referrer relationship

Developing deeper referrer relationships: How to broaden your reach

Posted in Marketing and Branding as a Core Activity
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Whenever a clinician begins a new referrer relationship, that clinician becomes the point person for that connection. And we want the clinician to nurture that referrer relationship until the point person becomes their go-to person on mental health. But eventually, we hope to broaden the attachment to the whole practice. How does that occur?

Our orientation: Thinking like a point person 

I use the term “point person” in two senses.

Firstly, a point person may be the point of a wedge. The point person opens the way for others to follow. Certainly, that is how I want our clinicians to think about their efforts. I want them to open the door with each referral person for their colleagues to follow. 

Secondly, in military combat, every mission designates one soldier to be the point person. In battle, the point person leads the troops on that particular mission. The role of the point person may get passed around from time to time. But in combat, there always needs to be a designated point person. 

In short, we establish each new referrer relationship with one point person. Then as the relationship develops, we want to broaden the referral relationship to include others.

First stage: Building the first connection

From the vantage point of the referrer, the first stage of the referrer’s relationship with us is via contact with the point person. 

When the referrer first sends us someone, they are likely to refer that client to the point specifically. After all, that is the clinician the referrer knows. The referrer wants to be comfortable with the point person first before referring to others.

Second stage: Growing the awareness of others in the organization 

Eventually, if all goes well, the referrer relationship moves into a second stage. Here, the referrer becomes aware that the office includes multiple clinicians and support staff who may be of service. Once aware of our other team members, the referrer may “try-out” colleagues of the point person.

During this stage, the point person facilitates the introduction of colleagues. Once a colleague receives a referral, they should follow up in caring for the needs of the referral person and the clients. 

As this happens repeatedly, confidence develops, and the referrer moves to the third and most mature stage.

Third stage: Developing a relationship with the whole of the organization 

In the third stage, referrers now see the whole practice as a resource. They trust the practice to make the best assignment of cases and manage the referrals appropriately. Furthermore, in this stage, referrals come to the practice as a whole rather than to particular clinicians. Now they trust the entire group. The goal is that the referring person will say, “Just go to anyone there. They are all excellent.”

The Pace

Different referrers will move through these stages at different paces. In some cases, the referrer will immediately jump to stage three and make referrals to the whole practice. 

We can help that process by intentionally informing the referrer that we have colleagues and support staff to help meet their needs. 

In my experience, each relationship grows at its own pace. We must be sensitive to each referrer’s desires and respond appropriately.

How to become a skilled point person

There are specific skills that we can develop to accomplish these goals. Fortunately, these skills are similar to the ones that clinicians use daily in our clinical work. All relate to developing and maintaining relationships. 

Our most successful point people were talented at many things: 

  • taking referrers to lunch
  • speaking in settings that referral people find valuable
  • providing consults or attending staffings at schools
  • consistently consulting with referral people about mutual clients
  • meeting referral people on their turf

The goal is to become at ease in the many roles we may have with a referral person. We want to become the resident mental health expert to this referral person.

More skills 

Once we have developed that initial relationship, then we need to get good at a couple of other things: 

  • following up with excellent case management 
  • facilitating contact between the referrer and colleagues

In this context, following up is an adjunct to doing good therapy, which includes keeping the referrer informed whenever possible and keeping up with our paperwork. 

Because the referral person is new, everybody needs to bring their “A” game to those early interactions. We worked hard to get that first referral, and we want to convince the referrer and client that they are in good hands. Each new referral is a test of our ability to meet the needs of both referrer and client.

Why should point people share their referral relationships

The best way to take care of a referrer and that referrer’s clients is a great match. What I mean is this. Referrers care most about good client outcomes. And the best client outcomes occur with an excellent match between the client and the assigned therapist. 

If a colleague can do a better job due to scheduling, insurance, specialty, or any other reason, we need to pass the referral. In doing so, we give the referrer the best possible experience of the practice. Eventually, that encourages loyalty to the point person and the whole practice. We are showing them that our priority is to do what is best for those they are referring to us. 

Summing up, our goal is that all clinicians share referral resources. When we do that, each practice member benefits from the loyal referrers whose clients get the best match. And the clinicians get cases that match their interests and skills. 

Our goal

Our goal, then, is to widen and deepen the interconnections between the practice and referrers. And ultimately, we want the practice to become THE community resource for all mental health needs. We want to be the first call a referrer considers. And if they referrer for a niche we do not cover, we can provide solid referrals to others outside our organization when appropriate.

For more on this topic see: How to convert solid referral relationships into fan clubs

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