How to not be a salesman

More from the totally random department…

This week, Rush Limbaugh returned from his surgery to install a second cochlear implant. He spent a good part of an hour talking about the mechanics of how hearing works, how cochlear implants work, and how your brain processes those signals into intelligible sounds.

When I go to the K&W cafeteria in Pineville, I noticed there was a hearing aid store right next door. Good marketing! It had been on my to do list for a while.

Partly motivated by Rush’s radio show, I decided to drop in without an appointment and say “Hello!”. I know and have known for a long amount of time that I have a significant hearing deficit. Part of the reason that I’m not still in Chicago is difficulty I had attending meetings with other people that worked on the product. It was frustrating to both them and me. Most of the work however, was me talking to people on the telephone handling support problems. Since you can crank up the volume on the telephone, the fact that you have a hearing loss can largely be worked around.

Hearing aids are almost never covered by insurance, but they are an acceptable expense from a health savings account (HSA). I fully funded my HSA this week.

After lunch today, I decided it was time to conquer my fears and go into the hearing aid place. I didn’t have an appointment, really all I expected was some literature and maybe make an appointment. The guy in the place went ahead however and gave me the full “treatment”.

I know from playing around on the Internet, I have absolutely no hearing above about 8 kHz. I also have more difficulty understanding women’s voices, especially if I can’t see their lips. Most of the time, the volume on my iPhone/iPad is cranked all the way up or very close to it. I recognize on my computer a point beyond which when I turn up the volume, it’s not any louder – but I’m confident it actually is getting louder – I just can’t hear it.

As he’s beginning to feel out my issues, he says something similar to something that Rush Limbaugh has said this week, and I asked him if he was following the story about Rush Limbaugh getting a second cochlear implant and talking about the experience on the radio.

A good salesman, at that point, would have asked to know what Rush been talking about and perhaps why it had motivated me to come into the Hearing Aid Store. Instead, the sales guy launched into a diatribe about how awful Rush Limbaugh is and how he and Howard Stern are just alike. Possibly to his surprise, I quickly agreed to him – this is something I’ve even written about myself.

With that reaction, a few times more during our conversation I brought up the name of Rush Limbaugh, and he kept going for the bait – including making the assertion that well Rush Limbaugh is probably gay – something I have speculated about in my own writings. So, he’s trying to talk me into buying a pair of hearing aids that probably by the time I’m done will end up being $6000. I have in my mind from prior research that $1500 a piece is probably a more reasonable range – maybe $2500 for two.

This guy had introduced himself as a Jewish (who cares?) guy from Long Island who used to sell clothing and married a Charlotte native 30 years ago. I was resist the impulse to spend $6000 on hearing aids based on his somewhat sketchy sales pitch – when the form in my hand includes the FDA section that says you can’t sell hearing aids to person without them visiting the doctor first – unless they waive the provision – which I explicitly told him I wanted to see a doctor first… So after all of that, he ended up getting huffy at me that i was wasting his time and maybe my not agreeing to his pressure might be because I have “issues”. More accurately he was wasting his time my trying textbook high pressure sales techniques.

Near the end, the subject of Bluetooth came up, and I mentioned that given the things I do, Bluetooth capability would be a feature I would be interested in paying extra for. He pretty much shut down the conversation at that point.

So, does anyone have experience and/or opinions about buying hearing aids? I’m also thinking, if I was in the hearing aid business – it would be a really great idea to advertise on Rush Limbaugh’s show – both because of Rush and the demographics of his aging listeners.

Beltone has a very interesting (and probably expensive) device with iPhone integration built in. You can control the settings of the hearing aid from the iPhone app, and hear the phone ring into your ear and have a phone call similar to having a Bluetooth headset, but integrated in the hearing aid. The benefits of two hearing aids are pretty obvious, whuch was one of the points Rush had made.

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18 Responses to How to not be a salesman

  1. Art Stone says:

    Siri really got verbose 😉 the last paragraph is probably the most important

  2. CC1s121LrBGT says:

    I have never bought a hearing aid for myself but have know people that used them. Stay away from the cheapest ones- you can more easily get a feedback loop and that certainly will not help you hearing.

    I’d recommend bluetooth… probably wifi isn’t far behind. I have a bluetooth noise cancelling headset that I pair with by home voip phone system as well as my cell phone. I don’t know if it is offered yet, but I’d look for a device that can also use your cell phone as a microphone so that you can place it on the table of a conference room and hear everything like you would on a speakerphone call (better for people physically farther from your ear.)

    Lastly, I think there is a big markup for these devices. I’d decide the brand/model and then use sites like google and pricegrabber to find the best price…. then see a doctor for $50 (rather than a salesman) for any installation/usage issues.

      • Art Stone says:

        I had read an article in Business Week about the dramatic growth at Costco – it is something worth serious consideration. The basic skill of the salesperson is to get the readings of your ability to hear frequencies and type them into a computer program, which then programs the hearing aid to boost those frequencies back to a baseline, but not above a level that doesn’t do anything.

        The one I tried is smarter in that with two sets, they talk to each other and can do something akin to noise canceling headphones, where sounds appearing in both microphones equally loud and not in the range of speech can be mostly suppressed.

        The human brain is pretty amazing – you are aware of the direction sound is coming from not only from the relative loudness in the two ears, but also the several microsecond difference in arrival time in the two ears.

        • CC1s121LrBGT says:

          Noise canceling is an interesting topic. The most basic is to just filter out the frequencies that you don’t want to hear. That works well when filtering out a siren, but the best sirens are nowadays changing frequencies as they are on to make them easier to notice. A better system can follow the frequency modulation and continue filtering it out. (Not that you’d want to filter out sirens in the real world).

