retaining life sciences sales reps

Retaining Life Sciences Sales Reps: Addressing Turnover Challenges

Written By: Bob Matheny

July 7, 2023 – 9 min read

The struggle to retain talented sales representatives has become increasingly widespread in the challenging field of life sciences. The “good ole’ days” of relying solely on personal relationships with HCPs to secure deals are long gone. The evolving medical sales channel, complex relationships, stringent regulations, and changing physician behavior have combined to present significant challenges for sales reps.

This article explores some causes of employee turnover in life sciences sales and offers potential solutions to address these issues.

The Evolving Landscape

Today’s life sciences sales landscape is more intricate than ever before. Sales reps must navigate relationships with various stakeholders, including surgeons, physicians, nurses, nurse managers, and supply managers. Those reps who used to rely solely on relationship-building are finding that this alone is no longer sufficient to cultivate these connections.

Physicians are becoming less reliant on in-person meetings with sales reps to learn about available drug treatment options due to the prevalence online information. According to a survey by ePharma Physician®, 51% of doctors stated they were already familiar with the information provided by medical sales reps before meeting with them. As a result, in-person meetings are becoming more scarce, and only sales reps with existing solid connections and exceptional knowledge and value can regularly engage with physicians. And, while the selling landscape has changed dramatically, the performance expectations of these life science sales reps have not—leading to frustration and burnout.

Who’s Leaving and Why?

Recruiting life sciences sales reps can often feel like a constant endeavor. In fact, a 2022 report from found that while 80% of medical sales reps are satisfied with their current position, 50% are still looking for a new job. So how can sales leaders proactively identify the reasons for these departures to prevent them?

While it’s generally easiest to conduct an exit interview to learn why your sales reps are leaving, often, this information may be inaccurate or at least misleading. The sales rep may not provide you with the actual reason so they can leave on a positive note. Your goal is to look beyond the stated reasons for patterns.

By analyzing the departure patterns of sales representatives, companies can gain valuable insights into the specific reasons for turnover and take appropriate measures to address them. The table below may help you pinpoint the causes.

While 80 percent of medical sales reps are satisfied with their current position, more than 50 percent are still looking for a new job.

Which Sales Reps Are Quitting

Reps located in one district or region

Reps leaving from the same territory over an extended period

Younger sales reps

Seasoned/tenured sales reps

New hires

Potential Cause

Look into the leadership for this region or district. They may be difficult to work with, unresponsive, or ineffective.

Is there a disparity in this region over other regions? Is it more challenging to sell there? Do these reps feel they are at a disadvantage over others?

These reps may not see the potential for upward mobility with your company. Offers from other companies can easily lure them.

Look into your company culture, recent leadership changes, or being lured away by another company.

Consider your onboarding process. Are they receiving the proper support, training, coaching, and feedback to be successful? Have you placed them in a territory that is disadvantaged?

Developing Effective Retention Strategies Beyond Compensation

Given the scarcity and high cost of replacing experienced sales talent, it is crucial for medical and pharmaceutical sales leaders to implement robust talent retention strategies that go beyond compensation.

According to a 2022 Best Places to Work Report, compensation (pay) ranked equally with leadership as the most important attribute in an employer, followed closely by culture and career growth and development.


Please note that we’re not understating the importance of compensation in attracting and retaining sales talent—it is important. But, while high salaries can entice job candidates, particularly in medical sales, where they are often used to attract reps from one company to another, they do not hold the same importance for everyone. If you come across a candidate solely focused on the pay increase, beware! It is likely that their short-sightedness will not result in long-term job satisfaction, and they may quickly jump ship for the next enticing offer.

Instead, sales leaders should focus on finding candidates who prioritize discussions about long-term potential, career advancement, commission structure, and company culture over starting salary. By engaging in conversations about your organization and the vested efforts required for success, you can gain insight into their interest in your company and their commitment to doing the necessary work to increase their earnings. This approach ensures their dedication is genuine and extends to your company’s overall success.

