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''Selling'' In Audiology

''Selling'' In Audiology
April 24, 2000

The idea and action of ''selling'' by audiologists has traditionally been met with hesitation -- if not outright resistance! Selling is not usually included in university curriculums and ''sales'' training prior to the CFY is rare or non-existent. The lack of ''sales'' training and orientation is a puzzling phenomenon, almost self-defeating -- especially for the audiologist considering private practice.

When the question is posed to the private practice owner ''How important is it for you or your providers to be able to consistently sell hearing aids?'' the answer is invariably ''very important''. Most audiologists will confirm their very existence depends on selling hearing aids.

This article will address issues and principles related to selling, and issues related to professionals selling products.

The first principle in sales is ''People buy for their reasons, not for yours''. This principle is essentially the law of the land. Of course, this principle begs the question ''How does one learn the customer's reasons?'' The answer is simple: Ask them the right questions and then listen, and react appropriately to their answers.

Every sale begins with the needs or wants of the customer/patient. Within their needs or wants are their problems and their perceived solutions. It is your job as a salesperson (sorry, get used to the sound of it!) to discover those needs and wants by asking appropriate and direct questions, and listening carefully to the answers.

Buying involves a special type of decision making. We all engage in ''buying decisions'' daily, yet at different levels. Importantly, no one buys a product -- per se. What is purchased is what the customer thinks the product or service will do for them. Whether it was a minor, disposable purchase such as a newspaper or a major, durable purchase, such as a car. Importantly, customers don't pay for the physical, tangible item itself. Rather, they pay for the expectation of what the purchased item will do for them.
For example, the newspaper itself is a pile of paper. Few people buy the paper, for the physical acquisition of paper. Rather, buying the newspaper enables one to read the news, the comics, learn about the world and find out about weather, sports, whatever.
This is called the customer's ''concept'' (or mindset or solution image) of what they hope to accomplish.

The current buzz phrase in audiology is ''Hearing is a quality of life issue''. This phrase emphasizes and underscores the point. We are not actually selling hearing aids, or hearing, we are indeed selling a concept, and it's an important one -- Quality of Life.

Before you meet a prospective patient/customer, they have already formed an opinion about you. More specifically, they have probably developed a concept regarding you, your company, your products and your services. Their opinion/concept will be based on their past experiences and it may be totally foreign as far as you're concerned.

Importantly, if you do not constructively address, redirect, alter or change their preconceived opinions and concepts, or if you choose to ignore their pre-conceived opinions and concepts, the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, may be lost forever.

Preconceived opinions and concepts are absolutely personal for each individual. They are subjective, individualized, personal and essentially different for every patient you work with. No two people buy (or refuse to buy) for precisely the same reasons. It's rarely the specific product or service that makes or breaks the sale. Rather, the sale occurs or doesn't occur essentially based on the customer's subjective view (opinion or concept) of what the product or service can do for them.

Never assume you know your customer's concept. Unless you're a mind-reader, and a darn good one, you have to enter each selling situation with an open mind, ready to listen, rather than speak. The human mind changes vigorously and dramatically from day to day.

One area to focus on is the gap (also known as the discrepancy or the problem) between where the patient is and where they would like to be with respect to audition. For instance, do they have a hearing loss which they would like to overcome via amplification? Alternatively, does the patient perceive a problem to be solved? For instance, is there a lack of auditory perception, which hearing aid amplification is likely to successfully manage? Unless someone perceives a gap, a discrepancy or a problem, and unless they believe you can help bridge that gap, you can pretty much forget about making a sale. If your potential customer is content with their situation, there's no way they'll expect you to deliver results that can improve it. In short: No Gap, No Sale.

Another area to focus on is the customer's weighting, or the value, they assign to their perceived ''gap''. In other words, how important is it to the customer to have their gap filled, or their discrepancy managed? How much value does the customer place on eliminating or better managing the discrepancy?

For example, the patient/customer who declares ''My hearing loss doesn't bother me, it's not so bad, I don't get out much and I don't care to hear any better than I already do - and by the way -- you mumble!'' is neither addressing nor identifying the gap, nor are they placing significant weighting on their hearing problem.

The above individual is not taking responsibility for their hearing problem and appears to not be very interested in better managing the problem. Yes, you might convince this person to try amplification, but no, you're not likely to actually convince him/her to purchase and/or use amplification. This individual places little weighting on their hearing problem and that was apparent by listening to their declaration.

