Key Opinion Leader (KOL) interactions are critical to a life sciences company’s strategic product development initiatives. Practicing physicians and nurse practitioners, health plan managers, pharmacy benefit managers, and other medical/clinical experts can convey highly important scientific messages, specific to therapeutic areas and indications, to pharma, biotechnology, and medical diagnostic/device companies.
However, it can be difficult to make inroads and engage Key Opinion Leaders, especially when academic institutions, physician groups, and other medical/clinical organizations have enacted compliance rules that may prohibit, restrict, or hinder conversations with Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs). It’s even more complicated when KOLs are unaware of their employer’s or association’s rules. Additionally, KOLs are busy people and their lack of time may inhibit KOL-MSL interactions.
So how do you engage Key Opinion Leaders?
First, create a strategic plan for KOLs in your geographic territory that aligns with your company’s strategy.
- Formalize who the company considers a KOL (local, regional, national, and international).
- Define KOLs’ specialties (e.g., scientific speakers, published in scientific journals, editorial boards, investigators, etc.).
- Identify where KOLs “sit” in their organization.
- Identify the activities in which they are engaged (internal and external to their organization).
- Document who else in your company engages with the same KOLs.
- Document why KOLs are important to your company. What benefits do they bring? What’s their value-add?
- Explain why you want to engage KOLs. What kind of exchange do you want with KOLs? What do KOLs want from you/the company?
- Identify what may restrict you from interacting with KOLs.
- Define how you’ll support KOLs in their activities.
- Spell out how you’ll measure the program’s success. It’s not about the quantity of KOL relationships, it’s about the quality and the impact the relationships will have on the company, the therapeutic area, and eventually patient outcomes.
Secondly, have an agenda for every meeting with a KOL.
- Define what you want from them, but make sure you are flexible and begin your meeting by asking them about their needs.
- Discuss goals and expectations (yours and theirs).
- Be sensitive to their time and demonstrate that when they meet with you it will be time well spent.
- Determine what information you’ll provide to the KOL. KOLs appreciate transparency, including what’s happening with drug/device development; the company’s health in the marketplace; trial design, updates, and results; advisory board follow-up; investigators, etc.
- Create opportunities for KOLs when possible. It may be brokering a meeting with someone else in your organization, conducting a study, participating on the advisory board, etc.
- Always be scientifically credible, transparent, and trustworthy. A KOL can develop an opinion about the company and the company’s products based on his/her interactions with you.
- Don’t leave a meeting without asking how you can help the KOL. Their answer can help you prepare for the next meeting.
Next, know your KOLs!
KOLs, being people, are all unique. You can’t use a cookie-cutter approach to KOL interactions.
- Understand the various personalities.
- Some are personable and like to be the center of attention.
- Some prefer to keep to themselves.
- Some are very scientific (clinical and bench).
- Some are purely clinical.
- Some like to teach and others like to listen.
- Understand your KOLs at a personal level when able.
- Like the general population, KOLs are in a variety of personal relationships (e.g., married, single, etc.) and family status (e.g., have children, are adoptive parents, etc.).
- They pursue interests outside of science and medicine (e.g., tennis, kayaking, running, traveling, etc.)
- Learn what drives them professionally (e.g., a commitment to patients/clinical care, bench research, publication, cost of care, etc.)
- If KOLs publish material – read it before you meet with them.
- Learn their opinion on pharma. Every KOL has one (e.g., disdain; tolerates pharma as a necessity of their profession; pharma partner but maintains boundaries; aggressively promotes products).
Fourthly, continually assess and reevaluate KOL relationships.
- Does the KOL believe the science you present?
- Where do they identify gaps?
- What do they need to be able to believe in the science?
- How deep and broad is a KOL’s influence?
- How well connected is the KOL with their internal colleagues and external peers?
- Do colleagues and peers consider the KOL to be an expert and an influencer?
- Are their actions considered credible?
- How long will a KOL be accessible and influential?
- Retiring? Moving? Changing careers?
Finally, drive value through actionable organizational intelligence.
- Utilize software to make the collection and interpretation of KOL interaction data meaningful.
- Define what is a scientific insight and how you can navigate the volume of captured data to take advantage of insights.
- Use insights for lifecycle planning.
- Utilize insights to ensure that Medical Affairs’ strategy maximizes benefits for patients.
- Let KOLs know of the positive impact they’ve made to the science and the organization.
Companies that identify, create, maintain, and drive science through purposeful relationships with KOLs can realize expanded market share and increased revenue. Therefore, it’s critical to fully understand KOLs’ knowledge, expertise, and motivations. Help KOLs trust you and your company as a scientific partner. Earning the trust of a KOL comes through demonstrating respect for them personally and professionally, providing transparency, and straightforward communication of the science. KOL-MSL relationships can be sustained for decades when corporate responsibility and professional integrity are demonstrated.
Here’s another article that might interest you: 7 Reasons Why Key Opinion Leaders Are Important to Pharma Companies