Build alliances with referral sources – the Stone Soup way

By Todd McMeen

In this post I share the most effective and credible strategy I’ve used in my career to build referral alliances with physicians and other fixtures in your community. And your SEO will get a powerful boost in the process.

Do you know the folk tale called stone soup?

It’s a great fable from which I draw lessons for how to build alliances with health professionals. I’ll tell my version of the stone soup story and then lay out our intentional, collaborative marketing approach. Okay, here goes.

Two hungry, wandering travelers arrive at an old English town, itself struggling with a food shortage. The travelers find that the local villagers are all keeping to themselves – each house with its shutters latched. The travelers knock on a few doors begging for food, and not surprisingly, are rejected. They retreat to the town’s outskirts and warm themselves by a campfire, where they cook up a new plan: tomorrow night, they’re going to invite the whole village to the town square to make Stone Soup.

They awake at the crack of dawn, fill a pot with fresh water from the stream, and build a roaring fire. They add a special Stone. A couple villagers passing by notice the activity and stop. Our travelers explain their plans to make a huge pot of Stone Soup, a recipe made special by the addition of a Stone and the requirement of everyone’s participation. The travelers suggest the first visitors bring back some vegetable scraps to throw in the pot and that they invite a few people to do the same.

Other villagers see the activity and learn of the plans, too. They agree to participate and spread the word further. People arrive all afternoon, each with something to add. One brings a head of cabbage. Another brings a handful of parsley. The aroma draws in more villagers.

Soon, they’re all cooking together. Trust is developed. And relationships are formed over the most delicious soup anybody can remember.

Marketing Lessons for Therapists from the Stone Soup Fable

There are all sorts of lessons here.

  1. The travelers created an intentional plan. Therapists (and other businesses) too often skip the planning process when they market.

  2. They showed directive leadership. They didn’t survey people to see if and when they wanted a community dinner. Like entrepreneurs, they sensed the need, set the time, and got to work.

  3. They carved out clear roles and responsibilities which empowered the villagers to move from passive observers to active participants.

  4. They played the law of numbers. Even if only five families showed up, the event would have been worthwhile. They weren’t dependent on the whole village attending. But the more who attended, the merrier.

  5. Enough people did come because of perhaps the most important lesson… Stone Soup is a story of shared purpose and collaboration. Some of the most effective relationships are a byproduct of working together.

Therapists too often approach networking like the hungry travelers did… Knocking on doors of physicians in hopes of developing referral relationships is unproductive and unlikely to generate business. Even if you have lunch with a physician, there’s no reason to keep seeing one another after that first encounter. There’s no reason for regular or frequent interactions. There’s no project that you are working on together to keep you connected.

Openhill’s WithCommunity webzine provides you a systematic, yet flexible vehicle to collaborate with health professionals and community leaders while meeting a community need for outreach.