Many a time I have seen young salespersons get frustrated on the job due to the increasing gap between the expected and reality in relation to job satisfaction in pharmaceutical sales.
The Nigerian pharmaceutical sector is a high-risk environment that needs proper assessment and understanding to navigate if one must succeed. Despite its peculiar challenges, many local and some multinational companies have fallen victim to the high turnover rate of their sales team and its resultant high cost of recruitment exercise, loss of sales revenue and in worst cases product expiration. These resultant effects give the brand a bad look and over time, players (prescribers and buyers) get disenchanted with the brand and the company in general. These experiences are very real in the high entrants generic section of the industry.
Pharmaceutical sales embody ethical (prescription only) and over-the-counter (OTC) categories. My emphasis will be more on the ethical lines but can be extended to OTC ranges. Pharmaceutical sales usually start with product presentation to an individual or group of medical practitioners with subsequent follow up to ensure brand prescription and dispensing. This aspect of the job is often times frustrating. Success at this level is propelled by lots of interwoven factors which include sound product and industry knowledge, physical presentation, communication abilities, negotiation skills, interpersonal relationship building skills and of course persistence. With all these aforementioned qualities, a salesperson will mostly likely perform courageously in the field.
What can organizations do to achieve a win-win balance with their workforce? Field experience have taught me three basic lessons that are worth sharing.
1. Product knowledge
Pharmaceutical products are highly technical and require full dose of information to market. I am a strong believer in benefits and information sales instead of focusing on price sales. Price is relative and variable. Positioning sales strategies on low price is a shortcut approach and is mostly not sustainable in pharmaceuticals. It affects organizations bottom line and may present the product(s) as substandard. Organizations must have a working product or brand department that must ensure staff training and retraining. This unit must work with avalanche of industry data to ensure that the sales team have the relevant information at all times. It is a sin to send a salesperson to the field without proper and current product knowledge training. One can only liken it to sending a soldier to the battleground without a gun.
2. Sales commission
This is a dicey terrain that requires diplomacy. However, most companies do not like discussing it. Even when discussed, many do not implement it. There are various methods of calculating sales commissions. Adopting an accounting software that is very transparent to all stakeholders is the best choice. I prefer commission based on per pack sales that is tagged to timely payment. Sales commissions must be paid as at when due to encourage the sales team and reduce the propensity of theft. Sales mark up by the salesperson must be discouraged. Sales commission is what drives a salesperson not salary, however, a combination of the two is surely a jackpot.
3. Field support
How often do you allow your sales person access to the existing accounts before hammering on new leads? Imagine a situation where no existing client was transferred to salesperson on resumption. Imagine where his/her newly established big buyers are confiscated by the head office in the name of proper handling when there is no case of poor channel management. Imagine lack of field coaching and clinical presentation by the management team. In all these scenarios, the sales person is bound to be discouraged and in most cases will be on the lookout for new opportunities in a competing company or eventually leave the sector.
I believe career in pharmaceutical sales is a lifelong opportunity and must be treated as such by all stakeholders. Encourage your team today by doing the needful. Remember, a happy sales team yields great financial records.
About the Author
Anthony Chidozie Okoye is a senior partner at Chaperone Kinetics Limited.