Do you need tips on what works best to boost sales at your hearing care practice–particularly in a market with competing forces such as lower-priced products at “big box” retailers like Costco or over-the-counter products online? Some hearing industry experts say it helps to promote your “good-enough” hearing products to increase sales. Others say it helps to advertise high-end technology, but offer it at a discount. According to many sources of “good advice” about improving sales in any market, a smart and consistent strategy is to know the facts and use best practices for your industry…and then add a new promotional element.
Consider this recent 4MyHearingBiz article, which showed it’s possible to boost sales by as much as 24%, mainly through the use of extended payment plans for patients like those offered by CareCredit.
Like many hearing care professionals, you likely entered the industry to make a difference in the quality of life for patients with hearing loss. Now, with the hearing care industry and hearing aid market undergoing changes, you have acquired a role that perhaps you hadn’t planned on—sales. It makes sense to face any anxiety you feel about adding “sales professional” to your role head on. In hearing care, without sales there is no revenue, and without revenue there is no profit for your business! To succeed in today’s hearing healthcare industry, an important aspect of your role as a hearing care provider is to proactively promote products that will help your patients, and also your bottom line. So, we offer 9 tips to help you overcome your fear and learn to integrate hearing aid promotions into your daily practice.
“Ultimately, we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.” – Marilyn Ferguson
These Tips Can Help You Improve Your Hearing Aid Sales
Tip #1: Start by defining the “problem”
In the Patients’ Path To Hearing Healthcare Purchase Study conducted for CareCredit by Rothstein Tauber Inc, the data showed that the main reason patients don’t buy hearing products or go for a first hearing care consultation is that they’re uneasy about spending more money than they think they can afford!
What if you could help more patients overcome “price anxiety” and more easily purchase the hearing aids you recommend? A practical way to help them do this is to promote low-interest or no-interest payment plans such as CareCredit. Deferring payment of high-ticket items and spreading out the payments into smaller monthly allotments can help ease the “sticker shock” many patients experience when considering today’s high-tech hearing aids. And, offering a healthcare credit card can help you, the healthcare professional, provide more payment options to patients up front, which can help you open the purchasing conversation.
Tip #2: Explore cost concerns & trends
With the average cost of hearing aids rising at least 8%, patients have legitimate concerns about affordability. National sales trends reported by The Hearing Review showed that:
- As of October 2016, the average cost of hearing aids was $1,665
- Total hearing aids sold increased by 25% between September and October
- During the same period, sales of ancillary products increased by 36%
Even though the cost of hearing aids is higher, more patients are buying aids and ancillary products.
Check out this encouraging data from Hearing Industries Association (HIA):
- Hearing aid net unit sales in the third quarter (Q3) of 2016 rose 8.8% (compared to the same timeframe in 2015)
- Both private and commercial-sector sales of hearing aids were higher than at the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) compared to same quarter last year
- 11.2% increase in units sold in the private/commercial market
- 0.4% increase in VA’s dispensing activities
- In the total market, overall unit sales grew by 11.6%
The HIA predicts that if these trends continue, US hearing aid sales could get close to 3.7 million units by the end of 2016.
Tip #3: Figure out how buying habits affect your bottom line
Which hearing care products are making money?
It’s okay to break even on some hearing instruments you offer and then make up for it with others. On the other hand, if you’re only losing money overall, then the discounts you are offering are not good for business. You’ll need to decide if you’re putting too much effort into selling certain money-losing instruments to specific customers. If you’re making very little return on your investment, then it’s time to rethink your marketing strategy. (See earlier articles in 4MyHearingBiz on this topic.)
How fast can the practice receive payments from patients?
With a healthcare credit card plan like CareCredit, your practice will get its payment within 2 days. Plus, you will not have responsibility if the patient does not pay in time or defaults on payments. CareCredit also has an easy application process and high approval rates — and offers your office a variety of resources (eg, signage, brochures or flyers) to help communicate the benefits to your patients.
Are some slow-paying customers worth my time?
While it’s not your job to follow up on your patient’s credit card payments, you need to think long-range about whether it’s worth putting time and effort into patients who don’t pay bills on time. Instead of spending energy on someone who is not a dedicated patient, you could be helping more loyal, consistently paying patients.