Yes, sometimes people misrepresent themselves. Sometimes denial is the first step in noticing and eventually managing a problem, but based on the declaration above, the timing is probably not right for a hearing aid trial. Of course it might very well be time for ''take-home'' reading materials and counseling, but most likely, it is not the best time for a hearing aid trial.

On the other hand, if the customer/patient comes to you with a known discrepancy, and if that patient places terrific weighting and urgency on their problem, the sale is almost a slam dunk.

For example, imagine the situation whereby a young professional comes to you with an audiogram done by your most highly respected competitor. Imagine the patient is not an engineer. Imagine the patient says she just left the otologist's office and everyone has agreed she needs digital hearing aids - right away! Further imagine, the young professional mentions she has been elected to congress and she simply must hear better immediately. Slam dunk.

The ability to discover the patient's preconceived opinions and concepts is the foundation upon which long-term success is built. One of the most common mistakes in selling is to try to make the ''product sale'', before identifying the customer's needs, their preconceived opinions and concepts. You can tell if you're doing this by taking a seat next to the fly on the wall. If you notice you're doing all the talking, you probably haven't got a really good handle on the gaps, problems or discrepancies, and you probably have no idea how much of a problem the patient/customer is experiencing, or how important it is to them.

Concept Sale: The process of identifying what your customer thinks your product or service can do for him.

Product Sale: Relates the product or service to the identified Concept.

The Eighty Percent Syndrome:

If the ''seller'' is talking eighty percent of the time, it's a pretty safe bet statements are being made, rather than questions being asked. Taken to the next level, if the seller is doing most of the talking, many of the statements the seller makes probably have little to do with the customer's interests or needs. Rather, it is likely the virtues of the seller's product or services are being promoted. It's the ''Product Pitch'' with a vengeance. In this scenario, the seller spends the bulk of the time addressing technical bells and whistles to potentially manage and solve problems which have not yet been identified or ''owned'' by the patient/customer. Mistake.

Why do sales people talk so much? Studies have revealed the following answers:

  • ''I feel more comfortable being in control.''

  • ''It's my job to tell the client about the product/service.''

  • ''Talking (or educating) is what the customer usually wants you to do.''

  • ''Talking takes less planning (effort).''

  • ''Sometimes you're afraid to hear the answers.''

  • The Boomerang Effect occurs when the seller (audiologist) with superior knowledge (clinical and product) tells the customer/patient more than they ever wanted to know about the product or the service. Eventually, an overload of information ends up overwhelming the patient/customer and losing the sale. Again, focus on the results the patient/customer is seeking, not on your idea of what the results ought to be.

    The Questioning Process:
    If you are going to be effective, you need to consider your abilities and products and services from the patient/customer's point of view. The Questioning Process is a good self-reflection process for professionals who sell products. Consider the following:
    1. What are the specific, measurable, tangible results the patient/customer expects to gain from what I'm selling?
    2. How does the patient/customer feel about what I'm trying to do?
    3. What is this person's perceived degree of risk regarding reputation, stigma, self image, pride, vanity?
    4. Will the amount of money needed to purchase the product pose a significant burden to the patient/customer?
    5. Timing/urgency: Is the customer's discrepancy level high right now? Will it be in the future?

    People don't resist their own ideas. They resist ideas somebody else is impressing upon them. If you're experiencing resistance, you might think about a few issues to better identify the true nature of the resistance.

    1. Is this person confused about what I'm saying or trying to do?
    2. Does he/she have a clear and accurate picture of my capabilities?
    3. If I'm being deluged with ''objections'' is there an identifiable reason for the customer's contentiousness?
    4. Is the disagreement personal, product-related, or both?
    5. Is it realistic to suppose that I can turn around this situation at this time?

    In most selling situations, the salesperson needs to consider and work through the following four types of questions.

    Confirmation Questions:

    Confirmation questions verify what you know about your customer's concept and/or current situation. Confirmation questions reveal the customer's desired results, their current problem and the solution they desire. Confirmation questions validate and update your data while revealing discrepancies in your information. Some examples are:

    ''Have you noticed difficulty with your hearing lately?''
    ''Have others noticed whether you're having difficulty with your hearing?''
    ''When and where do you have trouble hearing?''
    ''Are you still having difficulty hearing in noisy settings?''
    ''Why are we seeing you today?''
    ''As I understand it, we're going to talk about changes you've experienced in your hearing lately. Is that your understanding?''

