What a crappy time to be a salesperson. It feels like they have everything against them right now. At the retail level people just aren’t spending — or don’t have the money they used to. It’s pretty hard to sell investments as well these days and automakers are practically giving cars away.

The economy is not the only devil when it comes to sales. I believe that the Internet plays a huge role in how we purchase now. I find myself sometimes browsing at retail stores, but then buying online looking for the best deal.

How about pharmaceutical sales representatives? These jobs used to be among the most coveted in the country. Back in the “good old days,” reps (that’s what we call them) used to frequently tell me that they had the “sweetest” job in the world. Many were able to put in 3-4 days at no more than 8 hours per day while still making full salary, bonuses and big-time corporate benefits, plus all the gourmet food you could eat — as long as it was with a doctor. Well, as you know, those days are gone. Being a rep is one of the most difficult jobs and there are fewer of them everyday. The number of pharma sales representatives is down 11% compared with a few years ago. Where did it all go wrong?

It’s hard to know where to get started. Managed care has been a huge driving factor. Doctors have less time to spend with patients because they need to move so many more through their office in order to have a viable business model. Managed care looks for cost efficiencies and limits what drugs patients can take or procedures and diagnostics a doctor can perform as well as how much they will pay for them.

In this industry, we self-regulate so heavily out of fear of being regulated, that we struggle now to sell our products. Gone is the symbiotic relationship we had with healthcare professionals. We can no longer give them a pen or even a paper clip; or take them to lunch or dinner. Frankly, I don’t see the motivation of a physician to talk to our reps anymore. It is simply no fun. In the past, they would listen to our pitch and they would get something out of it that made the exchange of thoughts worthwhile for them. Why should they give their time to a never-ending line of sales reps droning on about the “first and only,” the “perfect balance,” etc?

And now with sales call times struggling to net 2 minutes at best, isn’t it getting more and more difficult to invest in a sales force? With costs growing to keep these people on staff, and sales time becoming more limited, how many reps will we be able to support? With the dwindling promise in the field, how do you attract the best new talent? Will the salesman, like the steno pool, become a thing of the past?