Navigating 2024: Survival Strategies for Pharma Sales and Marketing Leaders in Nigeria

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While it is expected to be better than 2023, the year 2024 will be a no-less challenging one for businesses, including pharma businesses, in Nigeria. A multitude of economic obstacles abounds, creating a landscape that demands unparalleled resilience and ingenuity. Senior sales and marketing leaders in the pharmaceutical sector find themselves at the forefront of this dynamic environment, requiring immediate strategies, tactics, and tips to navigate the complexities that extend beyond the previously outlined challenges.

This article explores a set of business and economic considerations – factoring in the recent surge in fuel prices that has led to a significant increase all other costs, the critical focus on healthcare professionals, and the substantial devaluation of incomes, due to ever-surging inflation. The following is my list of imperatives for survival and positioning for significant growth thereafter.

1. Manage/optimise your cost. The imperative to manage and optimise is both urgent and important if the firm will survive these times. The surge of 250 per cent in fuel prices significantly inflates transportation and logistics costs, causing a ripple effect across all operational facets. This necessitates a meticulous reassessment of every cost element.
Identifying and reducing non-essential expenses, negotiating short-term cost relief with suppliers, insisting on value from everyone, including salespeople and implementing lean operational practices become not only financial imperatives but necessary survival strategies in a landscape where the cost of doing business is rapidly escalating.
Directly, I will suggest that a company adopt a vehicle-ownership scheme for the field force, or at least monetise fuel, oil and repair costs for salespeople who own personal vehicles.

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2. Adopt responsive pricing adjustments and trade promotions. Adapting pricing strategies takes on a new dimension as inflation devalues our currency by 40-60 per cent. Pharmaceutical leaders must navigate this reality by implementing highly responsive pricing adjustments. Additionally, short-term promotions should not only stimulate demand but must do so strategically to lessen the impact of increased costs of distribution and logistics.

3. Resist the urge to cut off marketing investments. Or at least do as much as possible. Environments like this reduce effective demand, translating to shrinking market size and intense competition for the smaller market. Firms in the market shrink rather at a slower rate, if at all.

The first instinct is to cut off marketing expenses. This is counter–productive and leaves the company weak for a resurgence/rebound when the situation gets better – that is, if it does not get crowded out during these lean days. Your eyes should be firmly kept on value-for-investment, effectiveness, sound strategy and frequent evaluation of result versus investment.

For every requested marketing investment, the question should be asked, “What are we gaining by investing here?” “Is this the best way to invest for the same outcome?” “Are there cheaper but equi-effective alternatives?”

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4. Rapidly deploy digital options. The surge affects all operational costs, especially physical logistics, but makes a good case for the importance of a rapid adoption of the rather cheap digital deployment. Leveraging social media platforms for outreach and engagement, especially with healthcare professionals, ensures a continued presence in an environment where physical interactions may be restricted or, as in this case, its cost has sky rocketed so much.

So, direct outreach to healthcare professionals through technology should not be seen as a convenience but as an operational necessity. Virtual conferences, webinars, and targeted digital campaigns become vital tools for developing, maintaining and strengthening relationships in the face of economic challenges.

5. Drive field force for effectiveness and efficiency. Identifying and prioritising key short-term skills for sales and marketing teams should consider the changing dynamics, not only in the market but in the costs associated with field operations. Streamlining teams must not compromise effectiveness; instead, it should enhance the adaptive capacity of the workforce to the new economic realities. Increased supervision becomes a critical component in a dispersed and dynamically changing sector.

6. Align reward system with relevant and important performance metrics. A reward and sanctions system, now more than ever, should be closely aligned with performance metrics, ensuring that every effort contributes not just to sales targets but also to operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Adoption of CRM software is becoming a necessity to ensure the each and every member of the field force deliver on their KPIs on daily basis. This presumes a clear identification of KPAs/KPIs for all and every sales and marketing role.

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7. Institute cost-efficient, customer-engagement strategies. Personalised and targeted communication with healthcare professionals should be a cornerstone of the pharmaceutical marketing strategy. As we know, these professionals are not just intermediaries; they are critical stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem. Addressing their needs, providing valuable information, and fostering collaborative partnerships will be essential components of effective customer engagement.

Before we go:
a) The emphasis on immediate adaptability and agility becomes not just a response to challenges but a blueprint for survival and success.
b) Cost management takes on heightened significance, effectively to manage the escalating costs.
c) Rapid digital deployment becomes more than a strategic choice but also a necessary adaptation to a changing environment.
d) Tactical field force optimization demands not just efficiency but also effectiveness
e) Cost-efficient customer engagement strategies are no longer optional but pivotal in a landscape where the devaluation of incomes requires a recalibration of loyalty programmes and feedback mechanisms.

Success in 2024 demands a nuanced and multi-faceted approach. By promptly implementing these strategies, I believe pharmaceutical leaders will not only weather the storm but emerge as resilient, adaptive, and thriving entities in Nigeria’s ever-evolving business landscape.

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