There’s no doubt, most of us are quite comfortable working with global KOLs. We seek their opinions and guidance at advisory board meetings. We ask for their support when developing medical stories to share nationally with their colleagues.
Where we are not so comfortable: engaging with regional or local KOLs. So what is the source of that struggle? Frequently, it’s because the team is now looking beyond the top 15-20 KOLs and expanding out to the top 100 (or more). A small, overworked, already stressed team is now expected to expand their number of engagements to a seemingly insurmountable number.
It can be quite challenging to generalize KOL learning to a national-level common denominator. Regional and local differences abound—various practice types, settings, and hospital systems can greatly impact how a chronic disease or condition is managed. Truly understanding the challenges local KOLs face will only help Pharma bring even more solutions to the market that these audiences will find impactful.
When expanding your KOL reach beyond the top 20, it’s important to keep a few considerations in mind. It all starts with developing a realistic engagement plan for each KOL and then putting the right systems in place to make the plan work. If you have planned for a set cadence (annually, for example), KOLs will typically notice, which is a good thing! They will likely view your partnership in a more favorable light due to its consistency.
Whether engaging local, regional, or global KOLs-or some combination of the three—here are 4 ways to frame your thinking around a realistic plan:
Define business needs
That means including medical and marketing teammates in your assessment, which should focus on the areas where your team needs KOL support: feedback, guidance, content creation, or advocacy. Focusing on 3-4 priority areas helps set realistic plans. Think beyond the next event, and think about your needs and for the entire year. This plan will help you to identify how many KOLs you actually need to engage regularly.
Identify KOL roles
Defining the business need first will help you set specific criteria for successful identification. Teams, however, will frequently reflexively engage with the top 100 KOLs, do a standard KOL identification project—and then immediately struggle with how to engage them. Once you have identified the right KOLs, begin to segment and define their roles. One way to do this is to use both the identification data and a preference survey sent out to those KOLs. Some things to consider: workplace restrictions/limitations on engaging with industry, payer involvement, the type of relationship, congresses they regularly attend, whether they see patients, and their individual topics of interest.
Create individual engagement plans
Mapping a dynamic engagement plan for each KOL is critically important to ensuring success in your identification efforts. This plan could capture things such as: a KOL’s specific area of focus, the number and types of engagements, timing of engagements, and how to communicate with each KOL. Once you have a strong plan, determine how you will keep up with it, holding yourself and teammates accountable to working it. Think about creating a KOL feedback to measure their satisfaction with the relationship and what they require from you to earn and maintain that level of satisfaction. Measuring adherence to the plan will help you to make appropriate adjustments moving forward. Adherence to compliance standards and company policies if of paramount important when creating and monitoring KOL engagement plans
Work the plan
That may mean more than just a marketing effort—it may require a team approach across the medical, communications, global, and other country-led teams for global KOLs. Consider whether multiple people will interact with a KOL and how you communicate with them as appropriate to ensure a cohesive and compliant experience. Think about how to align the entire team on compliance matters and individual teammate roles. This may require some training, consistent team meetings, and likely a platform to track and share engagements.
While most times it's a great idea to expand beyond your top 15-20 KOLs, defining a plan—and a plan for how to work that plan prior to the identification efforts—will help your team ensure engagements are worth the effort for everyone involved.
About the author
Rob Spalding has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, 15 of which he spent in large pharma companies across several brands in global and US markets.
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