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.
February 9, 2012 @ 9:11 am
Do you think I’m out of bounds here? Please leave a comment. Thanks.
February 12, 2012 @ 2:16 pm
Our company at http://www.finallyaclearmind.com does online real time patient referrals for physicians. We originally did the catering for doctors offices but it didn’t pay. With the new laws our team has been retrained to sell the value of what we do to the doctors. If we build trust and credibility out of the gate the value can be seen by the doctor. We sell the benefit of being able to measure the return on investment. No other marketing firm can. This is what differentiates us from the competion. Sell benefits and differentiate your company from the rest of the pack and you will win!
February 9, 2012 @ 12:11 pm
This has been a long time coming and probably long overdue. It is much easier to walk into a meeting with only the items that you need to discuss, and not having to carry a tray of food in addition. Physician awareness to these restrictions has made this much easier, and most understand it very well. Some may disagree, but there are physicians in this world that realize if they can’t afford to buy their own lunch or dinner, then there may be something wrong….
February 9, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
I am new to the medical industry and my organization offers medical device and IT service solutions. I have noticed that a lot of people are saying the same thing ” ya know Mike you need to bring some snacks with you and then maybe you will get some face time”. Excuse me but I don’t feel the need to feed the world to be given the chance to show how my product and service will benefit a business and improve their work flow. I think that these sales professionals that feel that food is the way to a doctors heart should go work as a server at a restaurant it’s better suiting their personality. Hope that was not too harsh guys but let’s be real sell value not a sandwich.
February 9, 2012 @ 4:01 pm
A SERIOUS DOCTOR WILL NOT PUT HIMSELF DOWN THAT WAY.
A SERIOUS SALESPERSON SHOULD CARRY QUALITY PRODUCTS THAT TALK FOR THEMSELVES.
THIESE INTERACTIONS ARE INSULTING FOR BOTH PARTIES.
February 13, 2012 @ 11:42 am
I agree – bringing food is demeaning to the sales person and his product.