Marketing to Professionals: Deep Impact

New research suggests a paradigm shift is needed to gauge MSLs' true value
Jul 01, 2006

Robin L. Winter-Sperry, MD
Simple linear metrics cannot be used to measure the success of medical science liaisons (MSLs), according to a recent study by Scientific Advantage Medical Liaison Metrics Research. MSLs are specialists who wear many hats. They do not perform the exact same roles in every company, and therefore, cannot be measured by traditional metrics.

MSLs are part of an evolving specialty that has expanded rapidly in recent years. According to most professionals interviewed for the study, the relationships that liaisons form, and the intellectual capital that is invested through their bonds with key opinion leaders, have a large impact on the company. But that impact is sometimes difficult to measure. The job has matured into one of the most sought after and highest-paid field-based positions in the industry. MSLs often are compensated on a level equal to managers based in corporate headquarters, but have the added benefit of usually being regionally based. Companies that have taken the plunge already and made a significant financial investment in a team of MSLs want to know what they are getting for their money.

Metrics: More Than Just Linear

Andre Mann, MD
The actual responsibilities and goals of a MSL team do not fit into the traditional field-based sales model. As such, it is neither appropriate nor effective to try to use a traditional sales-force-evaluation system to assess the corporate value of a MSL. Industry must draw a distinct line between MSL activity and direct sales due to government and legal regulations, yet many companies still want to measure the liaison's progress by the same standards.

According to the survey, companies must establish a set of separate and unique roles and responsibilities that is both complementary and supportive of medical services and other essential corporate areas, such as managed markets, R&D, and clinical support of sales and marketing. MSLs provide an essential service to companies by offering practical experience with key opinion leaders, as well as a working knowledge of current practice standards and the proper use of company products. The MSLs function as regionally based medical resources for their companies and entire healthcare communities.

Most Useful MSL Metrics Categories; Most Valuable MSL Activities
Global differences can further complicate matters from a metrics standpoint. For example, in Europe, sales reps are often physicians themselves, so the profile and role of the MSLs there often takes on a different focus relative to providing scientific support to the sales organization. In a country with nationalized healthcare, such as the United Kingdom, the role of the MSL often concentrates on managed care and pharmacoeconomics.

For countries like Japan, where the concept of the MSL is just being introduced by many of their US affiliates, cultural nuances and interpretation of activities by the non-US parent company need to be taken into consideration when developing effective measures and demonstration of value to the global organization. The market dynamics between countries and the product or devices themselves may be different. Reimbursement methods, regulatory systems, and related R&D activities also may differ. If a company is globalizing the MSL role, the metrics used must be appropriate for the US functional operations, but also well understood across cultures.

Return on Education

So why should companies measure the performance of a MSL team? From a business perspective, industry needs to know what the return on investment is for hiring MSLs. But, while companies tend to look at the return on investment in terms of dollars and cents, they also need to focus on the return on healthcare partnerships.

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