If you’re a PT, OT, or SLP in private practice, then there may be some love lost when it comes to referral marketing. After all, building and maintaining referral relationships with other providers can be time-consuming and—depending on your comfort level with referral marketing tools—less profitable than you might hope. Yet, it’d be awfully lonely to be in practice and not have strong relationships with other practitioners, which brings me to the topic of this post: the many similarities between referral marketing and dating. Read on to learn how to set yourself up for success with our candy-coated, Valentine’s-Day-themed take on the subject.

1. There are plenty of fish in the sea.

Cliché? Certainly, but just like there are tons of potential dating partners in the world, there are also tons of potential referral partners. You just may have to think outside of your usual type. For example, instead of focusing only on physicians in private practice, consider also developing relationships with practitioners who provide ancillary services to your ideal patients—for example, naturopaths, massage therapists, and nutritionists. You could also focus your attention on physicians in large networks—even those who typically refer to in-house PTs. After all, if you can demonstrate value beyond what their patients typically receive—especially in a niche field that their therapists don’t touch—then you may still be able to win their favor. 

Invest in matches that make sense.

That said, you don’t want to waste your time on a relationship that has no future, so use your best judgement. As WebPT’s Melissa Hughes wrote here, a sports PT isn’t going to get much out of a referral relationship with a Medicare physician, and vice versa. 

2. You’ve got to get past the first date.

Back in the day, a fruit basket here and a catered lunch there were really all a therapist needed in order to win over a local physician. But the market today is too saturated for that to be effective, and doctors are a bit more discerning about who they partner up with. In fact, some even employ referral gatekeepers—full-time employees who manage referral relationships—which means you might need to focus your energies there instead. Either way, you’ve got to get past the first date—that is, the first meeting—in order to develop a trusting, mutually beneficial relationship that ultimately provides exponential value to your shared patients. 

Play up your best assets.

So, how do you score a second date? Skip the small talk, and instead focus on communicating exactly how your care will benefit your colleagues’ patients—and do so using language that’s meaningful to them. In addition to presenting relevant patient stories, come prepared with outcomes and NPS® data objectively demonstrating that patients measurably improve when they come to see you—and enjoy a positive care experience, to boot.

3. Open and honest communication is key.

You might think that once you establish the referral relationship—and your referral partner starts sending patients over—your work is done. But, that’s not really the case. Most referral partners want to be kept in the loop about how their patients are doing, so be sure to communicate any big changes in patient progress with your partner, especially if you run into challenges. After all, open and honest communication is the backbone of any successful relationship. Most referral partners would prefer to hear it first from you—not the patient. That’s especially true if the patient is displeased. 

Validate your partners’ decision to choose you.

The same holds true for good news, too. In addition to providing updated outcomes and NPS data on a regular basis, be sure your documentation clearly demonstrates each patient’s progress and results. That way, your referral partners will be more likely to send even more patients your way. According to Hughes, “If you want to build rapport and trust with a referring provider, you have to close the communication loop and give him or her meaningful information…that affirms his or her decision to send patients to your practice.” Beyond that, you’ll also want to provide relevant updates to your practice. For example, if you launch a new aquatic therapy program or running clinic, your referral partners should know about it.

4. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

Not all dates are destined for happily ever after. So, if you feel like you’ve done your part to deliver and demonstrate value—and you’re still not receiving referrals from a particular provider—then it might be time to let him or her down gently.

Focus your efforts on referral partnerships with staying power.

Unlike dating, though, these decisions usually require more than a gut feeling, so, per Hughes, be sure to keep tabs on: 

  • “Active referrals, 
  • “Referral source contact frequency, and
  • “Revenue by referral source.”

That way, you’ll know for certain which referral partners are generating new patient volume—and which aren’t. Then, you can focus your attention and appreciation on the ones who are actually worth the effort.


There you have it: four ways referral marketing is like dating. This Valentine’s Day, show your top referral partners some love—or branch out and connect with someone new. Have your own tips for wooing potential referral partners? Tell us in the comment section below.