Provider Strategy

No More Lunches and Better Sales Calls

The pharmaceutical industry is cutting out the lunches for doctors. Should HME sales pros do likewise?

This past week the Wall Street Journal featured an article titled, “For Doctors, Fewer Perks, Free Lunches,” written by Peter Loftus. This article brought to light what all of us have known for decades: that physicians have been paid for speaking and forum meetings, and they have had lunch catered to them nearly every day.

The article looks at some hard numbers related to how two giants in the pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer Inc. and Glaxo-SmithKline PLC, have cut much of their spending in the past few years. The article also mentions the Sunshine Act that was passed back in 2010, which requires the drug companies and medical device makers to report doctor payments.
This is old news for most of us who still carry the bag. We have not only known this but have fell victim to the constant pressure from the referral community to bring them lunch or we can’t see the doctor. For longer than a decade I have been coaching sales teams to maneuver around the costly endeavor and stop bringing lunches until truly qualified, and or completely stop doing lunches and begin providing educational in-services. Often times these in-services have a food agenda, as well, but now with a more structured and somewhat expected ROI.

Regardless, the article in the WSJ still had some very important, game-changing information for us in medical sales who are calling on physicians offices. I found some good news and some bad news:

The Bad News
Because the pharmaceutical industry will be cutting back on their lunches again, we will be asked to do more.

We must not give in to the pressure of the office staff to do these lunches. We must qualify if there is even a referral that can come from this meeting. If we confirm there is an opportunity, then we should schedule an in-service. If you are providing the food, then they will have to listen to your education about your business, products and services — and yes, even the plight of our industry and the patients that are entrusted to us.

The Good News
We can ride the wave of the Pharmaceutical Industry and say we too are cutting back, in an effort to be more fiscally responsible in light of the escalating healthcare costs. Trust me this works and you will even get to see the “referral source”.

Some other good news (well, not exactly): There are going to be lay-offs of many pharmaceutical sales representatives. (That’s why it’s not exactly good news.) In another article the WSJ highlighted the fact that Eli Lilly plans to lay off 30 percent of its sales reps. What this means to you and I as we make sales calls, is that fewer sales reps are going to be calling on the offices we are trying to get into.

The WSJ article discusses how the pharmaceutical industry is “conducting more ‘virtual’ meetings between doctors and company representatives … ” So what does this mean for us? Can we do the same?

I must render an opinion here, and ask that you make your own judgment from the facts. First, let’s do the math: How many prescriptions for medications can we assume a physician writes in a day, week, or month? Hundreds I would presume. How many “referrals” do these same physicians make for the same time period even if they are a specialist, such as Pulmonary, Cardiology, etc. Not hundreds but maybe a dozen of more, but nowhere near the number of prescriptions.

So do we think virtual meetings with physicians will work for our industry? My opinion is no and my reasoning for that is purely mathematical. Simply put, the numbers of referrals compared to the number of prescriptions is too vast.

You Know What They Say About Free Lunches …
So based on this new information, we have some opportunities to limit our lunches and conduct in-services when qualified. We will also have less competition vying for the referral source’s time, with the projected layoffs of the pharmaceutical sales representatives.

We have our own share of loss moving forward. We are in the process of Round Two of competitive bidding, and our marketing budgets have been cut way back. Despite all that, we can continue to sell our value, service, and quality of care. I know that referring physicians don’t want to hear that. Well, they have no choice, because we are NOT DOING LUNCH.

About the Author

Ty Bello, RCC is the president and founder of Team@Work LLC, which offers more than 50 years’ combined experience in assessing, developing, and coaching sole proprietorships, sales teams, C-suite executives, individuals and teams in a variety of industry settings. Bello is an author, communicator and registered coach, and can be reached at for sales, customer call center, and management coaching needs. Please like Ty on LinkedIn and visit for more information and join The Coaches Corner at

Technology Building Blocks for HME & CRT Providers podcast