Keep Your Customers Close - and Your KOLs Closer

Ariel Katz
Sep 17, 2020

With a dizzying array of drugs available many physicians seek input from well-known and respected colleagues when evaluating treatment options for their patients. These professionals have the experience, reputation, track record and knowledge to be considered key opinion leaders (KOLs) in their therapeutic area.

These same qualities make KOLs sought-after advisors for pharma and biopharma companies. From providing deep domain expertise in a disease area, to informing drug development and supporting commercialization with relevant and credible content, the backing of a KOL is essential and plays a critical role throughout the lifecycle of drugs and medical devices.

Given the importance of KOLs, identification of the appropriate individual(s), engagement and relationship management have emerged as critical competitive factors for (bio)pharma and medical device companies. Creating a sustainable KOL engagement strategy is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

Cornerstones of a Sustainable KOL Engagement Strategy

Building sustainable affiliations with your KOLs is similar to building relationships with strategic partners and key customers: it takes dedication and does not happen overnight. KOL engagement is a long game that requires long-term strategic planning and a committed team. The following provides a summary of the critical steps required for a sustainable KOL engagement strategy:

  1. Define Your Goals and ID the Best KOL - Any successful KOL relationship starts with developing a clear understanding of the objectives you want to achieve by working with the KOL throughout the product’s life cycle. Based on these goals and objectives you can then identify and prioritize KOLs that are best suited to help you achieve your objectives. KOLs play different roles during clinical trials, launch, and post-launch commercialization phases and a well-developed system will help you choose KOLs who will have the biggest impact and maximize ROI at each stage.
  2. Develop an Engagement Plan - The next step is to develop an individual engagement plan that meets the company’s objectives and keeps the KOL engaged. The KOL–company relationship is collaborative and the more the company can meet the KOL’s individual needs the more likely the relationship will be mutually-beneficial and productive for both sides. Open and honest communication, a knowledgeable point person and free information sharing are vital for all KOL relationships. Beyond that, different KOLs may value different things: interaction with senior management and/or other KOLs, access to market insights, the opportunity to present at conferences, or being part of exciting, emerging developments. The task is to get to know the KOL and custom-tailor an engagement plan that speaks to their interests and needs while meeting your company’s objectives.
  3. Pick Your MSL Well - The relationship between the KOL and the company point person, e.g. the MSL, has to be one of peers. The liaison has to have great depth of medical knowledge, a good understanding of the specific disease area, and has to be able to offer the KOL valuable information. The point person has to be an objective sounding board for the KOL’s ideas and suggestions rather than wearing a sales or marketing hat. It’s also crucial that the liaison be available and responsive to the KOL.
  4. Listen and Embrace KOL Feedback - You spend a lot of time, money and attention on selecting a KOL and managing the relationship in return for their advice, help and insights. So, take their feedback, suggestions and criticism seriously to enhance your programs. An additional upside is, that a KOL who feels valued will speak positively about their experience and make it easier for you to recruit other high-level KOLs in a progressively competitive environment.

Developing and commercializing drugs is an increasingly complex task making KOLs ever more important. Competition between companies for truly outstanding KOLs can be fierce and the investment in building and maintaining a trusted relationship is great. One way to achieving sustained KOL engagement is to treat your KOLs the way you treat your strategic partners and marquee customers: develop a plan to keep them close, happy and engaged for a long mutually beneficial relationship.

Learn more about how to identify and profile the right Opinion Leader’s to fit your needs at H1.