices and others.

Healthcare is business that's all about relationships. Every practice or organization appreciates a new patient referral, but specialty practices that depend on referrals don't leave the process to chance or pure goodwill. The basics of a relationship program guide reps, business manager, hospitals and others. And a specialized CRM program will increase meaningful results.

It is especially true in healthcare that people buy for emotional reasons and they buy from (and refer to) people they like and trust. It all starts with building relationships.

We're talking about all kinds of personal and professional connections: relationships between the healthcare provider and the patient, is one. Hospitals have a Physician Relations program. Pharma reps create working relationships with practices and providers. There are various names: networking, rapport building, customer relations, or simply "CRM."

The "why" is obvious. For hospitals and specialized providers (medical, dental, physical therapy and others), there's the relationship between the practice and dozens (maybe hundreds) of current and prospective professional referral sources—perhaps the main source and steady stream of new patients, cases and revenue.

Keys to an effective relationship program

In previous articles and in our marketing consulting, we talk about the "who"—how to hire a healthcare practice or organization rep. Defining a plan and having the right tools to manage and grow relationships successfully is a tall order. Here are some of the success basics:

MEASURABLE GOALS & OBJECTIVES: At best, the concept of "schmoozing" is vague; to many it's distasteful, and to others it's close to "begging" for business. Begin with a clear idea of the results to be achieved, such as increasing physician referrals by x-amount in x-period of time.

IDENTIFY AND DOCUMENT: Create a database—and keep it current—for each and every individual in your target group. A simple phone list isn't enough; you want demographic and contact particulars in a flexible and customizable program. Good CRM software puts all the details in one place, tracks activities, identifies opportunities, schedules follow-up calendars, tracks progress and provides reports.

REGULAR AND CONSISTENT ACTIONS: This is far more than occasionally delivering bagels to a referring practice. Irregular or infrequent contacts can loose ground. Establish a regular pattern and frequency of communications that build rapport and grow the relationship. Identify opportunities to show dependability and grow trust.

A RANGE OF "TOUCHES": In-person connections are powerful, but phone calls, regular mail, email, instant messaging, scheduled events, activities, training sessions, and other communications tools should also be part of your communications pallet. Understand the proper mix, frequency and appropriate tool for each situation and individual.

WORK A TWO-WAY STREET: It's an ancient quote: "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." Relations grow with mutual understanding, and hearing and proactively responding to the needs and interests of the individual are vital. It's also how you recognize and resolve problems.

REPORTS & PRODUCTIVITY: There's a painful difference between "activity" and "productivity." You need to know how well your program is working with periodic progress reports. You also need to know what's not working. Track quantifiable results against your measures goals and adjust activities as necessary.

"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."

When referrals are a major new patient and revenue stream, they are truly the life blood of your business. There are dozens of "CRM" computer or software programs on the market and most are expensive and cumbersome.

We've been working with one company that specializes in the physician and healthcare area, and we like how it works for practice reps, business managers, administrators, hospitals, and healthcare organizations. An effective marketing program, and a powerful CRM program, can grow the referral stream.

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