Is It Unprofessional to Ask for Referrals?

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This is fairly typical email I receive so I thought I would answer it via the blog.


I have been listening to your podcasts and enjoy them.
A problem I have been struggling with is “As a dentist how do I ask for referrals from a patient of mine yet maintain my ‘professionalism

Any tips?


The key is to change how you think about referrals and how you approach them with your clients.

First, you have to change how you think about them. If you have your clients best interests at heart you are doing them a disservice if you don’t also systematically extend your care to their friends and family.

Second, the most professional thing you can do is to set the referral expectation up front. If you know that your practice provides an exceptional experience, then make referrals part of the deal. Don’t wait and come back asking, make it an expectation up front.

When a new client comes to your practice, simply explain that you work primarily by referral and that you know they will be so thrilled with their new dentist that part of their responsibility is to provide you with 3 referrals on their next visit – if fact, go one step beyond and close your practice to referred patients only. If you want in, you must be referred. If you want to stay, you must make referrals.

Make sure that your marketing materials, your waiting room communications and your staff all speak to the referral point of view.

Then, do something exceptional. Add something to your practice that makes people talk about you. I read about a dentist in Australia that baked cookies in the office and gave them out as patients left.

Great smells in a dentist office!

This type of strategy takes some nerve, but it will become your primary marketing tool and almost guarantees that your practice is filled with clients that greatly value what you do – life’s too short to work with anyone else.



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  1. Thanks for the reply John — I have a better idea of where you’re coming from now.

    I realise you didn’t say ‘demand’. I think it was the word ‘responsibility’ that caught my eye, and seemed like it was being a bit demanding of the customer.

    But, as you say, in the context of a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship (rather than just ME BUSINESS, YOU CUSTOMER), I can see how this approach would make good sense for both parties. Particularly in a one-to-one service industry.

  2. A dentist could offer a free teeth-cleaning for every X referrals that end up being paid customers. Incentives! If he’s good he’ll soon have more business than he can handle IMO.

  3. *Demanding* your customers to provide referrals? That’s a bit much, don’t you think? That seems to be an incredibly unprofessional attitude.

    As a customer, I want businesses that are focused on *me*, not just on themselves and where their next lead is coming from.

    Maybe it’s a UK/US divide thing. You guys seem to love the hard-sell over there.

  4. Chris,

    Hope you weren’t too Gobsmacked (sorry, I picked that up from my daughter’s Welsh soccer coach) with my post, but here’s my point.

    I never used the work demand and the only reason someone would jump to that word is this false notion that the customer is always right.

    No, the customer is always your partner.

    For the relationship to a healthy one both parties should expect to give and take.

    The fact of the matter is that if a business doesn’t have to focus on where their next lead is coming from (because they have a referral agreement with you), they can afford to spend even more time focused on *you*

    No hard sell here at all, in fact, just the opposite.

    What if everyone of your customers was so thrilled with your business that they woke up everyday wondering how they could tell more people about you.

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