The Society for Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing of Nigeria (SPSMN) was founded to enhance the capacity and professionalism of pharmaceutical sales and marketing professionals. Its activities and goals are novel and aim at identifying and actualising the concept of best practice in the pharma marketing space. In this exclusive interview with PATRICK IWELUNMOR, President of the society, Pharm. Tunde Oyeniran, shares his views on the strategic and important roles his group plays in the Nigerian pharmaceutical landscape and how it is shaping excellence in the practice of pharma sales and marketing in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What impact has the Society for Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing of Nigeria made in the Nigerian pharmaceutical industry so far?
We are a nascent organisation, focused on the professional needs and well-being of our members and the sustained growth of the Nigerian pharma industry. For once, we have an organisation that has given a voice and presence to pharma sales and marketing professionals, irrespective of their background. This had never happened in this space before.
We are developing a direction of practice, identifying and actualising best practices, minimum competences and code of conduct for practitioners. Members are happy about these and the industry has been very receptive.
At a time when pharmaceutical companies are experiencing dwindling revenue, what is your organisation doing to help them boost sales?
We are striving to benchmark and establish best practices for use and adoption by our members who are their employees. As professionals, we advise our companies on the right size of products and product-mix, therapeutic areas of strength/opportunity, the right strategies to acquire sizable market share, the right commercial policies for our distribution/channel partners to remain faithful and committed, as well as strategies to block all business leakages and engage/retain the right people, etc.
Training and retraining are strongly advised, though ignored by many. We emphasise and insist with our members on the necessity of absolute integrity and transparency in dealing with employers and customers. No single factor will assure success; rather, it is a mix of many things to get right most of the times. We are saying to them, “work within the basic business principles.”
Do you share the notion that your Society is underutilised by the pharmaceutical industry, going by its strategic importance to the industry’s business operations?
It is rather hasty to arrive at that conclusion. No doubt, if money is the life or blood of every for-profit concern, then the company personnel responsible for bringing the money are the most important to such organisations. In fact, the sales and marketing constitute the only management function that generates money for the organisation.
However, what to be done for each company cannot be discussed or decided at the global or national level. Companies are at different stages of their growth and development, with differing resources. So, matters of strategic pathway to growth for individual firms can only be decided on case-by-case basis. But SPSMN has a role to establish best practices, improve overall ability and competence of members, code of conduct, provide a lead and direction to the industry in terms of what is right, what is working and what cannot work. We are doing that already and will start to further expand the scope in the next few months.
What efforts are you making to make your Society’s presence felt in other states of the federation, especially in places like Abuja, Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna and Port Harcourt?
Many thanks for that question. Our super-structure is already designed to cover the nation. We have six regions, headed by a deputy president (Lagos, South West, South-South, South East, North 1 (Abuja) and North 2 (Kano). Each of the regions has zones and states as sub-units. So we are already structured to be present in every part of Nigeria. The units are taking shape and being populated as we speak.
Don’t you think it is time for your Society to unveil weekly or monthly training programmes for sales and marketing?
You are right on this spot. One of our core objectives is standardisation of professional knowledge for pharmaceutical sales and marketing professionals: salesmen, medical/pharmaceutical representatives, brand/product managers, sales managers, business development managers, national sales/marketing managers and what have you. We also plan to establish best practices in terms of processes, contents and behaviour. Of course we will do this with the active cooperation and collaboration with significant stakeholders of the Nigeria pharma sector, including our regulators.
In this regards, we have started a monthly online programme, tagged SPSM Monthly Roundtable Discussion, where we examine and take an in-depth look at issues affecting selling, sales management, marketing and business matters. We also have our first induction shortly.
Of course, part of the induction is a training workshop to provide prospective members with basic knowledge and skills, depending on their cadre. In the medium term, membership will be based on experience and examination.
The examinations will model along IPMN or ICAN. Maybe I should add that, in our case, fellowship by dissertation is available. So, to be a Fellow of the Society for Pharmaceutical Sales and marketing, there is a direct/shouter route. You do not need to have practice for donkey years.
With the forex and energy crises in Nigeria, most pharmaceutical companies say business has not been profitable, adding that they are keeping faith basically for patriotic reasons. From the sales and marketing point of view, what do you think this portends for business in the long-term?
The pharmaceutical industry, though having its own peculiarities, still operates within a macro-economic environment. A pharmaceutical business is primarily a business. So, if any company, including a pharmaceutical company, cannot operate and survive within the business principles, it is bound to fail.
There are no exceptions. Patriotism will not keep a business alive and surviving forever. Being able to sell at a profit will. Excellent commercial policies will. Integrity and transparency with all stakeholders can. Recruiting and keeping good employees can. Creating positive relationship with HCPs, customers and suppliers will. Having solid brands with significant market share will.
Most of these require investment, patience, well-thought out strategies and the right attitude. In the long-run, good companies from business-principles point of view with not only survive, but thrive.