          If you want to filter out non-speech then the focus is on identifying speech. It has a base frequency and then a modulation component similar to AM radio. On the microsecond level, the modulation itself if very repetitive and predictable, so it it easy to distinguish from other sounds.

          If you can add a delay (microseconds), then the program can use not only sounds from the present and immediate past, but also sounds from the immediate future to determine what to pass on to it ear.

      • Art Stone says:

        The Resound Linx is the one that Beltone sells. This confirmed my suspicion that my first sales guy was irritated by the idea of me controlling the devices with Bluetooth was because he doesn’t have that device. During my brief trial wearing the Siemens aids, I complained of “ping ponging” where a noise on one side caused the device to temporarily mute all sound from that side and “static”. The response to static (which I’ve now read is a common artifact of digital hearing aids) was to turn up the static to show how much static it was not making me hear.

        Costco carries the Resound products. I suspect another part of the frustration of this guy is the problem of people using him to try things out then going to costco to buy. In the big scheme of things, I think technology is a threat in general to audiologists. Most of what the hearing test and programming did could be done by an iPhone app. The iPhone speaker has 20-20k hz digital output. I remember part of my initial awareness was just playing with an app letting you control the frequency of a tone. “Normal” hearing has a well established profile of what frequencies you hear – it isn’t a flat line. The more significant role of the audiologist is identifying hearing problems like conductive hearing problems, but solutions to that are still sketchy.

        I can see the handwriting on the wall that as baby boomers age, there will be a demand for insurance and Medicare to cover hearing aids, at which point the $5k set will suddenly cost $20k

  3. briand75 says:

    I don’t have hearing aids, but family members do. I do not know the brand, but these are fairly standard technology (no Bluetooth, no noise cancelling) and they were about $5,000 some years ago. The function is fine and they work well enough. The enemy of these and any other device fit into the ear, is ear wax. They need cleaning at regular intervals and, if let go, the wax will often harden and require a visit to the office where it was sold for maintenance. They also use small batteries and if eyesight is an issue along with hearing, a free-standing magnifier would be a great asset.

    I believe removal at night is recommended (I am not positive), but this speaks to volumes on alarms and such if that is the case.

  4. Mark says:

    Author Jerry Pournelle ( has been blogging about his experiences (mostly positive) with Costco hearing aids. He’s older than you and probably has more serious hearing loss. I think the price was in the $2500 – $3000 range. I can’t stand dealing with salesmen like the one you mentioned. They have no patience for hard questions or anyone who’s actually done research. I can’t imagine handing over $6000 based on the word of a guy like that. Unfortunately the fact that he is still working shows that there are some suckers out there who are too easily parted from their money.

    • CC1s121LrBGT says:

      That’s right. Costco is less than half the $6000 price that Art had mentioned initially. Here is the link to the pricing

      You have to be a member to purchase there, so count on about $100 for a 12 month membership, of just have a member accompany you to the store and buy them with your HSA funds. (May have to use cash and then submit the receipt – worth the effort to save $2000. )

      • Art Stone says:

        Then I can buy 50 pound blocks of cheese really cheap!

        • CC1s121LrBGT says:

          You can get a large hot dog and a bottomless drink for $1.50 from their food court. You don’t even have to be a member, just go in the exit and say you want to go to the membership desk. The food requires no membership and the loaded large pizzas are only $10 too.

          • Art Stone says:

            Charlotte being a big city has several of them. The closest is about 5 miles away. The Gold Star membership is $55. It’s doubtful the 2% cash back would justify paying $110, but it might – especially if I end up buying a new computer

            • CC1s121LrBGT says:

              It is not the cashback so much as the low prices. I bought an advanced paper shredder and saved that much over the Staples price. They tend to have items for a short time only buy arranging to buy overstock items from suppliers at a low price.

              I saw the CEO on CNBC once. He said they usually only have one brand at a time. So they will always have toilet paper, but the toilet paper they sell today may be a different band than 6 months ago or 6 months from now – it is whoever can meet their all or nothing best price for that time period.

      • Art Stone says:

        One other detail that might have influenced this session – I had been to the bank to deposit the remainder of my checking account from Chicago. Going to this place was a spur of the moment decision. I had my checking book in my shirt pocket, which I had forgotten about. I told him right at the start that I would be paying from my HSA and that I didn’t have the official paperwork yet. I also told him I was going to take the FDA’s advice to see a doctor first. All I really wanted was to check out the office and make an appointment and maybe find out which lines he carries. He never asked what I wantedbut went right forward through putting them in my ears.

        But this was in a quiet office with a deep male voice. I don’t have any trouble in that setting. I told him it surfaces with hearing female voices, and especially in places with a lot of background noise (which has been true from college). His response was to be dismissive about the female voice part and that “everyone has trouble hearing in noisy places”

        Since he didn’t lead off by telling me the importance of using an audiologist, I assumed he isn’t one. Since his main selling point is that he’s a wonderful experienced guy…

    • Art Stone says:

      Overall, his approach was that he was irritated that I thought I knew anything bout thm. I mentioned very early on that I warmed up to the concept from the Siemens iPhone hearing test app, and reading their web site. I didn’t know his chain carried Siemens. Rather than leveraging whatI told him, he sounded resentful that Siemens was educating people.

      At one point, I introduced the idea of whether Rush’s deafness was due to OxyContin addiction. He asserted that OxyContin doesn’t cause hearing loss and Rush was using that as an excuse. Rush himself has never made that connection, but the connection is well documented in general.

      I then later asked if bad nutrition can be a factor can cause hearing loss. He was very firm that it can’t.

      I’m fairly certain my hearing loss is mostly due to ear infections caused by untreated dental infections in the past.

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