How to Get Lab Freebies

How to Deal with Biotech Sales Representatives, Part 4:


This is the last in our series, and possibly the most fun: getting free stuff! In Part 1 we discussed the Types of Biotech Sales Representatives that may be calling on your lab, in Part 2 and 3 we covered how to get Lower Prices on Reagents and Equipment.

As always, be sure what you are negotiating or requesting is approved by your institution. Some groups have restrictions on gifts- but not all freebies are gifts!. Lab freebies are not only test samples and small handy thingies, they can include training, access to new protocols/techniques, science communication, etc.

In order to get more than your fair share of lab freebies, it is helpful to know why companies offer free samples. Here are some common reasons and ways you can take greater advantage of them:


  • Loyalty: Branded products that are useful improve your perception towards the company that gave them to you. Offer to help spread that loyalty- ask for freebies that you can give to others in your lab or collaborators. Just be sure to be a little specific, maybe by offering the lab’s name or location.
  • Reciprocity: A hidden neurobuyology (yes, that is spelled correctly) trigger that is activated when you receive a gift and makes you more apt to purchase. Similar to leveraging loyalty, offer to take a few extra freebies for fellow lab members that might be interested in the product.
  • We’re Sorry: Yes, everybody screws-up at some point and by you taking this gift you acknowledge that the company has made it right again. Here, it can pay to be a bit tougher. Don’t take the first offer; ask for something extra as the mistake cost you time and money.
  • Conversation Opener: Some lab freebies are great for reps to open up a conversation with you about a product or need. Take the small freebie, listen to the pitch and then offer to set-up a discussion with a larger group. A good rep will JUMP at this opportunity and you should at least be able to feed your lab a free meal.
  • Tester/Conversion: A product that the company hopes you will test and begin to purchase. The dirty secret that both the researchers and the company know is that most free products never get used. Take the product. Take extra. You might not actually use it, but you can always get a new hire to try it out so you at least know that it could be used in an emergency (if you e.g. run out of similar reagents).
  • Loaners: Companies offer equipment that is loaned to you for short periods of time. I classify this as a “freebie” as you are getting a piece of equipment for a few weeks at no charge. It can also come with reagents- for free. You can time this for surges of activity (e.g. you need to process a large number of samples, or need quick results) but you should have an authentic interest in an evaluation. To sweeten the deal, you can offer the sales rep opportunities to demo the instrument to other groups in your site.

This is by no means an extensive list of why life science companies give away material, but you should now have the vector. Lab freebies are a means for a company to begin a discussion with you, and sales representatives often have the best access to these.

Imagination and creativity can also get you sponsorship to a meeting, or hosting a meeting at your site, but this will usually need to be negotiated as part of a larger deal.

We hope you enjoyed this series and found it useful. Do let us know if you have other tricks you use to get lab freebies by leaving a comment below!

2014-09-09T17:11:05+00:00By |Collaboration, Efficiency|2 Comments

About the Author:

With a background in Molecular Biology, I have worked in the biotech industry in a variety of roles from Founding Scientist in a successful start-up, to a Marketing Exec covering over $1.6B in revenue. BrainSpores provides me with the opportunity to use my marketing and business strategy skills to help fellow researchers to be successful.


  1. Jerry Flynn December 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Great article and recommendations. My greatest tools have included one you recommended; above all treat the rep with respect and recognize they have a right to make a living, join a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO) and be sure to use their agreement comparison tools to see what others are paying. It is rare to find the reprehensible rep these days, if you do, do not deal with them. I also have a question. I am helping a lab that has good reagent pricing, and good analyzer costs that were combined in a reagent rental arrangement (s). Their initial financing was 5 years for a large automated system, then they added a module which extended their financing (all components) another 2 years. They want to add another module which the vendor would love to do and you have probably guessed, they want to extend all of the financing another 2 – 3 years. I want to help them negotiate some control on this process and reign in the years. Do you have any thoughts?

    Thanks much,

    Jerry Flynn

    • James Gilmore December 11, 2013 at 11:24 am - Reply

      Well, the lab should be glad to have someone help negotiate on their behalf and assist in the process. Not unlike revolving consumer credit, research groups can find it tempting to purchase on payment and then risk getting overextended. Without knowing more details, a few possible suggestions come to mind:
      1) Can they make do with a re-furbished unit? While not ideal in closing off the long-term credit, at least this offers reduced payment pain.
      2) I rarely suggest leasing, but in this case it might make sense. If they end up not using the unit after two years, the payments would stop. If they find they are using it often, then you can re-negotiate a purchase of the “used” unit.
      3) I suspect you have already looked at this, but are there other reagents that the analyzer vendor provides but which the lab is paying a different vendor? This might offer further bundling opportunities.
      4) Again, I suspect you have already chased this down, but has their reagent volume changed since the last negotiation- or do you think it may change in the future?
      5) If they have not done so, perhaps consider moving to standing orders if the volume is regular. Vendors will usually give you a discount for standing or custom orders.
      6) While not always possible, if generic or 3rd party analyzer reagents are available you may be able to calculate savings or use these in your negotiations.
      At any rate, you are correct to be concerned, unless the lab has secure funding.
      We have just finished a pre-release rapid course on “How to Negotiate for Scientists” and I would be happy to send you a complementary copy. Send us a response through if you are interested.

      Good luck!

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