Friendship is more than just knowing someone, or even knowing them well. With our friends, there is a social contract: we like them; we are interested in what they are doing; we care that they are happy and successful; we enjoy talking to them; we plan to spend time together; we look forward to them as a part of our future.
Of course, professional friendships are different than personal ones. But the best professional friendships feel like personal friendships, even though they exist primarily in the business side of our life.
We can take cues from our personal friendships to create a system for building and growing professional ones. Some of these may seem basic and obvious, but many doctors are inconsistent with them.
● If a personal friend was eating at the same restaurant as you or shopping in the same store, you would go up and greet them. To do that with a professional friend, you would need to recognize their face, remember their name based on their face, and feel confident they recognize you too. So, creating professional friendships begins with establishing a face-to-face relationship between doctors. Do this by visiting them in their practice, inviting them to lunch, or creating connections at dental events.
● With a personal friend, we always communicate with them around important milestones, such as birthdays and important holidays. Holidays are easier because they are the same for everyone (although religious holidays can vary). Birthdays are harder. It may take time and circumstances to learn your referrers’ birthdays.
A great marketing coordinator can often coax this vital information from the GP’s team. Your marketing coordinator can create a shared calendar that appears on your phone so you know any personal messages you need to send, as well as flagging important important birthdays (40, 50, 60, etc.) that require extra attention.
● Gift giving with friends is important too. Sometimes gifts are meant to be significant. Sometimes they can be small acknowledgments. Sometimes they are meant to surprise and delight. Birthdays and holidays are good gift-giving times albeit predictable. Unexpected surprise gifts that are especially focused around something you know they will like are really noticed. For example, tickets to a concert, sport or event that you know is a passion of theirs.
● Although not everyone is active on social media, if you are and they are, then make an effort to add them as a friend or follow (both their personal and practice accounts if they have them). This is a great way to learn about important events in their life, their family and their interests.
You don’t need to spend a great deal of time on this. You can give your marketing coordinator access to your socials to create and accept friend/follow requests, and quickly scan your feed for notable posts and activity by your referrers. Your marketing coordinator can ask GP teams if their doctor or the practice is on social media and how to connect.
● Plan events and activities that you can do together. Many endodontists take referrers for lunch regularly, but you can expand this strategy. It can be as simple as taking the initiative to meet up when you’re at the same event, such as your state dental meeting. You can host open houses and invite your referrers. You can plan team-to-team events that bring everyone together, such as a summer barbecue. If you are a dog lover, you can set up a canine social party. You can organize a golf tournament or sports outing.
● Learn their hobbies, interests and goals, both personally and professionally. Find articles of interest around those things that you can email to them with a note: “I thought of you when I read this article about [sailing/wilderness trekking/practice growth]. I think you will enjoy it!” It’s so simple to do, exactly as you would for a personal friend.
The greater the effort you make to engage with your referrers and establish a personal relationship as the foundation for your professional one, the easier it gets. A key part of the process is building up that intelligence portfolio of key facts and insights on each of your referring doctors, which is something your marketing coordinator should manage for you.
Gather information, take notes, review and internalize what you know whenever you are going to be reaching out or interacting. It lets you move beyond boilerplate communications to personalized engagement, and in time you won’t need crib notes. It will just be effortless. Once you’ve crossed the threshold to genuine personal goodwill, professional goodwill follows and increases. It’s just human nature to support our friends, and for them to support us.