You’ve hired a great sales rep, analyzed the referral sources in your area, and created a strategy to focus on building relationships with the right ones.
Referral marketing in home care can be a tough business. Most referral partners have a host of agencies vying for their attention, and with the influx of new agencies in the past five years, it’s getting more competitive than it’s ever been.
To get in the door and build a relationship, you need a plan. While your exact plan will depend on the circumstances of your agency and the referral partners you’re trying to network with, here’s a general guideline for how you should go about building relationships with professional referral sources and establish a strong pipeline of referrals for your home care agency.
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Understand the 3-5, 8-12 Principle
You need to be patient, but you also need to quickly establish your value. Home care marketing consultant Steve “The Hurricane” Weiss explains that while the average number of times you need to visit a referral source before you start getting referrals from them is 8-12 times, the average number of times you can visit them without a clear purpose before they ask you to stop wasting their time is 3-5.
The implication is clear: You need enough of a purpose for each visit that they let you keep coming back until you hit the magical 8-12 visits range. We’ll talk about what you can do to have a purpose for your visits. But first, let’s address a quick question on frequency.
How Often Should You Visit Professional Referral Sources?
Grant Gaston, president of 52 Weeks Marketing, suggests that you generally visit every 1-2 weeks, depending on the individual.
The further up the ladder they are, the more difficult they’ll be to get a meeting with, so higher-level professionals might need to be visited monthly instead of weekly. Grant also suggests that top executives be visited once a quarter.
Have a Purpose For Every Visit
You won’t get very far if your visits feel like a poorly-disguised drop-in to beg for business. Your overarching purposes with visiting referral sources are typically the following:
Understanding their needs to learn how you can help address them
Educating them on your agency
Building a personal rapport
Ultimately, persuading them to trust your agency with referrals
However, in addition to these overarching purposes, you need an excuse for each visit so it doesn’t feel like you’re becoming a burden on them. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Bring them your information packet. This is typically done in the first or second visit, and possibly later on if you have updated information for them. The packet should answer their questions, educate them on your agency, and sell them on why YOUR agency. Read this article for a list of this packet should include.
Interview them to learn what needs they have. Do as much homework beforehand as possible so that you can ask educated questions. The goal is not only to learn their needs, but to demonstrate to them that you’re interested in a mutually beneficial relationship and that you’re prioritizing their needs.
This type of visit is best done with someone higher up the chain of command and should definitely be scheduled in advance.
Follow up on how you can fill their needs. In weeks or months after meeting with them to discuss what they need, you can come back when you have updates on things that might be relevant to what they told you.
“We’ve recently launched a new program. . .” “We’re expanding our services. . .” “Our caregivers will now receive training in. . .” are all great reasons to follow up as long as they’re relevant to the needs that a referral partner has shared with you.
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Bring them branded company swag. It’s not a bad idea to bring them mugs, pens, or other items (get creative!) with your logo on them. Not only is it an excuse to stop by, but a mug or item sitting on their desk everybody with your logo serves as a constant billboard for your agency to help you stay top of mind.
If you’ve won an award, share the news with them. Best of Home Care awards go a long way toward letting the referral partner have peace of mind trusting their clients with you. If your home care agency has won an award that you’re jazzed about, stop by and let your partners know. In a similar fashion, congratulate them if you hear that they win an award.
Bring donuts or food. You can’t do this every time, but it gets you in the door. Who’s going to say no? (Author’s note: my wife is a medical receptionist at a physician assistant’s office. Here’s a direct quote from her: “If you come and buy lunch for me and the other staff, do you think that going to make me make sure that you get to see the PA? . . . You bet! I’ll GUARANTEE you a sit-down with the PA if you buy me food.”)
Note: before you do this, make sure you’re aware of any legal regulations around giving lunches or gifts to referral partners. Read here for more information.
Bring educational materials. Grant Gaston of 52 Weeks Marketing emphasizes this one strongly. These materials should teach not only about your agency but about chronic senior care in general; for instance, how to provide dementia care, how to avoid depression in seniors, how to transition to a home-based setting. These will help to build your credibility and establish you as a trusted expert.
Bring (or send) them client satisfaction reports. This might be best done paired with another reason (for instance, bringing them donuts) but it’s critical that you periodically leave them with proof of your quality.
We’re big on this because it’s what we’ve helped agencies do for ten years. If you can bring them a third-party report showing that your agency’s clients have higher satisfaction than regional averages, you’ve taken a huge step forward in being their number one referral partner.
Help them understand your specialty program. In the past we’ve talked about the importance of having some kind of specialty program (Alzheimer’s care, holistic wellness, etc.) to differentiate your agency.
This is especially critical when you’re meeting with referral sources, as it immediately sets you apart from other agencies, establishes why they should choose your agency, and gives you an excuse to meet with them.
Sponsor or run local events. Help with a local charity, like a 5k or a food drive. Besides the other benefits of the event itself, this shows engagement and passion with your work and gives you something exciting to tell them about. For even better results, try partnering with a referral source to put on an event together.
Report on the progress of people that they’ve sent to you. This is a critical one for later on in the relationship. Keep them updated on the individuals they trust you with so that they know they can continue to trust you.
Here’s a few other things to keep in mind:
- Build a rapport with everybody you can at each referral source, not just the individual you see as most important. Take time to talk to the receptionist, the medical staff, and even the custodian. You’d be surprised at the good that comes from nurturing these relationships as well.
- Keep coming back after they start sending you referrals. Keep nurturing the relationship and stay top-of-mind.
- Ensure that you’re able to be responsive and staff any cases they send you. Here’s what a hospital discharge planner had to say on how to be the first agency that she calls with referrals.
Create a plan to get more home care referrals with the Referral Marketing Strategy Guide.
Trust Your Staff and Have a Process
When you first hire a sales rep, it can be daunting to trust them with relationships that you’ve carefully nurtured. The best way to alleviate this (very understandable) stress, besides putting in the work to hire the right person, is to have a documented, repeatable process that they can be trained in so that you know what kind of interactions they’re going to be having with referral partners.
What kinds of challenges have you experienced while networking with referral sources? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.
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