The Referral Strategy: How to Increase New Patient Numbers Now

Spread the word!

“I’ll bet that if I asked any of your patients they’d say you’re a great dentist. They wouldn’t come to you if they didn’t think so. But how often will anyone actually ask for a recommendation? Even someone who really needs a dentist probably won’t bring it up at the right time with the right family member, friend, or coworker.”

Dr. Roger Levin, DDS, as written for DentistryIQ

At Big Buzz, we are strong proponents of the referral strategy, and always recommend it to our dental clients – and year after year we see it pay off with big new patient numbers and minimal spend. It’s also easier than many might think, even for those who may initially feel reluctant to ask patients. Big Buzz has trained countless practice owners on how to develop a referral strategy that quickly became second nature for their entire office and kept numbers humming in a way that felt both simple and natural. Read on to learn more about how to implement or improve your own referral strategy and expand your dental family.

When Is the Right Time?

This is one of the most common questions about referral asks and finding an “in” can be especially difficult for those who may be lower on the confidence scale. The answer to this question is that the opportunities present themselves all the time, but they can be easy to miss for someone who doesn’t know where to look for them.Try to recall a moment of connection you shared with a patient. Perhaps they mentioned how great their cosmetic treatment looked, shared a personal anecdote, complimented your office or simply thanked you for your work. Think of interactions like these as an open door – a moment of vulnerability wherein they genuinely opened up to you. Reciprocating vulnerability is human nature, so there is no reason to hesitate to open up to them about your desire for new patients. Here are a few of the ways you can seize these opportunities:

  • If they mention a friend or family member, say, “Where do they live? Do they need a dental home?”
  • If they give a genuine thank you, say, “If you have anyone that would benefit from our services, send them our way.”
  • When you make their child smile or laugh, say, “We always want to see new patients and young children, so they can establish great dental habits from the beginning.”
  • When you have a good laugh with a patient, say, “We love patients like you, we’d love to see your friends and family members.”
  • If you prefer to keep it simple, just say, “We’re accepting new patients.”
  • If you want to be ultra-professional, say, “Thank you. The greatest compliment you can give us is the gift of a patient referral.”

Recall the quote from Dr. Roger Levin above. These patients are in your office because they know you do great work. They would most likely love to help you out – the thought may simply have not occurred to them. Remember, people take action when we ask them to take action. What’s more, they would be doing their friends and family a service by recommending a dentist that will truly help them.

The Importance of Strategy

Many practice owners may already ask for referrals, but only when they remember to do so, or only from a few particularly outspoken patients. While we celebrate any and all referral asks, the success of a well-defined referral strategy lies in consistent systemization, which increases new patient potential significantly and allows a process with measurable results that can be tweaked and reassessed on a more granular level.

Humans often operate in an endless cycle of “remember, forget, remember, forget.” Think of the last time you made a commitment to a lifestyle change – for example, working out more often. You remember to work out for three days then you forget on the fourth day. This cycle is a natural part of the stages of creating something new.

We take action when the commitment occurs to us, but we slip in and out of periods of forgetfulness. Having a well-defined practice strategy around asking for referrals helps avoid inconsistency, providing a framework of constant action that becomes ingrained in our minds like any other daily task. The art of the ask becomes a part of the practice culture.

Here are a few steps we recommend including in your strategy:

  • Set goals for referred patients, starting with the current number of monthly referred patients and ending with the number you’d like to see.
  • Train your team to listen for compliments and moments of connection as they have lots of patient facetime.
  • Dedicate a portion of your morning huddle to checking in about the referral strategy: who was creative in asking this past week, for example.
  • Task a team member with tracking the progress towards the goal each week.
  • Each month, have this person use practice software to gauge and report the number of referred patients, perhaps writing them on a whiteboard in the break room.
  • Reward the team for hitting the goal or have a group brainstorm on how to close gaps if you have fallen short.

As our CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips likes to say, “no one tells your practice’s story better than its happiest patients.” Getting your patients to tell your story and spread the word of your practice’s great work is some of the most lucrative marketing you can practice, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

If you would like to learn more about your practice is performing, get a free, no-obligation assessment of your current marketing strategy to finish 2020 strong. Email our CEO now at to get scheduled.


Big Buzz is an agency delivering focused marketing efforts for dentists and dental teams nationwide. CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is the author of KABOOM!: The Method Used By Top Dentists for Explosive Marketing Results, has been published in The American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry magazine and has been quoted in Forbes, The Washington Post, ABC News and Chicago Tribune. The American Dental Association hired Phillips as an expert consultant in marketing. She regularly lectures for dental organizations and associations in front of audiences ranging from 25 to 5,000 attendees. Agency awards and accolades include recognition for excellence by the American Marketing Association, Best Advertising Agency and Best Web Developer in Denver by Expertise, and Top Advertising and Marketing Agency by Clutch. 

Ready to get started?