Measuring the Value of KOL Interactions

Jun 24, 2009

Life science industry marketing executives rely on key opinion leaders (KOLs)—physicians and other stakeholders who have earned credibility with their medical colleagues based on their expertise and scientific stature—to diffuse innovation and disseminate scientific information regarding innovative treatments and new products. Thought leaders are a critical component of a pharmaceutical company’s professional marketing and medical strategies. But companies face a real challenge in creating, maintaining, and leveraging those relationships while safely navigating logistical issues and regulatory waters.

One enduring problem is in finding an appropriate way to measure the impact of interactions between medical science liaisons (MSLs) and KOLs. In part, this is a matter of regulation: Because MSLs can’t be treated as sales reps, it is dangerous to try to assess them the way you’d assess a sales rep—by number of prescriptions written as a result of their actions. But even without regulation, that sort of metric would seriously misrepresent the nature of the relationship between MSLs and KOLs—a relationship that is based on science, mutual collaboration, and engagement, and tends to evolve over longer periods of time than interactions with traditional reps. The thought leader interaction is a process; as such, it may not yield the same kind of immediate, measureable results seen on the commercial side of the company.

Until recently, most companies simply haven’t known what metrics to turn to in measuring key opinion leaders. Today, however, innovative pharmaceutical companies are beginning to adopt practices that allow them to compliantly measure outcomes and become more transparent. This allows them to comply with the recent industry emphasis on cost management, marketing, and medical excellence. These practices often include tools that allow goal-oriented information to be captured and measured. These tools provide corporate visibility to key metrics used to measure the value of KOL interactions.

KOL Measurement Metrics
A KOL relationship should not be measured in a “reach-and-frequency” paradigm. Rather, this relationship should be treated as a series of “tacit and collaborative interactions,” because of the nature of information exchange and development. A discussion of each metric is included to better understand each:

Engagement of the KOL both with the company and with the MSL

  • Number of interactions. The KOL should be engaged with both the company and the MSL to create and maintain optimal goodwill
  • Number of meeting preps. In order for every meeting to be based on science, mutual collaboration, and engagement, MSLs must be prepared for every meeting.
  • KOL responsiveness time. An indicator of responsiveness is important for current projects and is an important change indicator of future events
  • Time spent with KOL. It takes a certain amount of time to build and maintain a relationship with a KOL, particularly those who may not be fully aligned to your scientific positioning. Are your MSLs actually devoting enough and is anyone being left behind?
  • Proactive versus reactive. The engagement of the KOL should be proactive and planned for the next six, nine, and 12 months whenever possible.


  • Alignment with company scientific beliefs. It is crucial to document how the KOL perceives your brand in terms of clinical value, therapy value, and cost /comparative effectiveness
  • Alignment of KOL abilities. The speaker, presentation, and research abilities of the KOL’s have individual strong points as speakers, presenters, and researchers. These abilities need to be recorded and analyzed to see how they match with the needs of the brand and communication strategies
  • Progress of the KOL within his/her peer group. KOLs aren’t Supreme Court justices; they aren’t appointed for life. That means that companies need to track whether they are growing in influence and authority or receding.

Outcomes The fact that you will not be tracking new prescriptions written as a result of KOL interactions doesn’t mean that there are no legitimate outcomes to measure. The goals and plans your KOLs agree to provide an excellent way to assess commitment, engagement, and follow-through.

Becoming a “Value-Added” Resource Don’t just measure what the KOL was able to do for you. Keep track of how many times a KOL reaches out to the MSL as a problem-solving partner. That’s a measure not just of how well you’re reaching out to KOLs, but how much they’re coming to rely on you as a partner of choice.
Life Cycle Management of the KOL The KOL’s needs (amount of travel, types of speaking engagements, and level of activity) should be identified and then aligned with the needs of the company and the brand. Any changes should be noted and reviewed periodically to determine appropriateness and any competitive threat.

Field medical organizations managing thought leader relationships should be committed to making adjustments to their plans. Their relationship decisions must be based on measurable outcomes that are an integral component of success and the fundamental difference between performance measurement and management. Measurable relationships with thought leaders can indeed be a compliant reality and a valuable asset for the company and brand.

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