    Use present tense key words in your confirmation questions such as: ''still'', ''remain'', ''continue'', ''now'', and ''currently''.

    When to use confirmation questions:

  • When there is a need to build a foundation (trust, credibility, relationship), before you can close a sale.

  • At the beginning of your sales presentation/hearing aid evaluation (HAE).

  • Before you present any new product or service data to maximize chances you are describing a product that fits the needs of the customer.

  • New Information questions:

    New Information questions are used if/when you discover you are missing specific information regarding the current status of the sale. New Information questions also encourage the patient/customer to explore issues freely on his or her own terms. Use New Information questions any time you feel you have detected a void in your information gathering or understanding.

    New Information Key Words typically include ''what', ''where'', ''when'', ''how'', ''how much'', ''how many'', ''explain'', ''tell me'' and other probing questions. Importantly, ''why'' is reserved as a secondary level probe. It is usually best to use ''why'' only as a follow-up question. If used as a primary question, ''why'' may be perceived as a threatening question.

    The purpose of New Information questions is to:

  • Update information or fill in gaps.

  • To resolve perceived discrepancies.

  • To get ''results'' information, regarding what the patient/customer wants.

  • Examples of New Information questions are:

    ''How often do you struggle to really hear what was said in a conversation?''
    ''What acoustic environment gives you the most difficulty?''
    ''Explain to me what it sounds like when you're in a noisy setting.''
    ''Tell me the settings and situations you need to hear well in.''
    ''What results would you like to see from our visit today?''

    Attitude Questions:

    In today's professional marketplace, there is nothing more important than what your customer is feeling and internalizing regarding what you're trying to sell him. Personal feelings are the basis of the patient/customer's opinions and concepts. Importantly, as was stated earlier, if you do not constructively address, redirect, alter or change their preconceived opinions and concepts, or if you choose to ignore their pre-conceived opinions and concepts, the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, may be lost forever. If results define what the patients/customers buy, values and attitudes define why.


    ''How do feel about your hearing loss?''
    ''Do you believe your hearing loss is significant enough to do something about it?''
    ''How do you feel about hearing aids?''
    ''How are you doing with the prices I've just mentioned?''
    ''How do you feel about being in my office today?''
    ''Are you willing to wear hearing aids?''

    Importantly, if you choose to use ''why'' in forming and delivering Attitude Questions, remember that your goal is to solicit the person's judgement, not challenge or question it.


    The purpose of a commitment question is to determine exactly what level you are at in the selling process, and to make it possible for you to move to the next level. A good Commitment Question does more than simply move you towards the close, it also helps you evaluate how far away from the close you are. It is the seller's responsibility to pose these questions because the patient/customer usually will not.

    For example, ''If there are no more questions, I would recommend we take your ear impressions while you're in the office today.'' Or, ''From what we've discussed and from what I understand about how you'd like to approach this, I recommend we order XYZ brand of hearing aid, is that agreeable?''

    Commitment Questions are commonly and most effectively used towards the end of the hearing aid evaluation/sales presentation, when you need to know how far you've come and how far you still need to go to resolve issues related to the hearing aid purchase.

    Key words used in Commitment Questions include: ''Decide'', ''plan'', ''going to'', ''intend'', ''agree'', ''direct'', ''determine'', ''propose'', ''recommend'', ''commit'', and ''secure''.

    The goal of a Commitment Question is to get the patient/customer to ''promise'' or commit to performing a specific activity. This usually means a specific action within a specified time and date. A good Commitment Question elicits three things: an understanding of where you are, an understanding of what remains to be done, and a commitment from your customer to invest some of his time in doing something concrete.

    Try not to let your patient/customer ''walk away'' with a vague, non-specific task such as ''give us a call sometime'', or ''give us a call when you're ready''. If possible, get the patient/customer to commit to some specific action even if hearing aids are not part of their current concept.


    As mentioned earlier, if you do not constructively address, redirect, alter or change the patient/customer's preconceived opinions and concepts, or if you choose to ignore their pre-conceived opinions and concepts, the opportunity to enhance their quality of life, may be lost forever.

    We are professionals. We do not simply sell hearing aids. We sell products and provide related professional services that enhance the quality of life.

    Nonetheless, selling hearing products is a significant part of our professional experience and financial well-being. We need to posess, examine and polish skills which help us provide benefits to our patients/customers, and enhance our profession.
    Industry Innovations Summit Live CE Feb. 1-29

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