Communication and Interpersonal Skills for Pharmaceutical Sales Leaders


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Pharm. Tunde Oyeniran

Nigeria’s economy experiences fluctuations due to factors like oil prices, political instability, currency devaluation and foreign exchange crisis. As a sales leader, you must adapt swiftly to changing market conditions and tailor your communication accordingly. Understand the economic context in which you operate, and adjust your strategies to align with the prevailing conditions. The following are the major elements of the current situation:


Intermittent regulatory changes. Frequent policy shifts impact pharmaceutical sales practices. Stay informed about regulatory updates to ensure compliance and adjust your communication strategies accordingly. For example, if there are changes in prescription guidelines or marketing regulations, proactively educate your team and clients to avoid any compliance pitfalls.

Intense competition. Rivalry among pharmaceutical companies is fierce. To stand out, your people skills—especially communication—are your competitive edge. Differentiate your brand by building strong relationships with healthcare providers and demonstrating genuine care for patients. Remember, in a crowded market, trust and credibility matter.

The need for adaptable communication. Effective communication is your compass in this dynamic environment. It bridges gaps, fosters trust, and ensures alignment with organisational goals.

Key aspects of communication skills

Communication and interpersonal skills are the abilities to interact effectively with others through verbal and non-verbal means. They are vital for personal and professional success, as they help to build trust, solve problems, collaborate, and adapt to different situations. Communication and interpersonal skills include listening, speaking, writing, empathy, and teamwork.

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Strategies for effective communication

  1. Tailor your message. Adapt your communication style to each audience. Whether you’re speaking to a rookie, or an experienced star rep, customise your message.
  2. Storytelling. Stories evoke emotions and make information memorable. Share success stories—how you or your other reps or reps from other companies were able to succeed and/or overcome obstacles recently or in the past.

iii. Feedback loop. Encourage open dialogue. Seek feedback from your team members, key customers, HCPs, etc. Understand their concerns, preferences, and suggestions. Act on constructive feedback to enhance your approach. Their insights can inform adjustments to your communication strategies.

  1. Active listening. Active listening allows you to truly understand your team and customer needs. When meeting with your team, customers or healthcare providers, focus on what they say. Avoid interrupting; instead, ask clarifying questions to delve deeper. For instance, if a physician expresses concerns about adverse effects, actively listen and address those specific worries.
  2. Techniques for active listening, which include paraphrasing – repeating what you’ve heard in your own words—show that you’re engaged with them, and reflecting on their emotions and concerns. Active listening builds trust and strengthens relationships.
  3. Empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Understand the challenges healthcare providers face—their workload, patient demands, and regulatory pressures. Empathy enhances relationships and fosters goodwill. When a nurse expresses burnout due to long shifts, empathize with their fatigue and discuss ways to alleviate stress.
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  1. Building rapport and trust. Rapport and trust are essential elements of successful pharmaceutical selling and leading. Rapport is the ability to connect with others and create a positive impression. Trust is the confidence that others have in your integrity, competence, and reliability. Building rapport and trust with your clients, prospects, and colleagues can help you achieve your sales goals and enhance your reputation. To build rapport and trust, you need to demonstrate the following behaviors consistently:
  2. Authenticity. Be genuine and honest. If there are limitations or side effects associated with your OTC medicine, communicate them transparently. Don’t exaggerate or make false claims. Show that you care about your clients’ needs and interests. Authenticity resonates with clients and builds credibility.
  3. Consistency. Deliver on your promises and follow up on your commitments. If you say you will do something, do it. If you encounter any delays or problems, inform your clients and offer solutions. Consistency reinforces trust and shows that you are dependable and professional.
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iii. Personalisation. Remember details about your clients’ lives and preferences. Inquire about their well-being, challenges, and goals beyond business matters. Show appreciation and recognition for their achievements and feedback. Personalisation strengthens your relationships and shows that you value them as individuals.


  1. Conflict resolution and negotiation. Conflicts are inevitable in any sales environment. You may encounter disagreements, objections, or complaints from your clients, prospects, or colleagues. How you handle these situations can affect your rapport and trust. To resolve conflicts effectively, you need to:
  2. Acknowledge Conflicts. Don’t ignore or avoid conflicts. Address them promptly and respectfully. Listen to both sides and try to understand their perspectives and concerns. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions and show empathy.
  3. Win-win solutions. Strive for resolutions that benefit all parties involved. Don’t try to impose your views or force your solutions. Collaborate and negotiate with your counterparts and seek common ground. A win-win approach strengthens your relationships and builds mutual trust.

In the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of pharmaceutical sales in Nigeria, possessing exceptional people skills is not just a desirable trait—it’s an absolute necessity. As sales leaders and managers, your ability to communicate effectively, build relationships, and navigate challenges directly impacts your team’s success.


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