2960_Oncology_Talent_blogJamie Kaplan and Bridget Kernan co-wrote this blog post with David Kriesman.

In today’s highly competitive oncology market, retaining top-performing reps has become increasingly difficult no matter what kind of company you are. A growing number of startups are enticing reps away from established companies with an exciting opportunity: the chance to launch new, cutting-edge therapies. The promise (and financial upside) can be quite appealing, yet those same biotech companies must defend against the “serial launcher”: reps cashing in at launch and then moving on to the next new and shiny place. As companies grapple with these retention struggles, they’re quick to point to the reps’ compensation plan as the primary culprit. While that may not be entirely true, there’s often room to improve how your incentive plan helps improve motivation and retention.

We commonly hear from clients—both big and small—that they have a hard time retaining their people, even though these companies have a lot to offer. Instead of focusing on the negatives of the situation, they should be promoting the advantages and longer-term opportunities that they can provide. Here are four ways that companies can shift their mentality: 

1. Track engagement in addition to performance. One in four high performers are at risk of disengagement, according to ZS research, making it extremely important to track engagement on an ongoing basis. Tracking analysis can help identify drivers or leading indicators of disengaged team members. Companies can then use this insight to predict those most at-risk of leaving the company and intervene earlier. 

2. Include your sales team in compensation plan design—the earlier, the better. Incorporating input from your sales team—through a representative panel or a health check survey—improves both plan buy-in as well as plan understanding. This gives time back to the sales team to sell, rather than spending significant time trying to reverse-engineer their plan. Depending on company culture, you could even offer your sales team a choice in customizing their plan. By allowing reps to self-select aspects of their plan from a limited menu of options (for example, a choice between a more or a less aggressive payout curve) they feel as though they have more control over their success. 

3. Design a plan with long-term rewards. Consider adding components that reward long-term success, such as a retention bonus or a payout multiplier for cumulative success across cycles. Companies can also reserve or “bank” payouts for later in the year to keep individuals engaged longer. Adding these types of long-term incentives, while still tying them to individual performance, can be extremely valuable and help reduce the financial incentive to leave the company. 

4. Add some excitement to your plan. Incorporate a more novel or high-upside component into the plan. This will help engage your top performers by providing something “extra” for them to aim for or achieve. Consider a stretch goal to push individuals past the base expectation or experiment with unique contests to stir up excitement.

If you’re unsure what might solve the problem, start by diagnosing the strengths and weaknesses of your existing plan. Solicit opinions from the sales team and get their buy in to successfully transition through any plan changes. Companies that employ these techniques in designing their IC plan can retain more of their reps for longer.


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Topics: sales compensation, Incentive compensation, oncology, sales reps, Life Sciences, sales compensation design, sales force excellence, oncology manufacturer, employee retention