Tip #4: Use realistic pricing & clear messages
Keep pricing simple. Consider this scenario: Susan is thinking about getting hearing aids. She likes everything she has seen advertised about your practice and the products you offer match her needs. She might even be leaning toward using your services, yet cannot understand your pricing. However, she may not call your practice to get clarity on your pricing structure because she wants to avoid getting a sales pitch. Instead, she signs up with a competitor who has easy-to-understand pricing. Make sure your website and other marketing channels have easy-to-understand pricing. Also make sure your front office staff has received telephone training and follows an easy-to-understand script when answering questions about prices, and mentions the payment options available through your office.
Tip #5: Brainstorm/experiment with creative concepts
Season Passes. A popular method some retailers use to increase Average Selling Price (ASP) is through “season passes.” For instance, among the top 10 video games sold on Amazon in 2015, seven offer a “season pass” or similar benefit. It turns out that when a customer buys a season pass, the sellers get 50% to 80% more revenue. Could this concept be adapted to selling hearing care products? For ideas on developing your own “season pass” strategy, see PCMag.com Brent Johnson’s “Modern Marketing Season Pass.” Brent Johnson is the cofounder and CEO of Cadence Preferred, a sales and marketing firm.
Some ideas for creating your own season pass:
Priority or Early Access to product upgrades for season pass holders. Are there hearing product upgrades that you can think of offering only to patients who get your season pass?
Training. If your patients need training to use new products, then consider offering a video or webinar type of training to them. If you already have free videos in your office or on your website, think about how you can offer live webinars with paid attendance. Webinar trainings give your patients early access to training content and offer a chance for them to ask questions. Webinars can later be sold as a series and offered at a discount.
Premium editions. Take the example of how Intuit markets products in tiers: With its QuickBooks™ product, for example, you can choose among several editions at different price tiers such as Simple Start, Plus, and Premier. The Premier edition cost is about 162% higher than the entry-level Simple Start.
Extended Warranties & Support. A typical add-on for hearing aids would be “extended warranties, support, and maintenance.” (Many software companies sell B2B support contracts, and offer pay-per-call support on retail products.) The goal for this “extra value” is a higher ASP. Offering an extended warranty and support package as an add-on purchase at a reasonable price may be a creative way for you to follow the trend to “unbundle” your services from your product sales.
Tip #6: Think twice — to discount or not to discount?
Be mindful of your patients’ budgets and limit the big discounts to your patients who really need them. For others who have more money to spend, tread lightly when offering discounts. It may boost your sales in the short-run, but could lead to issues after discounts have ended (ie, Your patients might keep asking for more discounts. (This is a primary reason why Apple rarely discounts their products.)
Tip #7: Take action — using “best practices”
a) Phone / first contact: With the first call, it’s important to develop a “connection” with the caller or prospect. Be sure to schedule an appointment, asking the prospect to bring another person with them to the visit.
b) Follow-up in your practice: To follow up on the initial contact, offer great customer service when the patient comes in for a first visit. Take the opportunity to learn about their unique needs, an approach which can have a positive effect on sales. “The better you understand the patient, the more you will be able to provide a recommendation that will meet their needs,” said Stephanie Rudd, a Boston-based practice development manager with over 15 years of experience.
c) Reach out again (via phone, email or regular mail): Give your recommendations on hearing products that match the particular patient’s needs. For instance, if you recommend hearing aids that cost $6,000 instead of a low-priced pair, then you might also suggest financing. Explain how the cost breaks down into affordable monthly payments, and allows them to get the aids you think they need.
Tip #8: Conduct a nurture campaign
Successful practices go the extra mile to stay in touch with patients. This special connection or “nurture campaign” may include:
- Calling to remind patients of their appointments
- Sending cards or emails to honor patient birthdays or other special events and milestones
- Offering loyal patients a referral program with incentives (eg, free batteries or small gift cards) to current patients who refer friends and family
Tip #9: Expand your outreach
Another excellent way to bring in more patients (and ultimately grow your sales, and thus, your business) is to expand your presence in the community:
- Host educational seminars and lunches or holiday educational gatherings
- Give presentations at local senior centers, community centers and schools
To get the word out about the activities you are involved in, you can also post these events on your practice’s website. Encourage your prospects and existing patients to check your website often for updates and exciting new products. Make sure your website offers hearing care news and substantive reading that is practical and helpful. Reporting on trends in hearing care and continuing to use the best practices will improve your sales.
Stay on course and try to come up with some creative promotions of your own along the way, and you could see your sales begin to rise!
This content is provided to the 4MyHearingBiz community by CareCredit and The Hearing Review.
Image credits: CareCredit; © Arne9001 | Dreamstime.com