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10 Essential Questions for

Successful KOL Management

How you can optimise the working relationship

with KOLs in a way that benefits all parties

Here we present 10 essential
questions for successful KOL
management in todays
pharmaceutical environment.

Successful Key Opinion Leader (KOL) management

is more complex and more strategic than ever for
the pharmaceutical industry. The increased
complexity comes as a result of a rapidly evolving
regulatory environment with new decision makers
appearing alongside traditional KOLs (e.g. top tier
physicians). Meanwhile the importance of KOL
management has increased due to the multifaceted
nature of achieving reimbursement and gaining
market access for pharmaceutical products.

Here we present 10 questions to ask yourself when

planning your KOL management strategy. In
questions one to five, we first ask who you should
reach out to and what to aim for with a KOL
management programme. In the following
questions we will examine how you can optimise
the working relationship in a way that benefits all
parties involved.

Do you know how you want to undertake
your KOL programme?

1) Have you defined what KOL

Before undertaking any kind of KOL mapping
For many years, the term KOL has been exercise, you should take time to consider
restricted to physicians and researchers. what types of individuals are influencing the
These are still vital stakeholders but they can environment in which you want to operate.
no longer be considered the only KOLs.
There are a whole range of other stakeholders Does your definition of KOL capture clinicians
who now have a direct or indirect influence only or does include other stakeholders as
on prescribing decisions. well?

Payers, health economists, experts in politics

and economics and patient groups are just
some examples of stakeholders who must
now be considered alongside top tier
clinicians. Payers, in particular, are now a
dominant force in making crucial
reimbursement decisions.
2) Have you conducted targeted KOL
Remember that there are benefits to targeting
mapping? both established names and rising stars. One
key visionary on board near the beginning of
As there is a wider range of KOLs in todays a brands lifecycle can potentially be the first
healthcare environment, then you need to be champion of the product. Meanwhile, there is
even more targeted with deciding which ones usually a much larger pool of rising stars
to engage with. A KOL mapping exercise whose input can provide a different
should be conducted very early in the product perspective and who may be leading the
lifecycle, perhaps through a specialist debate in the area in a few years.
company with contributions from your own
sources, such as sales force, affiliates and Have you conducted comprehensive KOL
existing KOLs. The mapping process will mapping which takes the future into
segment KOLS, often by factors such as consideration as well as the present?
region, role and experience.

3) Have you considered the KOL
network, not just the individual?
When conducting your KOL mapping,
While it is important to consider who the incorporate an evaluation of how the
individual KOLs are, it is also essential to individuals and groups within your findings are
consider the networks in which they operate. connected, with each other and with other key
Understanding how people and groups are stakeholders. This may also result in
interconnected, and which channels efficiencies in terms the number of KOLs you
information is shared through, can be need to target.
extremely beneficial to knowing where and
Does your assessment of KOLs go beyond the
how you can participate in the conversation.
individual stakeholder and include the
networks they move in?

4) Have you defined a long-term KOL

strategy through the product

Most pharmaceutical companies are aware of Try to identify how your goals and
the importance of identifying the right KOLs requirements will change throughout the years
and invest the appropriate time and resource (and what will stay the same), and how the
to try and achieve this. However, not all goals and needs of your selected KOLs may
companies do invest sufficient time and alter also. Implement simple planning tools
resource into devising a working plan of that will create a degree of alignment in
action with these KOLs that spans the entire interacting with KOLs cross-functionally and
lifecycle of a product. over time.
Although most KOL management is currently Have you considered potential scenarios five
conducted at therapy level, it is also wise to or even ten years from now and which other
consider the overall needs of the company KOLs may become relevant in that time?
whilst planning your strategy. Your group of
KOLs may change over time, but there will be
a handful of key contacts who remain anchor-

5) Are you willing to build a genuinely
collaborative approach?
Try to incorporate KOL feedback at all phases
Interestingly, what KOLs desire most from of the product lifecycle and demonstrate to
industry relationships is genuine contribution them how their feedback has been put into
and involvement. It is likely that the practice. Consider their personal drivers and
pharmaceutical industry feels exactly the skillsets when planning activities.
same way, but too often interactions with
Such a relationship is more rewarding for both
KOLs are conducted on a transactional basis
parties and can provide insights and
i.e. payment for delivery of a specific service.
understanding beyond a singular focus on a
A genuine collaborative approach is aided by particular drug.
long-term relationships established between
Are you committed to building genuine
specific staff within the company and the KOL,
collaborative relations?
but turnover of personnel can sometimes
make this a challenge.

