A guide to recruiting and retaining exceptional pharma sales reps

pharma employee turnover

Employee turnover often affects pharmaceutical sales teams. The right strategies can help address this.

Does employee turnover affect your pharmaceutical sales teams?

For many organizations, even those who are household names, it often does.

Industry insiders suggest that pharmaceutical and medical device sales reps should perform in their roles for at least two-to-three years for a company to realize a good return on investment from employee training. This may differ for strong performers.

Is your pharma sales team hitting that mark? Better yet, are you smashing it with high-performing, deeply invested sales pros?

If not, a simple yet business-critical question must be answered: how can pharmaceutical companies successfully attract and engage great sales people?

Everyone wants to find better candidates in pharmaceuticals. And with the right talent partner, many options can be explored.

To begin, however, we recommend a core combination of three strategies to address staff turnover rates in pharmaceutical sales.

Read on, then prepare to act.

 

1.) Allow flexible hiring to discover exceptional talent

Jenn Taylor_Hudson RPO

To build strong pharma sales teams, take a flexible approach to hiring. For example, be flexible about industry background, says Jenn Taylor.

Jenn Taylor, Manager of Talent Acquisition for Hudson RPO client Bausch Health, regularly seeks innovative ways to attract top candidate profiles. In particular, she targets those with a track record of B2B sales success, especially those who have had success in meeting quotas and experience with life ‘on the road’.

She explains: “The hiring manager must be open to candidates outside the industry. When we have that flexibility, we consider not just the major competencies for the role, but candidates who are self-motivated with an aptitude for quickly learning new knowledge.”

These soft skills are assessed through testing, role-playing, and behavioral interviewing.

For one drug division, Taylor’s team is piloting a 200-question assessment that candidates must pass before interviewing.

In another example, candidates are provided information on a topic and charged with creating a presentation to give to the hiring team.

“Pharmaceutical sales can be more lucrative than other industries, which of course is a draw for candidates. With talk of a potential recession, it’s helpful to remind candidates that pharma sales will likely weather a recession. People need their medications regardless of the economy.”

 

2.) To find commitment, seek compassionate people

Gary Jones Hudson RPO

Gary Jones, Account Director, says compassion signals dedication.

In almost every case, it’s important to ensure that candidates have a desire to help others.

That advice comes from senior recruiter Gary Jones, who serves as Account Director for one of Hudson RPO’s key accounts, Smith & Nephew. Drawing from a deep background of industry experience, he specializes in life sciences recruitment.

“If a candidate becomes a pharma or medical device sales rep solely for the money, I find they are more likely to experience turnover,” Jones says.

“It’s important that the candidate has a desire to make a difference in patients’ lives. It’s part of their purpose.”

 

3.) Motivate with clear growth paths and reviews

Kasey Butler_Hudson RPO

Want to retain top pharma talent? Don’t underestimate the power of regular salary reviews, says Kasey Butler.

When it comes to retention, high-performing pharmaceutical companies tend to provide a clear growth path for sales specialists.

This is a big factor in retaining top talent, says Kasey Butler, who managed Hudson RPO’s GSK Canada account for five years and now serves as Director, Client Delivery.

Great companies also conduct regular reviews of salary and benefits.

“At GSK, if we hired a great candidate right out of school, after one to two years of experience, we would later review whether we were still paying them the market rate for someone with that experience. If we don’t keep up, the employee will leave,” Butler added.

This approach tends to pay off, she said. Thanks to the employer’s dedication, most pharma sales reps would perform for three to five years before transitioning into new roles at GSK.

Some of the roles they move into include sales training, marketing, market research, and sales management. Some even take on market access roles.

“It’s one thing for drugs to be approved,” Butler said, “but are they accessible to patients covered by healthcare plans? The most passionate pharma sales people are ready to support the entire life cycle of patient wellbeing, in whatever way they can.”

Butler added: “Plus, new sales reps don’t need to come with a book of business. They are given a territory and a list of doctors to call on, which gives candidates more confidence and companies more hiring flexibility.”

The sales representative needs to be sufficiently educated to have intelligent conversations with doctors and physician assistants, but when specific scientific knowledge is required, a medical affairs representative offer support.

 

4.) Really, truly, understand candidate motivations

From the start, you must get to know what motivates your candidate. Tap into what kind of career journey the candidate envisages, or risk being ghosted early on, says Jason Walker, who serves as the Recruitment Centre Manager at GSK for Hudson RPO.

Jason Walker is the Recruitment Centre Manager at GSK for Hudson RPO.

“When it comes to talent planning and recruitment in general, organizations need to ask the right questions and listen carefully to what they’re hearing from prospective sales candidates regarding their long-term career outlook and goals,” Walker advises.

“Many reps focus exclusively on the sales path, and progressing within the field through to management, whereas others find themselves ultimately interested in pursuing non-field based positions at HQ, often outside of sales. These kinds of roles are typically heavily sought after, with very competitive pools of candidates internally and externally vying for them.”

He continues: “Developing an understanding of what path the hiring manager on their team, and the organization as a whole can reasonably provide, starting from the point of hire, is critical.

“Otherwise, candidates will leave in favor of other organizations, in order to progress. Often, they’ll leave for a competitor — taking all that they’ve learned with them, including competitive intelligence and training.”

An authentic connection to the product or service can also inspire long-term commitment in sales employees.

“Our trends have shown that the most effective and longstanding sales employees are those who have a personal connection with the product or therapeutic area they represent,” Walker says. “Oncology and Respiratory sales are a great example, with many employees seeing the opportunity to effect change in an area personal to them or their families as a very tangible generator of engagement.”

 

Addressing employee turnover in life sciences and pharma

Staff turnover can be a challenge for any organization, but it shouldn’t dominate the HR agenda. An experienced talent partner can help you focus your sales recruitment strategy. The right recruitment partner can help you dial up or down as needed within hiring, while mitigating business risk.

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