The 3 C's for winning professional-to-professional referrals

Oct. 5, 2010
Referrals are all about relationships. Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA, say there are three essential elements in building a successful professional referral program.

By Lonnie Hirsch and Stewart Gandolf, MBA

The three big ideas behind every successful professional referral program

Referrals are all about relationships. And professional relationships — the source of professional referrals — don't blossom spontaneously. There's a well-considered system that fuels a successful professional referral program based on these three concepts.

Health-care referrals are the financial lifeblood of many hospitals and practices. And for others, referrals are great, but there's no deep dependence.

If you're anywhere on this spectrum, a professional referral program is a must for your health-care organization's marketing plan.

Professional referrals are a significant section of well-constructed marketing plans because they harbor big benefits — not only for solo or specialty practitioners, but for hospitals, physician groups, elective and cosmetic care, and dental practices as a few examples.

In our health-care marketing seminars, and in our work with clients, we talk a lot about how to win referrals. It's one of our favorite sections and we present hundreds of real-world tactics, tips, and techniques.

We don't have the space here for all of it, but here are the three essential elements for success.


Professionals will refer to people (i.e., professional colleagues) they like and trust. "Like" is important, but "trust" is paramount. It's a matter of CONFIDENCE that the referral will be appropriate and beneficial to the patient's care.

In our experience, "confidence" never happens without a solid RELATIONSHIP. Of course there's an assumption of professional competence ... but that alone isn't sufficient to distinguish and differentiate. Professionals will refer with confidence when there is a strong and reliable relationship in place.


First, credentials are a must — your education, training, and experience form a foundation for CREDIBILITY. Plus, credibility grows when a referral source truly appreciates you as a valuable resource or extension to his or her own work. (It's that RELATIONSHIP thing again.)

Credentials on a professional CV are important, but deep credibility is about experience — delivering what the referral source values most in caring for patients, and making their lives easier.


This one should be a "double-C" — for CONSISTENT COMMUNICATIONS. We consult with many hospitals, practices, and organizations where CREDIBILITY is rock solid. But a "failure to communicate" regularly with the sources of referrals is a blind spot.

It's the usual: "everyone's busy," or "we don't know how," or whatever the excuse. Mostly, it seems, there is no specific system to regularly communicate — and that's a two-way street, by the way.

We teach in depth about the ways to take care of the people and practices that make referrals. Some practices use a practice representative, circulate targeted marketing materials, create and use an "elevator speech," and dozens of other approaches that:

  • Find out what's most important to the referral source (and deliver it)
  • Implement a measurable system to grow new and protect existing sources
  • Regularly inform gatekeepers and decision-makers about what you do and how that is of value to them and the patients they refer

If you'd like to know more about building a professional referral program, take a look at the agenda for our two-day seminar about health-care marketing. Give us a call today at (800) 656-0907 to reserve a spot at the seminar. We promise a couple hundred highly effective ideas that win at professional referrals.

Author bio
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies, and two of America's most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with dentists for a combined 30 years, written numerous articles on practice marketing, and consulted with more than 3,000 private health-care practices. Reach them at (888) 679-0050, through their Web site at, or via e-mail at [email protected].