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Want to Attract New Dental Patients? Think About a Referral Contest

Aug 21, 2008
Referral contests are one of the best ways to attract new patients. People love contests and competition for two reasons: (1) Competitiveness is a part of human nature. And, (2) people love to win stuff.

Just think, the most widely watched shows on TV are competitions. Sporting events and reality shows dominate the TV ratings because they are competitive contests. And, the thrill of getting something for nothing is basically second nature for Americans. If you don't believe this, consider the billions of lottery tickets sold each week.

The contest format of referrals is successful due to the fact that it covers the two main factors of attracting referrals to any business. Those two factors are: Reward and Recognition.

As I said, people like winning stuff, and they love to be gratuitously singled out as doing something good. Referral contests are a great way to make this happen in your practice. They are not difficult to set up, and actually take very little effort to run. All you need to do is promote your contest correctly (a patient newsletter is a good way).

Here are two great examples of successful referral contests that worked wonders.

Example 1:

A dentist was looking for a way to promote and gather referrals in his practice, and the idea was brought up to give away $1000 to the person who referred the most patients.

Each person who referred would get a gift of some sort. I believe, in this case, it was a gift certificate to a local restaurant, and the person referring the most patients at the end of the contest would receive $1000 in cash.

If you run your contest without the small gift for each referral, you will scare some people away. Giving the small gift as a "thank you" to your patients is a good draw for even the shy person that does not care to try for the $1000. The small gift also draws attention to the fact that you get something even for referring one person.

Well, during the 3 weeks that this contest ran, the office generated 44 new patients.

If we do the math in this case, basically, for $1000 this office gathered 44 new patients (an average of just under $23 per patient).

The success is based on the prize. If the top prize was $100, there would have been less of a response. For $10,000, you can bet people would be flying their friends, family, and the family dog to the office.

For some dentists $1000 may seem like a big chunk of money. Think about this, in comparison: Instead, you could spend $1000 to send some direct mail pieces to your neighborhood to attract 10 or so new patients... OR, you can offer the same amount of money to have your patients refer their friends and family to your practice. Remember, your patients will have already sold their friends and family on the benefits of your practice and your dental care. Meaning, they like you from the get-go and are ready to be loyal patients from the moment they walk in your door.

In another, very similar, case there were two ladies at the top of the list who were neck and neck with each other. And, every time one of the ladies would refer a patient in, the front office staff would call the other lady to alert her. This went on for the duration of the contest.

Finally, near the end of the contest, one of the ladies actually drove a patient to the practice for the final referral that eventually won the contest for her.

Now, you don't have to go that far, but you can see how a simple contest can create a huge buzz throughout your patient base that will literally have them driving patients to your office.

There is another, totally different way, to run a contest in your practice. This first method, mentioned above, is the "most-referrals-wins" contest, and really plays on people's competitiveness.

If that sounds too crazy for you, there is also the example below. The "weighted drawing" contest is another simple and easy way to run a contest without eliminating any one referrer from having a chance to win the grand prize.

Example 2:

This dentist continually runs this type of contest and offers a new prize every quarter. His prizes have, so far, included computers with flat screen monitors, and a huge 47" Plasma TV. He is currently giving away 2 round trip airplane tickets to anywhere in the United States.

The contest format is simple. For every referral that completes a new patient visit, the referrer receives one entry into the drawing. Refer one person, and you have one chance to win. Refer 10 people, and have 10 chances.

At the end of the quarter, all of the chances are gathered in a bowl and the winner is drawn. The winner then gets their picture taken with the doctor and the prize, and that picture gets placed in the monthly newsletter. The picture is then accompanied by the announcement of the next contest and the next prize.

Keeping the prizes fresh is exciting for the patients and keeps them involved in the process. If you continually give away the same prize, people will get bored with the contest (unless it is a big prize like $1,000,000).

The picture is a very important step! DO NOT MISS THIS! If you do not promote a winner, people will not get excited about the next contest.

Oh, the results... well, in speaking to the doctor a couple of weeks ago, he reported that the new patients he gains from referrals, on their first visit alone, easily brings in an extra $35,000 per year and pays for their patient newsletter to go out.

That's only the income from their first visits! "The rest is gravy." He said.

There is one key that both of these referral contests have in common. That key is promotion to your patients. Without the correct promotion, both of these contests fail. If you don't tell people what they need to do to win a prize, they won't do it.

Both of the above examples utilized a patient newsletter to promote the contest. Showing your patients that people are actually winning the contests, will help make them feel like they, too, can win and will want to at least try.

Also, in your newsletter, include referral cards that can be used as the "drawing" cards for your contest. They're business cards that your patients can write their name on (to ensure they get proper credit) and hand out to their friends and family.

Referral contests are not a hard thing to set up. Just decide on how you want to set it up and make sure your patients know about it. Get them excited. And, remember, if you don't make a big deal about it, neither will anyone else.
About the Author
James Erickson is the President of EMC Dental Marketing which gives Dentists a resource for turn-key dental marketing programs and dental practice marketing education including new patient attraction, and internal marketing systems. Visit www.EMCdental.com and get a free practice
building kit sent directly to your home or office.
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