There was a time many of you may still remember when referral marketing
for professionals was about the only legal way to gain new clients or
patients for a local practice. Advertising was illegal and many other
forms of promotional marketing were considered unethical for
professionals. In those days, practitioners did good work and hoped that
their existing patients or clients would recommend them.
Those word-of-mouth referrals are still the best practice marketing
method because they are trusted, valuable and, put simply, they work.
However, it is hard to measure effectiveness and it can take a long time
to build just a handful of new customers. Whereas word-of-mouth is
spontaneous and unstructured, referral marketing for professionals has
become an organized set of strategies that stimulate, encourage and
measure these word-of-mouth referrals. With referral marketing, you will
get the results you want faster.
Referral marketing is two-pronged. It is an increasingly important type of internet marketing for professionals, yet also continues to have important applications in the offline world.
Offline referral marketing refers to ways you can increase your client base or patient load by getting third party endorsements without the use of the internet. Third party endorsements may come from your current clients or patients, from other members of your community who have heard about you or from another practitioner or respected local organization. Examples include colleague’s newsletters, public speaking engagements, postcards and letters, as well as direct verbal recommendations.
Online referral marketing for professionals uses various forms of
internet marketing to gain third party endorsements from people you may
or may not have met yet. It uses viral marketing and social networks,
often together, to increase effectiveness and impact.
Although technically consisting of both online and offline methods, referral marketing is now usually associated with marketing over the internet. Thus it can also be considered a form of professional services internet marketing. It encompasses several referral marketing strategies, as well as viral marketing for professionals, a strategy that encourages individuals to pass along a marketing message (an idea, product or service) to others, hoping to create exponential growth by rapidly spreading the message to thousands, even millions, across the internet, much like a potent virus would spread quickly from person to person. Social networking is also included, with social media enterprises such as Facebook and Twitter becoming household names that play important marketing roles as social networks for experts and other businesses. As a fast and easy way to message many people at once, they are the media that are most likely to initiate and propagate viral referrals, which might be called the pot of gold that every professional hopes lies at the end of her marketing campaigns.
When you fish with a rod you may wait patiently for that one fish to come along, and boy, it might be the nicest fish you have ever caught. That is like traditional word-of-mouth marketing. You can hope your best clients will tell their friends about you and they will become great clients as well. However, you may never even know if the new customer came from these referrals; it is a guessing game. Or, you can fish with a net, by using referral marketing strategies. If you know where to cast your net, you are much more likely to catch a lot of fish. Sure, not all of the fish may be viable, but that is the beauty of the net. The net is so full you have still caught a lot of nice looking fish in a short amount of time.
Referral marketing for professionals may be one of the best ways to market a local professional practice. It retains the advantage of being the preferred type of third party endorsement, yet by using a structured, planned approach, it overcomes the limited and largely unmeasurable results of word-of-mouth referrals. When combined with more traditional media relations techniques and PR methods, you may find that you have more new patients or clients than you can handle. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?