Marketing to Professionals: Deep Impact - Pharmaceutical Executive


Marketing to Professionals: Deep Impact
New research suggests a paradigm shift is needed to gauge MSLs' true value

Pharmaceutical Executive

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.

The investment can be measured by a boost in medical partners, increase in patient benefits, furthered practice development—and, most important, insight gained from the field to further R&D or product development. Although there is no direct, quantifiable answer executives want to know: "If I am developing this function and providing it as a resource to the medical community, are the MSLs being effective in placing this resource into the field?"

The survey, conducted with more than 28 major companies, revealed other ways to gauge MSLs: the number of presentations an MSL can give, the number of R&D projects they can take on, educational programs attended, thought-leader activities, managed-care activities arranged, and number of speaker slide shows reviewed.

One of the most common ways to measure liaison success is to include comments from thought leaders as part of a company relationship-management system. Evidence-based outcome and performance reports also can be implemented to gauge a liaison's initial goals and objectives when starting a project, track their progress in the field, and allow management to rate the effectiveness of the project. Some categories used to rate MSLs include: follow-up reports, scientific rigor, understanding compliance guidelines, and appropriate responsiveness to inquiries from the medical community.

Above all, MSLs must be engaging and have superior communication skills. They have to be able to communicate on a high scientific, peer-to-peer basis, to effectively reach out to thought leaders and establish solid relationships—thereby making them a sought-after medical resource. The medical liaison must walk in a gray area that involves understanding science, but also understanding what their thought leaders are asking them—they have to be flexible, independent, and have good judgment. Surveys can be issued to customers and thought leaders who are directly in contact with the MSLs to rate their field performance.

One of the best ways to demonstrate an MSL's worth is by their ability to demonstrate performance compared with established goals, objectives and clear roles and responsibilities. Performance metrics in general should be tied to both corporate goals and objects and individual position responsibilities. Every company also should provide their MSLs with career-development opportunities that include targeted metrics and performance plans. MSLs should be evaluated based on their ability to effectively navigate between both the business and science of a company on an independent basis, and to communicate high-level scientific information appropriately.

Moreover, there should be continued internal communications regarding the success and activities of the MSL department. This not only will expand awareness of the team internally, but also serve as an opportunity to educate other functional areas about MSLs' ongoing, significant contributions, and add definition to MSLs' roles.

Non-Traditional Metrics

Just because a group is regionally based, that does not mean that their work should be based on sales activities, such as call frequency or call cycles for interactions with thought leaders. Some of the healthcare providers upon whom many MSLs are focused may not write any prescriptions, yet still be important to them and their companies because of the literature they publish or their involvement with developing treatment guidelines. When a company builds a MSL department, it should be viewed as a long-term investment strategy rather than a short-term fix. MSLs maintain the intellectual capital developed from relationships with significant thought leaders, from bench to bedside, as a product or device evolves.

Furthermore, the thought leaders that a MSL may focus upon may vary due to the specific clinical challenge or product lifecycle stage. The type of primary investigator or thought leader during a preclinical or early clinical development stage may not be the same type of individual with whom MSLs will interact when a product or device is at a later stage of product development.

In the end, there is no single answer or yardstick that measures MSLs in all stages of product lifecycle development. The reality is: Metrics should be a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures, tailored to an individual company's needs and culture.

Robin L. Winter-Sperry, MD, is president of Scientific Advantage. She can be reached at

Andre Mann, MD, works as a medical affairs consultant. He can be reached at


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