Do you track referral sources? No, I’m not talking about measuring which veterinarians send you cases for your particular professional specialty. Instead, I’m speaking of that often overlooked field that hopefully resides on your new client form indicating to you where the pet owner first heard about your practice. For many practice owners, the inclusion of this information is an afterthought. For many receptionists, the completion of this field is deemed completely optional. However, of all the things you could ask someone when they first visit your hospital, the referral source is actually the most important bit of data when it comes to understanding the effectiveness of the marketing programs you have in place.
To understand why capturing this information is so critically important, we need to step away for a moment and consider how we make business decisions, specifically those that affect our cash flow. Most marketing programs that are intended to draw new clients to the practice cost money. You may have that advertisement in the phone book. You might run ads on Google, Bing and Yahoo. You might spend for preferential placement on Yelp. You might even take a flyer on radio, television or newspaper spots. If a hypothetical program costs you $250 per month and you have to commit to it for 12 months, you are looking at a cash outlay of $3,000. A shocking number of small business owners – not just veterinarians – spend the money because their guts says it will work and then simply stop there. They don’t think about how to track the performance of the program. They assume that advertising is an unquantifiable pursuit. In twelve months when the program comes up for renewal, they’ll make subsequent decisions based on fragmented memory, saying things like, “I feel like we had a couple people come in and mention the ad.” This is a strategy that will never yield good results.
However, if we instead think about such business decisions as investment decisions and consider the “return” such commitments should yield to be deemed a success, then we are in the right frame of mind to confidently select between the myriad marketing opportunities that exist in the veterinary practice market. This is where the referral source comes into play. Every new client that comes into your practice should indicate how they heard about you. If they neglect to fill this information in on their new client form, reception should go out of its way to ask. You should demand 100% compliance on capturing this data, all of which should be logged in your practice management system. That way, when you’re contemplating whether to renew the aforementioned $3,000 marketing program, you can go to your system, look up how many people indicated they visited because of it and make a confident assessment of its effectiveness. For example, if only two new clients came in, one of which just bought a box of flea prevention, strongly consider cancelling. If 116 new clients came in, some of which elected to have expensive surgeries performed, then renewal can likely be justified. Either way, logging clients’ referral sources is a prerequisite.
As “marketing” is consistently deemed the most challenging aspect of practice ownership in the field of veterinary medicine, it is important to use every tool at your disposal to improve the quality of the decisions you make for your practice. The new client form can provide you with a wealth of information outside a pet owner’s contact details and a patient’s medical history. Don’t be an owner who ignores the value of the referral source. Otherwise, you will be challenged to ever make solid decisions when it comes to the most important aspect of veterinary practice ownership: growing your client base.