Identifying the right KOLs to focus on with the limited resources available is the critical first step and in the last post we discussed some alternate approaches. Once those KOLs are identified, the next key to success is ensuring that the interactions with the KOLs produce the greatest value for both the KOLs and the pharmaceutical company.
Many organizations that invest in identifying KOLs, often fail to ensure that those KOLs are actually being well served by MA’s outreach efforts. They provide their field force of MSLs with the names of the KOLs but very little direct direction. The theory for this hands off approach is that the MSLs are expected to have a peer to peer interaction with the KOL and thus they want that interaction to guide the discussions. While this is certainly the only way to discuss topics that are not suitable for proactive engagements (see this for further discussion on proactivity), for those topics that are suitable for proactive discussion it places an undue burden on the KOL to know what questions to ask. In other words, KOLs don’t know what they don’t know and thus, when appropriate, benefit from the direct, proactive engagement of the MSL.
The only way to know how to provide the greatest value from direct engagement is to start by identifying the goals. What need does the pharma company hope to support through its informational and educational outreach efforts? The needs of the KOLs may be self-evident to the MA scientific interactions with the KOLs, but if it is not they will need to conduct some research to find out, which may be formal or informal. Regardless of the approach, however, the needs should be defined by the KOLs and not by MA’s commercial colleagues in order to avoid any promotional bias. The needs can then be expressed in terms of goals for MA’s outreach efforts.
With the goals in hand, a structured approach can be developed for these proactive outreach effort. Plans can be developed on the type of outreach to be done, and materials developed to support that outreach. And, once the plan is in place, progress against that plan can be tracked, measured and reported.
It is truly amazing to me how many MSLs lack a clear plan for their KOL engagement. Operating without a plan denies the MSL the ability to measure their progress against a standard. Operating without a plan denies their managers metrics they need to evaluate their performance. And operating without plan makes justifying the investment in MSLs more difficult for MA leadership.
Building a detailed plan for each MSL that not only defines their KOLs but also details on a time-boxed basis the expected activities is a critical part of effective KOL engagement. These plans can be in almost any form as long as they can be translated into direct measurement.
These measures should be as results oriented as possible. Activity driven metrics may be easier but they rarely align directly with goals. If the results sought relate to growth in understanding of a disease state, for example, then the measure may require some primary research.
Finally, those measurements need to be analyzed and fed back to the MSLs as well as their managers so that everyone can learn from the results of the outreach efforts.
Some of the vendors I mentioned in this post also support MSL plan management and tracking. More about that in future posts.
Please share your experiences in the comments.
Legal Note: All information and interpretations presented are only the opinion of the author(s) who are not lawyers. And, even if we were lawyers, given the wide range of interpretations of the current regulations you would still need to get the input from your own compliance organization.