“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is a pharmacist and a medical sales rep. He talks about some of the challenges he faces in his line of work, feeling overqualified for his role, and his plans for retirement.
I wake up by 7 a.m. every day to listen to the news on the radio. I have two shows that I listen to by 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. These shows keep me abreast of the latest developments in the country, and they also allow me to monitor the direction the country is headed. If I’m on the road early, I listen to the radio in my car. If I’m at home, I listen online. After I’m done with the shows, my day usually begins.
Today is a weird day for me. I can’t go to work because my car is getting fixed at the mechanic. A typical work day involves a virtual meeting with my team in the morning followed by more meetings with doctors later in the day. In the evening, I’ll go to pharmacies to tell them about some of the products my company stocks. Many times, because my market territory is on the island and I live on the mainland, I’ll go to a nice restaurant to wait out the traffic. I’m a fan of seafood, so I usually order calamari or seafood spaghetti with a very cold glass of Heineken to wash it down.
But there will be none of all that today. Today is dedicated to my mechanic.
I feel like I’m overqualified for my role as a sales rep. There’s so much more I have to offer, but it’s difficult to show this because my time doesn’t even belong to me. The hardest part of my job is the waiting time before I see a doctor. I might wait for 3 hours just to have a 10 mins conversation with them. When you add Lagos traffic plus the fact that I have a certain number of doctors to see per day, it’s difficult not to work weekends if I really want to get the job done. It’s annoying when I drive down from the mainland to the island and the doctor is not there because it means I’ve wasted a certain number of hours on travel time. The truth is that I spend more time waiting to see a doctor than I spend in traffic.
But being a sales rep has good parts too. Like coming to an agreement with a doctor who sees the benefits of my drug and starts prescribing it. Another thing that makes me happy is when I hold a wonderful presentation. I know that some people only attend because of free food, but I’m not bothered because they are not my target audience. Most times I’m usually just trying to get one or two key players to sit down in the room, so every other person coming for food is just collateral damage.
At the back of my mind, I know that this is not a job I can do for a long time. I’m working as a rep because I plan to build a career in branding and marketing later in life, and this is part of the process. I’ve given myself a timeline of one year to move on from the role, and I’ve also been taking relevant marketing courses to help me with the switch.
I’m doing all this so I can retire when I’m 45 years old, play golf before my hair turns grey and just listen to my radio.
Being a good sales rep is about selling yourself — you should be able to sell a product as well as your personal brand. Before anyone decides to use your product, they have to trust the information you’ve given them and that’s by trusting what they see. Nobody looks good and sells an inferior product. Sometimes I see reps from big companies and I wonder why they don’t look the part. Even if you enter a big company without looking the part, the moment you start to interact with colleagues and prescribers there should be a noticeable change in your appearance. People treat you how you treat yourself.
Successful reps should also be able to network because the good jobs come based on referrals. It’s usually just someone seeing you and saying you’ll make a good sales rep. My motto is simple: you have to look the part to act the part. Then there’s also the grace of God and the function of time because there’s only so much you can do.
Speaking of things I can do, I’ve been thinking of getting a driver lately. These last few days without driving have been blissful but now that my car is back, the grind continues. With a driver, I’ll be able to get a few hours of sleep in the car so I wouldn’t have to sleep for long at night. I can still get home and do my course or read a book instead of sleeping for another 6 – 8 hours. I don’t think I should be sleeping this much If I plan to retire at 45.
I got pulled over by the police today. Something annoying that policemen do when they stop sales rep is to ask for antimalarials and other drugs. Not every rep carries medicines. Some of us only detail the benefits to the prescribers. Another time, I was coming home around 11 pm after waiting out traffic and a car was chasing me behind with speed. In my mind, I was like who’s this action man and what’s the person driving? The next thing I noticed a torchlight by my side and apparently it was SARS. One of them immediately cocked his gun and I had to tell him “oga, it has not come to this.” After searching my boot, they started asking me questions about my age and trying to match it to the car I was driving [sales reps usually drive the latest car models]. After a while they let me go. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I just wonder what would have happened if I had panicked and ran because I thought they were armed robbers. I guess that’s just a typical day in the life of anybody trying to earn an honest living in Lagos.
There are so many misconceptions about being a rep in Nigeria. Some people believe that the work is chilling and there’s no stress. Other people believe that we disturb our clients which are usually doctors and pharmacists. I think that if you’re with the right person, they won’t see it as a disturbance. And if they do, you’re doing something wrong because it’s supposed to be a value system where I’m adding or exchanging knowledge with my clients.
It’s also funny when customers always believe that I’m trying to make a sale when many times I’m more invested in the customer journey. The first time I meet someone, I’m not trying to sell because at that point, I’m still trying to figure out their needs.
The job can be rigorous. I’ve heard cases of bribes and cutting corners to meet revenue targets but my company doesn’t allow any of that. We’re mandated to play by the book so it can also be frustrating when people think all reps are the same. You’ll hear that people are dating clients of the opposite sex just to get business advantage. Some even go as far as dating key people in several hospitals, and I keep asking: “to what end?”
My advice to anyone trying to become a rep is to be patient before joining a company, study their culture well and learn about their deductibles before joining. After they’ve removed money for the car, tab, etc, what’s left at the end of the month? Don’t play yourself. Also, when starting relationships with your clients, know the kind of relationship you want out of the interactions and establish clear boundaries. Don’t go about starting things that you can’t finish.
Help Zikoko keep making the content you love
More than ever, people are turning to Zikoko for stories that matter and content they love. But still, we, like many media organisations, are feeling the financial heat of these times. If you find us valuable, please make a contribution to help keep Zikoko zikoko-ing.
Thank you for your support.
We are also cool with Crypto.