A new business in town can prosper on the strength of good referrals. For example, orthodontists commonly solicit referrals by taking dentists out to lunch or sending gifts to dentists' offices. Stephanie Steckel, an orthodontist based in Dover, Del., decided against taking just the dentist out to lunch, because 25% of referrals come from hygienists and receptionists. The traditional approach of sending them office gifts doesn't do much to demonstrate professional competence or improve the timing of referrals. Her solution: Lunch and Learn.

Steckel brings lunch to the offices of dentists who are her best prospects for long-term referrals. The lunch is simple--good deli sandwiches or pizza--but the dessert is a diet-killing, home-baked specialty. After dessert, Steckel provides a 30-minute continuing education seminar on advancements in the field, the best age to refer different categories of patients, and what conditions don't warrant a referral for orthodontia. She shows pictures and models of before-and-after work on mutual patients.

Exposure to Steckel's competence makes it easy for dentists and their staff to make future referrals with confidence. Steckel has been told that the dessert alone makes the occasion a winner. But there are other benefits. Steckel works with referring dentists to optimize the timing of referrals. Now, she receives fewer late, inappropriate, or early referrals, and the number of appropriate referrals has increased. One dentist, who had been referring one or two patients per month, referred 16 patients to Steckel the first month after participating in Lunch and Learn.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing