People skills for sales leaders: Crisis management



Pharmaceutical Marketing: Basic Concepts and Principles (2)
Pharm. Tunde Oyeniran

The pharmaceutical sales environment in Nigeria is currently facing unprecedented challenges. High inflation, low disposable income, precipitous naira devaluation, and increasing marketing and sales operations costs (especially skyrocketing fuel prices) have created a perfect storm.

For pharmaceutical sales managers, who are responsible for sales, sales operations, ensuring timely payments, generating demand and maintaining relationships with healthcare professionals and channel members – and these tasks are becoming unbelievably tough – the ability to effectively manage crises is crucial.


Understanding crisis and crisis management

A crisis is an unexpected event (or series of events) that disrupts normal operations and poses significant risks to an organisation. In our case, it translates to severe threat to achieving sales, marketing and business development objectives.

Crisis management involves identifying potential crises, preparing response strategies, and implementing these strategies to mitigate the impact. For pharmaceutical sales managers in Nigeria, the current economic environment breeds various great crises, arising from reduced healthcare consumer spending ability and skyrocketing drug prices, caused by currency devaluation, increasing costs of selling and fierce competition in a shrinking market.

Strategies for dealing with economic downturns and market instability

Handling adversity in the pharmaceutical sales sector requires a strategic approach. Sales managers must adopt a positive and proactive mindset, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation. In spite of what is going on around you at this time, you must seek to remain calm and be optimistic. To do otherwise is to invite confusion, mental paralysis, dwindling effort, ineffectiveness, and tension to your life and work. These are the last things you need in a turbulent sales environment.

Quality measurement and management in health care systems

Fostering strong relationships: Maintaining strong relationships with healthcare professionals, including doctors, pharmacists, and nurses, is essential. By understanding their needs and providing exceptional service, sales managers can ensure continued support for their products. This involves regular visits, clinical meetings, and providing up-to-date information on the benefits and efficacy of their medications and other things that can enhance their practice and personal existence. To get a significant share-of-the-pocket of retailers and distributors, apart from giving them higher level of customer service and value, we can focus on other things that will benefit their business and personal life.

Enhancing sales techniques: Adapting sales techniques to current market conditions is crucial. Sales managers should focus on value-based selling, highlighting the cost-effectiveness and superior outcomes of their products. They should also leverage digital tools to enhance communication and engagement with healthcare professionals, ensuring that they remain top-of-mind despite reduced face-to-face interactions. Your phone can do much more than it is doing for you now as per sales and relationship building. If you don’t know how it can, get online for resources and training in this regard.

Efficient territory management: Effective coverage of geographical territories is vital. Sales managers should prioritise high-potential areas and optimise their schedules to maximise their impact. This might involve focusing on regions with higher disposable incomes or better access to healthcare facilities. You need to intentionally break down your territories to smaller units and assign A, B, C, D, etc., depending on their potential. It means now is the time to use and apply the 70/30 rule.

Developing resilience in sales teams

How to resolve the Nigerian health care crisis

Building resilience in sales teams is about fostering a supportive and empowering environment. Resilient teams are better equipped to handle setbacks and continue performing at high levels.

Encouraging a growth mindset: Sales managers should cultivate a growth mindset within their teams. This means viewing failures as learning opportunities and encouraging continuous improvement. Regular training and development sessions can help team members stay updated on the latest sales techniques and industry trends.

Providing support and recognition: Regularly recognising and celebrating small wins can significantly boost morale. Sales managers should also provide emotional support to their teams, understanding the pressures they face and offering assistance when needed. Peer support and mentorship within the team can also enhance resilience, as members learn from each other’s experiences and provide mutual encouragement.

Stress management resources: In another clime, ensuring that team members have access to resources that support mental and emotional well-being is crucial. Encourage looking out for each other, having regular and one-on-one conversation, and engaging in joint brain-storming sessions to tackle joint and individual challenges, etc. This could include counselling services, stress management workshops, or simply creating a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges.

Preparing for and managing unexpected challenges

Contingency planning involves anticipating potential crises and preparing strategies to address them effectively.

Identifying potential crises: Sales managers should conduct regular risk assessments to identify potential challenges, such as being left off a bidding cycle, substitution of brand at key institutions, significant price-increases, supply chain disruptions, or further economic downturns. Understanding these risks and their potential impacts allows for the development of specific action plans to mitigate them.

Building a High-Performance Pharma Sales Team (2)

Developing action plans: For each identified risk, sales managers (and their team) should develop detailed action plans. These plans should outline steps to be taken in case of a crisis, ensuring that the team can respond swiftly and effectively. For example, if a key product faces a substitution by a key customer/institution, the action plan might include strategies for promoting alternative products or intensifying effort with another institution/distributor or another town.

Training the team: Ensuring that the sales team is trained to handle various scenarios is crucial. Regular drills and role-playing exercises can prepare team members to respond effectively under pressure, minimising the impact of crises on sales operations.

Maintaining communication channels: Keeping open lines of communication with healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical distributors, and other channel members is vital. In times of crisis, these relationships can provide critical support and resources, helping to navigate the challenges more smoothly.

By effectively handling adversity, building resilience within their teams, and meticulously planning for contingencies, sale leaders can navigate the challenges and lead their teams to success. Developing these people skills not only enhances individual and team performance but also ensures long-term sustainability and growth in an unpredictable market.

As the Nigerian economy continues to evolve, the ability to adapt and thrive amid crises will remain a defining trait of successful sales leaders.

Tunde Oyeniran, B Pharm. MBA, FSPMN, a sales/marketing strategist, selling/sales management trainer and personal sales coach is the lead consultant, Ekini White Tulip Consulting Limited (eWTC), Lagos.  eWTC provides training, recruitment, online

CME/Medico-Marketing and field force management solutions services. Feedback Channels: 080-2960-6103 (SMS/WhatsApp) /, or check out


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