6) Do you have a team dedicated to

KOL management?
The ideal situation is a network of dedicated
To forge a genuinely collaborative approach managers who are assigned to KOLs at both
with KOLs, ideally there should be long-term the global and national levels. The
relationship holders within the company. implementation of an internal management
You should consider which team or individuals system to maintain long-term contact is also
are best suited to manage KOL relationships. recommended and should be a fundamental
The medical affairs team is often considered element of a long-term KOL strategy. Finally,
the most suitable relationship holder, but it is the implementation of clear and consistent
important to keep marketing involved if processes is key to ensure a sustainable
considered appropriate within your local approach.
regulatory environment. With the evolving Do you have dedicated relationship holders
background of KOLs, such as those involved in who have established excellent working
market access, transparency across functions relationships with KOLs?
is crucial.

7) Do you use technology to optimise
KOL interactions?

Technology can play an important role at

every stage of KOL management. During your Technology can also provide creative solutions
planning process and KOL mapping you can for KOL engagement. An example is virtual
use technology to map and visualise KOL advisory boards, which can constitute a one
networks. stop online shop for materials and information
sharing before and after the meeting itself.
An internal customer management system will
help you to assess your KOL relationships Have you considered how technology can
simplify and improve your KOL programmes?
evolution, to track information and to
coordinate the flow of information across the
company. It also helps you to track and
measure outcomes of the interaction.

8) Will you remunerate appropriately and


In the US, the Sunshine Act will mandate the

You need to ensure any fees reflect fair market
reporting of all payments of more than $10
value and expenses are not unnecessary or
between pharmaceutical companies and
extravagant. And even if your company is not
healthcare professionals in the US by 2013.
currently bound by regulations of financial
Some companies have already voluntarily
disclosure, act as if it is it will almost
begun declaring physician payments. Similar
certainly happen soon.
regulation is being implemented throughout
Europe. Have you agreed internally what the rules are
for remuneration? Do you have a system in
The immediate reaction from industry and KOLs
place that makes all payments transparent?
alike may be to veer too heavily on the side of
caution. Already companies are reporting
drastically reduced response rates to offers of
This puts the onus on pharmaceutical
companies to set appropriate levels of
remuneration. It is not wrong to pay your KOLs
for their time and expertise and to reimburse
them appropriate expenses.

9) Do you have a way to measure and Here are several examples of potential metrics
evaluate KOL interactions? for a KOL management programme:
Number of interactions between the KOL
Being able to measure success is vital,
and the company during a specific period
particularly in a time when budgets are under
KOL response time, which will point to the
more scrutiny than ever. However, much of
effectiveness of current projects and will
the process of KOL management is relatively
be a useful indicator for planning future
intangible factors such as quality of
relationship and impact of that relationship on
Time taken to build a new KOL
your brand or company, are difficult to
accurately gauge. However, there are
KOLs satisfaction with the collaboration
elements you can monitor and accurately
record and it is important that you decide Have you considered these and other metrics
what these will be, so that you have a to measure the success of your KOL
benchmark to compare against. programmes?

10) How will you share learnings internally?

While it is important to have a team or

After each KOL interaction, the company staff
individuals who own the KOL relationships, it
can log the data into appropriate systems to
is vital to ensure those relationships dont
ensure the information is converted into useful
exist in silos. Cross functional working and
insights and distributed to the relevant
information sharing is essential and needs to
personnel within the company. Rapid sharing
happen in a timely and consistent manner.
of information and best practice internally will
Utilising technology can help teams to share help other teams to make appropriate
activities and developments with KOLs as they decisions.
happen, for example through reports,
Are all your teams who work with KOLs
dashboards and alerts. This can provide a
sharing information in a transparent and
consistent way to ensure interactions with
timely way?
KOLs are captured comprehensively.

If you would like to discuss further or need more information, please contact:

Marc Pesse

Mobile: +41 79 639 52 43

Marion Menozzi-Arnaud

Mobile: +41 79 415 94 34

Executive Insight AG

Metallstrasse 9
6304 Zug
Tel. +41 41 710 71 63