Pharmacist Tunde Oyeniran is the national president of the Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Society of Nigeria (PSMSN). In this exclusive interview with Pharmanews, he reveals the core objectives of the association and how it will improve the lot of pharmaceutical sales and marketing professionals in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What is the core vision of the Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Society of Nigeria?
Basically, it involves individuals who work for various companies in the departments of sales and marketing. We are giving them a common platform to be able to network, interact, share challenges and develop best practices.
As a new association, how do you intend to make yourself relevant to the pharmaceutical landscape in Nigeria?
The very existence of the organisation and the response we have received so far shows that there is a gap. When you have a gap to fill in any vacuum, then your usefulness is assured. Despite the fact that we are creating a group, we are also conversant with the fact that we need to create value for these organisations. People must see the reason to belong. So, we are there to create value.
The pharmaceutical industry is virtually the only industry I know that you sell on credit almost permanently. Our customers now have a sense of entitlement to credit. They pay you depending on the strength of your brand and can decide when and how to pay. We have a role to play by talking to ourselves that we cannot continue like this. We have to create a standard of payment that will enable us get our money on time. It is even worse now that when you sell to institutions like hospitals – both private and government-owned, ministries and agencies of government – they buy from you and take as long as three years to pay you; whereas you cannot go to government hospitals and buy anything on credit.
The implication is that they tie down our money, making us unable to restock. Most companies don’t want to confront them because they may blacklist them and decide not to patronise them again. As an association, we plan to step in, in cases like this.
There are also unethical practices from various stakeholders that we have to put in check and set standards because we have a code of conduct which everyone will have to subscribe to and which encourages clarity, responsibility and legality.
The issue of training is also there. We must provide minimum training for medical sales reps because you can’t give what you don’t have. Our association will be at the forefront of championing these causes. In the future, we hope to collaborate with other stakeholders to create a minimum standard, just as it is done all over the world.
What would you say are the major factors militating against pharmaceutical sales and marketing in Nigeria?
There are two ways to look at these things. When you say pharmaceutical marketing and sales, these are the only two departments that bring money into the organisation; every other department spends the money. So, it is crucial that they know how to do this and that they are doing it the right way and to the satisfaction of their employers.
Profitability in the industry is low. Banks do not want to lend pharmaceutical companies money because they know that their profitability may not be able to sustain it. And due to the fact that most of our products are imported, every time there is a problem with the exchange rate, it affects the industry. Prices begin to fluctuate. This is not good for anybody, especially the patient who is also facing his own economic challenges.
Another issue is that of pharmaceutical security in Nigeria. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was obvious that we depended on India for most of our products and APIs. It was therefore very difficult for the industry when they stopped exporting some of their raw materials. Except for Emzor which has just started primary manufacturing, most pharmaceutical companies in Nigeria depend on India and China for their raw materials and this does not augur well for us. The challenge here is the inability of the industry, as a whole, to manufacture APIs for our own use.
For those of us in marketing and sales, the impact of foreign exchange on our operations and purchases is critical. Government should pay attention and invest in activities that would help us achieve pharmaceutical security which is next to food security in terms of importance. Anybody can be sick at any time. You can imagine the billions of naira that are being spent on medical tourism abroad.
Above all, when our products are bought on credit, our money is tied down and this greatly affects our cash flow. We need to seriously sit down and look into these issues in order to sanitise the sales and marketing departments of our industry.
Many Nigerian pharmaceutical brands are still struggling to get their own share of the market, partly due to the preponderance of foreign brands. Is your association working on addressing this issue?
Because our members are responsible for brand building in their respective companies, we as a body cannot influence how they go about it. However, we can only advocate for skill improvement so that we can be well equipped to give the multinationals a run for their money. They are not necessarily stronger than us. The only thing we can do to give our members an advantage is to improve their skills.
To achieve this, we need to cooperate among ourselves. We also need data to be able to succeed. We used to have a book known as the PMG-MAN Audit, put together by the indefatigable Professor Lere Baale. Ever since then, nothing has happened. You cannot be a good marketing manager without data. Therefore, skill, data and pharmaceutical security are areas we feel will help us immensely.
How would you describe your relationship with the PSN?
As a pharmacist, PSN is my mother association and I must relate with them as such. As an organisation, we are looking at ways through which we can cooperate. As at now, we don’t have much in terms of official collaboration.
We cannot deny the PSN, NAFDAC and PCN because they are regulators and controllers. We shall need them as time goes on but we do not say that they must endorse us. We need a standard in the way we market our products just as it is done in organised climes. We must engage medical doctors, pharmacists and nurses and have conversations that border on the smooth fulfilment of our professional oaths of office. When there are no rules, there are no standards. As an association, we shall strive to ensure best practice in pharmaceutical sales and marketing. If people are not persuaded about your quality, communication, education and the advantages you offer, you cannot survive for a very long time as a brand.
What do we expect from you in the coming years?
In the coming years, we are going to focus on everything we can do to make the lives of our members better. We are going to focus on what we can do to make the pharma industry better, especially issues that make pharma marketing more profitable. Like I have stated earlier, there is a long way to go, in terms of creating awareness for our association, setting the standard, as it is, and to continue to meet the stakeholders.
Our objective is not only to make life better for ourselves but also to create a professional group of pharmaceutical sales and marketing professionals. We shall ensure that all our members subscribe to a code of conduct that will enhance our activities as trained professionals.
Your advice to the pharmaceutical industry, especially pharmaceutical manufacturers?
My personal advice is that, as an industry, we need to invest in people. We also need to cooperate and face our common problems so that we can demand a minimum kind of behaviour. There are people who deliberately import substandard products into the country. There is a need for us to cooperate to stop such people.
We also need to engage government the more. APIN, NIROPHARM and PMG-MAN should collaborate more. They must not be seen to be singing divergent tunes – in the interest of the industry.