Ultimately, this article is about retaining talent. So, remember, just as you’re trying to lure sales candidates away from their existing employers, other companies are actively trying to recruit yours. You should always review your compensation and benefits packages to ensure they are competitive to retain your top talent, but at the same time, you should also make sure there are significant “intangible” attributes in place to round out your retention strategy.

The Importance of Proper Onboarding

Proper onboarding plays a crucial role in driving employee retention among life sciences sales reps. It sets the tone for their first interaction and engagement with your company and demonstrates your investment in their success. A well-structured onboarding program ensures your new hires receive the necessary training, resources, and support to excel in their roles. It familiarizes them with your company’s values, culture, and expectations, helping them feel integrated into the organization from the start. Effective onboarding also provides an opportunity to establish clear communication channels and build relationships with managers and colleagues, fostering a sense of belonging and support within the team.

Proper onboarding also sets the foundation for sales reps to understand their responsibilities and the unique challenges of the life sciences industry. It helps them navigate complex regulations, stay up to date with evolving medical advancements, and effectively communicate the value of the products they represent. A comprehensive onboarding program ensures that sales reps are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to build relationships with healthcare professionals, address customer needs, and drive sales. By providing a strong onboarding experience, companies instill confidence in their sales reps, empower them to succeed, and ultimately improve employee retention.

Develop a Supportive Sales Culture

A culture that lacks support and recognition can drive sales reps to quit. Sales professionals thrive on feedback, recognition, and a sense of accomplishment. If they consistently feel undervalued, unappreciated, or unsupported, it can erode their motivation and job satisfaction. A culture that fails to provide adequate support, constructive feedback, or recognition for their achievements can leave sales reps feeling unfulfilled and unimportant, prompting them to seek opportunities elsewhere where their efforts are recognized and valued.

In contrast, a positive and supportive company culture can contribute to higher employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty. When employees feel a sense of belonging, respect, and shared values within an organization, they are more likely to stay and contribute to its success.

Identify the Unique Motivators of Your Sales Reps

Don’t apply a one-size-fits-all approach to motivating your sales force. While initially motivating, cash-based incentives can sometimes lose their impact over time. Public recognition and praise can be as rewarding (or more) for some sales reps as compensation. What’s most important to remember is to understand what motivates each sales rep and to customize your approach for each individual.

Improve Sales Leadership Skills

Sales managers play a significant role in retaining sales reps, and ineffective leadership can contribute to high turnover rates. When sales managers fail to provide the necessary support, guidance, and recognition, sales reps may feel undervalued and disconnected from the company. This lack of engagement can lead to decreased motivation, job dissatisfaction, and, ultimately, the decision to seek opportunities elsewhere.

To improve retention, sales managers should focus on developing key leadership skills such as active listening, effective communication, and empathy. By actively listening to their sales reps’ concerns, challenges, and ideas, managers can demonstrate that they value their input and are committed to their professional growth. Cultivating empathy allows managers to understand their sales reps’ unique pressures and motivations, fostering a supportive and trusting relationship. When sales managers exhibit these leadership qualities, they create an environment where sales reps feel heard, understood, and motivated to stay and contribute to the team’s success.

Establish a Continuous and Feedback Loop

Another reason your sales reps are leaving is due to a lack of feedback and coaching.  On the surface, these seem like two separate things, but they actually go together as a cohesive approach. Without either element, the development and performance of your sales reps can suffer, leaving them feeling unsupported and abandoned.

Fostering a sales culture of continuous sales coaching and feedback can significantly improve retention. Sales managers should prioritize regular coaching sessions where they provide guidance, offer constructive feedback, and help sales reps identify areas for improvement. This coaching approach empowers sales reps to develop their skills, overcome challenges, and achieve their targets. In addition, by creating a culture of feedback, you encourage open and transparent communication throughout the team. Sales reps appreciate receiving meaningful feedback that recognizes their achievements and offers actionable insights for their growth and development. By creating a supportive and developmental environment, you’ll motivate your sales reps to stay and thrive within the organization.

In Summary

The struggle to retain life sciences sales reps requires a true understanding of why employees are leaving and a commitment to developing proactive measures that address both the tangible and non-tangible aspects of job satisfaction.

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