This post is a guest post by Steve Eagon, Steve as I am sure you know works with Unitron driving their in-clinic success strategy and he also writes on the Unitron Blog. Steve brings up a really valid point in relation to something that a lot of people find distasteful, hearing aid sales.
A Dirty, Dirty Word
I wrote an article about strategy in your consultation some years ago and there was lively debate about it. The debate was really driven by ideas of professionalism and people’s idea of self. People’s idea of self is a strong thing and when something comes along and questions it there can be strong reactions and even stronger emotions. In the case of that debate, there was. I said back then
Sales, Sales Concepts, Sales Strategies are not bad or evil, they are simply tools that allow us to put our point of view across. I agree, that there is some issues with some sales concepts, particularly the boiler room high pressure concepts. But they are just tools that are used in an immoral way. Because you think about sales process or strategy does not make you immoral.
Are You Failing Patients?
I still believe that wholeheartedly, for those who believe that understanding the psychology of sales and indeed how to sell is not important. I would point out that you are failing your prospective Patients, that’s right, failing them. If you do not do your very best to encourage the person in front of you to move forward with amplification there is a good chance that they might not do so for many years. You have failed that Patient and possibly failed them badly. In particular with what we now know about the effects of untreated hearing loss on cognitive decline.With that thought, I will pass you over to Steve
AuD & Business Studies
Recently, there’s been a discussion on AAA’s forum, General Audiology Digest, about suggested topics for a business class in an AuD program. I would like to commend Linda Van Dyke for not only being the architect behind such a important class, but for also seeking input from fellow audiologists regarding content. She has received solid suggestions from about five audiologists that include the following topics.
- Billing and coding
- How to write a business plan
- Reading P & L statements
- Talking to a banker about getting a loan
- Determining a fee schedule for pricing products and services
- Determining space and equipment requirements
- Dealing with insurance and third party payers
Hearing Aid Sales Drive Revenue
Since almost 80% of the revenue derived in audiology comes from hearing aid sales, I’m going to comment on Linda’s business class as though it were primarily focused on private practice hearing aid sales. While we would all agree the above topics are indeed relevant, I would argue that the most important topic hasn’t been suggested yet. An observation I’ve made first-hand is that today’s AuD student doesn’t have a solid practical understanding and ability around a patient-centered approach to selling hearing aids. Yes, selling hearing aids in a patient-centered way. I agree that the vast majority of us didn’t become hearing professionals to “sell.” We came into this industry to help people. That being said, we aren’t helping people if approximately two thirds of our patients are going home to read brochures and “think about it” simply because we are not equipped with the knowledge of how to motivate people to take action.
Various studies have been reported showing “help rates” or conversion rates between 30% and 50%. (This number is simply defined as the number of people with treatable hearing loss who purchase hearing aids.) When reviewing studies, there is considerable research about how to motivate people to make purchase decisions. There are also numerous studies that report on successful sales processes that tap into emotion as the driver for decision making. I’ve learned over the years there is an art to doing this well and we must learn how to weave these skills into our industry’s processes and protocols. Our industry has processes for virtually everything we do except how to create and navigate a successful patient experience. So, how can we do this?
What Do The Students Think?
Over the past 18 months, I’ve had the privilege to work with several university AuD programs and well over 100 students conducting a 1-day workshop on teaching conversation and questioning techniques designed to help the AuD student achieve greater success with their hearing aid patients. At the end of each workshop, I have the students fill out a survey and I ask two open-ended questions.
- What were your thoughts about sales and audiology before the workshop?
- What are your thoughts about sales and audiology after the workshop?
After conducting the workshop this summer at the University of Wisconsin, here are 5 student comments to question #1
- I was scared to approach the “sales” topic
- Very negative. I’m uncomfortable with it.
- Intimidating and uncomfortable – this is why I don’t like hearing aids
- I don’t want to be viewed as pushy to make money
- Mostly negative – I’m afraid of discussing price and dealing with quotas
Students state a version of these comments at every workshop I’ve conducted. Sadly, I’ve had several students tell me they “hate” hearing aids because they can’t get their patients to do anything.
After being taught that there is a safe, motivating, and patient-centered way to drive positive behavior with patients, these same 5 students made the following comments.
- I’m so much more confident about doing this!
- This helps me make the experience better for the patient and me.
- If we don’t learn how to sell hearing aids, we aren’t doing our job.
- I can better help people make educated decisions about improving their life.
- I’m more encouraged, less intimidated, and resigned. It’s the “nature of the beast.”
I have found that students truly embrace the notion of sales and hearing aids because they feel it’s a required skill to help people hear better. By the time I get work with them, many students have experienced how difficult it is selling a product and solution no one wants. The good news – they are eager to open their mind to do something about it. I applaud the faculty at the universities with whom I’ve worked because they see the changing market and the importance of equipping their students with the necessary skills to be successful in the real world. I’ve become quite passionate about this because I remember the frustration I experienced trying to sell hearing aids. Today’s consumer has more control than ever because the amount of knowledge at their fingertips and point-of-sale options make the job of today’s hearing professional more difficult than ever.
Consultative Sales Skills Make Better Clinicians
In closing, and in all seriousness, I would like to add a couple items for Linda to add to her business course this coming school year. I’m confident this information will make her class even more unique and well-rounded. First, review consumer behavior research that motivates people to take action. Use examples from outside our industry. Secondly, break down the audiologist-patient interaction into the various touch points that ultimately creates a positive motivating experience. Lastly, please provide some consultative sales training so they can achieve success with hearing aids and help more people. I know they’ll love it and they’ll be better professionals for it!