August 11, 2010

My Dirty Little Secret is Diamond Shaped

In a galaxy far, far away, I sold pharmaceuticals to physicians. After working in the health care industry for nearly twenty years, I fell into the drug rep job almost by accident. Back in the day, it was a great gig and offered money, amazing benefits, company car, travel, and lovely parting gifts if you spun the wheel correctly.

I was hired because of experience in women's health and women's hospitals. For the first few years, I exclusively sold women's health products to ob/gyns and family practice doctors with large percentages of female patients. That was fine.

I only had one caveat about being a drug rep: I didn't want to sell an erectile dysfunction drug.

While I could talk to anyone about birth control, hormone replacement therapy, hot flashes, or female infertility, I had no desire to speak about the male anatomy. Now I'm a married woman, so I've been to the neighborhood. But not living there, I just didn't feel comfortable talking about the subject at length..

One summer day I was meeting a colleague for a 7 a.m. breakfast and noticed the newspaper in the Denny's news stand. Gigantic Pharma Company bought my little Pharma Company. Employees -- because of potential insider trading -- are always the last to know.

I had to interview for my own job and after ten months learned that I would become an employee of Gigantic Pharma. Women's health was no more, however, and guess what I would be peddling?

If you guess an erectile dysfunction drug, you win the prize!

There are really three things hard to contend with in selling an erectile dysfunction product -- the jokes, the literature, and the giveaways.

There is not a joke, poster, email, sight-gag that I've not seen firsthand for thisype of product. How about that iconic email with the light switch? Light switch on or off, up or down. Seen it.

There's the one about the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter and the little pill. Been there, sold that.

The literature is, shall we say, hard core? For someone who found it challenging to say words representing the mail anatomy, this was interesting. But it was dictated by management that we use a chart delineating the four stages of an erection. I am not kidding.

Approached as a serious medical condition, all is well. Lose your cool, not good. Funny as a crutch, Rich.

I attended a program one evening where a urologist who thought he was witty discussed the little-known fifth, or diamond-cutter stage of erection. He was kidding, but the audience didn't know that, and took him quite seriously. Thankfully there was no chart or patient profile outlining the mythical stage five.

And to think before I had that job, I didn't like the fart humor some male colleagues tossed around at sales meetings!

Finally, before the industry decided to regulate itself with the PhARMA Code, ED drugs giveaways were highly sought after. One infamous pen, not from my company, was made of a wood laminate and folded in half. Among the popular items were scrub shirts, ties, computer mouses that looked like race cars, and of course, the omnipresent sticky notes.

Now I'm out of the business, having become one of the Great Unwashed when the Big Pharma company reduced its sales force in half. I'm not sad -- it was time for a change and I survived and stood tall.

Okay, I'm a prude, but an ornery one. Sorry for all the carefully chosen words.