Medical and Pharma Reps, if customers won’t talk to you unless you bribe them with food, answer this: “what the hell are you selling?”

I wrote an article back in 2006,  What Happens When You Can’t Even Buy a Customer Lunch, that discusses the implications of the  AdvaMed (Advanced Medical Technology Association) Code of Ethics for Interaction with Health Care Professionals.  Effective since January 2004, it eliminated financial (or gastronomic) inducements (other than what is incidental to normal business) for physicians and health care institutions to use a given medical device.

Today, there are an abundance of online posts decrying the unfairness and sales-killing implications of The Sunshine Act.  A typical post reads, “Buying lunch for the office or the physician was the only way to get a few minutes of the doctor’s time.  Thanks to the Sunshine Act, there’s no reason for the doctor to see me now.”

Please pardon a clichéd, overused millennial response, but… REALLY?

Over the decades, pharmaceutical reps, and too often medical sales reps operated more like catering businesses and less like professional health care sales representatives.  When a sales rep whimpers, “Bringing lunch was the only way the gatekeeper would let me in the door,” I almost find it laughable…almost, because it’s not funny.   The college-educated sales professional can’t get past the lowest-paid employee in the physician’s office without offering a tray of food as a bribe.  Who is hiring and training these people?

Medical sales is a noble profession and I have little patience for anyone who diminishes the value that sales professionals provide.  Doctors cannot deliver care without the necessary diagnostic tools, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals to treat their patients.  When you get a product or service into the hands of those who provide care, it’s because decision-makers recognize value.  In the critical world of health care, selling value has little to do with a salami sandwich or tray of lasagna and everything to do with communicating the right message to the right people at the right time.  And for those of you who defend the practice with, “Well, the food gets me in front of the customer so I can sell the value,” I say “The only value the customer sees in you is a free lunch.”  When you are able to offer a solution that delivers palpable benefits to health care providers and their patients that include improving outcomes, reducing risk, saving money or anything else that keeps them up at night, they are willing to talk to you and yes, they will buy their own sandwich.  But if you sound like every other rep whose value proposition just blends into canned sales noise, you’re going to have to buy your way in…only now you can’t.  Bummer!

The Sunshine Act might be onerous; it might be an invasion of privacy and it might be extreme when it targets a seemingly low and insignificant level of compensation.  If you feel defeated by it, then seriously—find a new line of work.  Or you can look at it as leveling the playing field.  Competing is no longer about the bigger expense account and gallons of Ben and Jerry’s.  It’s about your ability to sell your value and the value of your product and service to every person you encounter that stands between you and the sale.  Commit to learning how to do this and you’ll be closing business with customers where your competition can’t even get in the door.  And your customers will treat you more like a valued professional and less like the delivery guy from Domino’s.