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Hearing Aids Are Not Widgets and Audiologists Are Not Widgeteers!

Hearing Aids Are Not Widgets and Audiologists Are Not Widgeteers!
Enid Smith, AuD
April 10, 2000

Recently I heard a hearing aid industry executive attribute lackluster hearing aid sales to poor marketing by audiologists. I would like to take issue with this. I attribute lackluster sales to manufacturers. I believe hearing aid sales are essentially flat because manufacturers view hearing aids as widgets and audiologists as ''widgeteers'' (widget salespeople). Until this changes, hearing aid sales will not be maximized.

The crux of the problem is that widget sales theories don't fit the professional services model. Unfortunately, widget theory is simply inappropriate. The following three suggestions are offered:

1. Manufacturers need to market directly to the public as a unified industry.
2. Manufacturers need to attract dispensers through improved product, price and service.
3. Manufacturers need dispensing audiologists on staff as customer representatives to maximize product and professional knowledge.

The problem with the status quo (manufacturers marketing to audiologists) is independent practitioners are not in a position to increase overall hearing aid sales. When dispensers advertise, they are advertising their own businesses, not the industry. The solo practitioner advertises to ''reallocate'' the pie, but does not truly enlarge it. It is our goal to achieve 100 percent market penetration, not the current 20 percent! In brief, we need a larger pie.

Ethical considerations abound when manufacturers sell products to professionals using discounts based on volume, business development funds and other ''incentives'' to promote their product.

Audiology practices are mostly small operations with limited marketing budgets. To expect small practices to spend thousands of dollars per month on advertising is simply folly. Because manufacturers benefit whenever a hearing aid is sold, regardless of who sold it, I believe manufacturers should be the ones to advertise and market to the end-user.

The milk industry does not expect independent grocery stores to spend advertising dollars promoting milk. Coke advertises Coke and does not expect every little store that sells their product to produce their own ads. Likewise, Pepsi advertises Pepsi. The beef industry promotes beef and has no expectation that individual ranchers will promote their cows to the public. Some car dealers advertise their dealerships, but the bulk of the ads are from the manufacturers, Ford, GM, Chrysler etc.

If the industry were to promote better hearing health care and hearing aids collectively, I believe we could improve attitudes and perceptions, while increasing the size of the pie. The industry needs to unite to better promote our services and products directly to the end user.

Manufacturers may have difficulty adjusting to the changing face of dispensing practices in the future. Perhaps the tactics of widget selling were appropriate in decades past. However, the increase in professional dispensing audiologists as the primary hearing aid providers requires that manufacturers stop playing sales games and start providing us with the best product, the best price and the best service.

We are professionals -- not widgeteers. I believe professionalism is the focus for the future of audiology and hearing healthcare.

As more audiologists complete their doctorates (Au.D. or Ph.D.) and as audiology achieves a higher profile and more autonomy, it will become increasingly important for the hearing health care industry to achieve it's goals in a more professional and unified manner.

3 advanced live webinars | Audiology Grand Rounds | Pittsburgh VA, University of Mississippi Medical Center, and Salus Univerist

enid smith

Enid Smith, AuD

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