Marketing to Professionals: MSLs: Show the Value

Performance metrics for medical science liaisons vary greatly.
Dec 01, 2004


Jane Chin
Medical science liaisons (MSLs) engage in high-level knowledge exchange and collaborations with medical thought leaders who influence and drive healthcare. National thought leaders may not directly contribute to short-term sales for a pharmaceutical company (survival), but they are the lifelines to the long-term competitive advantage of a company (growth). MSLs' activities with influential thought leaders build the intellectual and scientific capital necessary for pharma companies to grow. But industry executives are challenged to measure the return on investment for their field-based MSL programs and to demonstrate the value of results from activities such as "building relationships" and "increasing awareness through education."

The challenge of imposing quantitative outcomes on intangible deliverables is complicated by the heterogeneity of MSL activities from company to company and by the changing needs for product support through its lifecycle. Based on "Medical Science Liaison Performance Metrics Report," an independent survey of 23 MSL programs from 19 biopharmaceutical companies, MSL executives assign both quantitative and qualitative metrics for their MSLs' performance. They understand that there is a need for measuring value in a commercial organization, but they favor a predominantly qualitative approach for MSL performance evaluation.

What Is the Value? In response to the question, "What is the value of MSLs to the pharmaceutical organization?" directors, senior managers, and MSLs suggest that their value is market-driven and tactically oriented. When preparing the market for launch or expanding therapeutic areas, MSLs are heavily invested in clinical research support and the dissemination of clinical information.

Once the product has been launched, medical science liaisons help maintain market position and momentum. In certain therapeutic areas, MSLs maintain a high level of research-related activities even during the sales-driven phase of a product's lifecycle. Generally, during the sales-driven phase, MSLs assume a supportive function. Some companies expect MSLs to conduct "scientific consults" and clinical presentations for promotional programs (initiated by sales), consultant meetings (initiated by marketing), or managed-care meetings.

Performance Metrics Although the benefits of developing quality relationships with thought leaders and top academic institutions can be justified, demonstrating the economic returns of these relationships without a market share correlative is difficult.

Executives are using both objective and subjective measures to communicate MSLs' value to organizational stakeholders. Many MSL directors define the metrics as accountability for time or activities, based on the assumption that value should follow. In extreme cases of defining metrics by accountability, MSLs are evaluated on reach and frequency (of interaction), and are expected to deliver a predetermined set of scientific messages to thought leaders.


Value: A Matter of Perspective
Metrics for objective parameters such as activities—for example, the number of clinical presentations completed per quarter—are easy to track and analyze, but activities alone do not necessarily correlate to value for the organization. If activities are examined in the context of a result—the number of publications categorized as textbook chapters, peer-reviewed journal articles, and scientific meeting abstracts—this context gives the activity meaning. Although imperfect, it is a truer approximation of the effect on the organization than the numbers alone. Some MSL directors have adopted surrogate performance markers or management by objectives as viable approaches to measuring their MSLs' activities in the context of desired results for the organization.

Counting Calls Not the Answer Most MSLs agree that metrics are necessary and that they capture the quality and outcomes of an interaction. They view the predetermination of activities quotas without regard to rationale or quality as a way for an organization to "fly under the radar" when conducting inappropriate activities. Consequently, MSLs view performance metrics and accountability as separate issues. They see accountability as being synonymous with responsibility and performance as demonstrative of the effect for the organization.