When Medical Sales Reps Are Like Flying Squirrels

Last Wednesday, I called a friend of mine who is a medical products distributor up in the northeast.  I said, “Charlie, did you hear about the commotion in the Emergency Room last night at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Rahway, New Jersey?

Charlie acted concerned.  “Did one of my salesmen skip checking into purchasing again?”

I laughed.  Actually, a flying squirrel had taken over the Trauma Room at the hospital and created quite a scene.  Imagine a small rodent leaping off of light fixtures near the ceiling and soaring over the heads of staff and patients. That’s like something out of a funny movie, although I’m sure, for some of the people in the ER that night, it was a little unnerving.

Squirrels are cute, but they’re also a little scary.  If you try to approach them, they’ll often stop and stare at you with that you-want-a-piece-of-me look (although in New Jersey, most people are used to that).  Plus squirrels are known to carry rabies—the real kind—not just the adjective-kind as in the “rabid CFO” who denied the use of your product because it wasn’t on contract. The idea of a rodent Red Baron in a busy city hospital sounds humorous, but there is really nothing funny about anything or anyone that disrupts the delivery of medical care.

Why did the squirrel go to the ER?  Maybe it was an accident.  Maybe he was looking for food.  Maybe he didn’t have insurance and needed a doctor.  Okay, I’m joking, but for some unknown reason, the squirrel just showed up.

Medical sales reps sometimes act like flying squirrels.  They will just show up at a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office for no reason. Maybe they’ll run into a customer. Maybe that customer will buy something (the saying, “even a blind squirrel finds an acorn on occasion” comes to mind, but we’re talking about flying squirrels, so forgive me).  Even if they don’t make a sale, at least they feel productive by “calling on” customers.

But how does it feel to the customer?  Well, it depends.  If the customer needs to place an order or discuss something, then he or she might be happy to see the sales rep.  Or if the salesperson is aware of a particular need or problem and approaches the customer with a value proposition that potentially solves the problem, again, the sales rep might be welcome.

But what about the salesperson who drops in whenever the urge strikes and says, “Hi there, I’m just checking in!”  Maybe the customer likes the salesperson and is happy to see him.  Maybe the customer doesn’t like the salesperson but tolerates the interruption because he’s done business with him in the past. Or maybe the customer wants to kick the salesperson out of his office because he’s tired of being treated like the desk clerk at a cheap motel.  Checking-in? Give me a break!

This was the second time in two weeks that a flying squirrel showed up at Robert Woods University Hospital.  The first time was amusing.  The second time was annoying.  The hospital doesn’t want any more flying squirrels that disrupt everyone’s day.

When you visit a customer, have a purpose and a plan before visiting.  Make sure the customer discerns some value in your being there, or don’t go.  Don’t check-in.  Don’t touch base.  And don’t delude yourself into believing you’re doing something productive just because you walked into one of your accounts.

Distracting or interrupting a customer’s day without providing any value makes you no different than a flying squirrel.  You might be cute, but you’re probably not welcome.