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How A Ban On Gifts Improves Pharmaceutical Sales Reps’ Relationships

Change is a constant in pharmaceutical sales. You must evolve as medications do.

Updating sales materials and memorizing new critical details. Learning the habits of new customers as they rotate into doctors’ offices. These are all expected changes — ones you’ve likely become accustomed.

However, there are much bigger changes that require you to keep on top of even more adjustments. For example, the Sun Shine Act of 2007 requires quarterly transparency reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services of all payments to physicians or their employers by manufacturers of covered drugs, devices, or medical supplies.

This act came into existence as skeptics concluded that gifts from pharmaceutical sales reps are associated with higher prescribing rates. Now, as the opioid crisis continues, people are fighting for stronger legislation. One Philadelphia councilman just introduced legislation that bans pharmaceutical sales reps from offering any gifts to doctors.

At first glance, this seems like a significant disadvantage for you and other pharmaceutical reps. But we decided to dig under the surface to see how this new legislation will really impact sales.

Our conclusion? A ban on gifts will actually improve your relationships with doctors:

There’s an increased focus on your products

Doctors, and their office staff, spend their days running. You’ve seen them running from patient to patient, taking breaks to grab a bite to eat and chat briefly when they can. That’s why reps often offer the gift of grab-and-go lunches.

While you earn bonus points for providing lunch, the focus is placed more on the gift than your actual product. Doctors and staff may note your lunch and the nice rep who dropped it off — but are they really talking about your product with each other or patients?

With a ban in place, you’ll no longer have the interruption of gifts. Without lunches, for example, there’s no distraction of whether or not they enjoyed the food or how full they are. Each moment you’re in the office is now fully focused on the benefits of your product and the strength of your relationships.

Use the time you gain to schedule more sit-ins with doctors and their patients. Or pop in when you’d normally just be dropping by lunch. Take this fresh opportunity to discuss what doctors and their staff are noticing about patients’ pain points. Use one to three question surveys to connect those issues back to your product and educational materials.

Meaningful connections are enhanced

You don’t have time for disingenuine relationships — those where you can’t get a good read on the doctor. They seem to appreciate your gifts. However, when it comes time to schedule a meeting, they usually have a reason for not sitting down to discuss your products.

Then there are the genuine and authentic relationships you build — the type of relationships you currently have with some of your best accounts. A ban on gifts allows you to create more of these connections — and quickly move on from those that won’t grow further.

Rather than receiving a welcoming greeting in response to your gifts, you’ll find out if the staff is willing to make time for your product. As you discover those who aren’t, take the opportunity to dig deeper into the account.

Find out what they appreciated about your gift. Even if it was small, why did they appreciate it and take time to indulge in it? It could’ve been just that tiny break in the day they really needed. Maybe it was that they were seeing a sales rep but didn’t feel bombarded by sales pitches or the need to make decisions.

Take this new information and find ways to increase the bond without the presence of gifts. Use a 10-minute visit to offer a break in the hectic day. Leave discussion of your product off the table. Simply find out their daily stressors, what they’re passionate about when it comes to patient care, and how you can meet those needs to help make decisions easier down the road.

The shift in focus leads to improved education

Leaving pamphlets with your gifts doesn’t educate doctors on your product. To the point of the skeptics, those who are connecting with you through your gifts may not be making the best decision for their patients.

Without the complexity of gifts, you can better ensure that doctors are making the best decisions for their patients. Each educational point you offer, or every new piece of research, is the only point of reference doctors have when making critical care decisions.

On the flip side, the ban leads to improved education for you and your company. You’re both now more focused on the product itself. The relationship has room to grow and a deeper trust is built. This leads to improved collaboration with doctors.

When taken back to fitting departments, their feedback could lead to laboratory breakthroughs — ones your company could only make once doctors weren’t making decisions based on gifts.