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Seasoned Leaders
Assessing key opinion leader management requires a clear understanding of where your company lies on The Maturity Matrix


Pharmaceutical Executive


Jim Zuffoletti
Between compliance, cost, and an overriding desire for speed to market and adoption, the incentive to successfully manage key opinion leader (KOL) relationships is at an all-time high. A recent survey by Cutting Edge Information showed that more than 60 percent of all medical affairs spending was focused on KOL-related activities such as investigator-initiated trials, or KOL relationship management resources such as medical science liaisons.


Joel Mezistrano
As the importance of successfully managing KOL relationships increases, so does the need to become more sophisticated in how companies approach KOLs and KOL management. Unfortunately, many companies have either postponed taking action or dived headlong into implementing a one-dimensional solution, such as creating a team or overlap group or developing a process in a vacuum.


Alex MacMorran
The best way to create a successful initiative is to approach KOL management with the eyes of a clinical trial investigator, rather than taking a "business" approach. By tackling the challenge in this way, a company can expect to assess where they are and what they need to address without generating any undesirable side effects. One such "clinical" approach makes use of a tool called the KOL Maturity Matrix.

Prioritizing Organization

Without implementing some kind of organizational approach, companies will simply continue to put their KOLs through a series of overlapping contracts and communications. There is one benefit to this approach: companies save the few hours it would take to devise a strategy. The bad news is that extra staff will be needed to keep up with the inefficiencies; their KOLs will be so frustrated that they're likely to begin treating the company's contact attempts like calls from telemarketers—not exactly the desired effect.

Furthermore, without a well-designed process and effective tools to administer the KOL management strategy, "spreadsheet hell"—the reality that each department has their own KOL list and process, as well as a dozen or more spreadsheets to track who is on the list, data about them, contracts, and everything else—also becomes a serious problem.

Many companies have approached KOL management as a relationship management function. One method is to establish an overlap group between marketing and medical affairs that focuses on KOL management. This course of action typically involves each party engaging KOLs with their own goals in mind, and then meeting to discuss the logistics of what the other party is trying to achieve. For example, marketers will work on scheduling KOLs as guest speakers or consultants, and MSLs will plan actions to meet scientific or educational objectives. The two departments then meet to coordinate their efforts.

The positive side of this approach is that the company is at least making an attempt at a cohesive strategy to manage KOLs. But legal restraints on information sharing might impede an overlap group's efforts to coordinate against a common goal. The problem further explodes when a joint venture partner, an additional therapeutic area, or more is added. A unidimensional solution, such as seeing a team or an overlap group as a solution, is just one example of a company trying to "do something" in a rush. In such cases, the company addresses only an immediate pain point. Companies may fail to address the bigger, unknown pain because they don't look for the early symptoms.

The process of developing greater KOL management starts with an honest baseline assessment of current capabilities, just as an investigator would look to establish in a trial. Companies need to assess what they are doing in the KOL arena from among a number of dimensions or attributes. How a company performs in each area is evaluated as an indicator of the organization's overall KOL maturity. After an assessment, a company can then construct a successful strategy that will address current and future needs.

Getting Started

An assessment of KOL maturity must start with a clear-eyed review of current KOL practices. This will help identify the gaps in the system. Defining goals along with a thorough self-assessment will also let a company know what lies ahead in creating an effective KOL management plan. Here's an example of a self-assessment inventory based on some best practices in the industry:

1. Processes:

Is a systematic approach in place?

Do all parties agree to it?

Is it compliant?

2. Metrics and Business Intelligence:

What are the objectives a company is striving for?

How can they be evaluated via metrics?

Where is the data available?

What evaluation tools are required?

3. Governance:

Is a governance program in place? Does it have an official charter and reporting structure?

If there is no governance, does a governance structure exist that could accommodate crossing KOL management functions?

4. Systems and Infrastructure:

What tools are currently used for engaging KOLs?

What resources are available?

A company must then decide who will conduct this assessment and how it will be evaluated. Once questions have been answered for each category, an assessor can decide how the answers translate into a maturity assessment along a spectrum from "Emerging" to "Mature." The chart at left details how a completed inventory of questions can be laid out into Maturity Matrix.

An evaluation system similar to this model allows companies to see the strengths and weaknesses of their current KOL management plan. As a result, it highlights how far along a company's KOL Maturity Matrix is, and consequently reveals what is necessary for the KOL management plan to reach desired levels of efficiency and productivity. This knowledge opens the door for effective KOL management, the benefits of which are enormous.

Effective KOL management gives a company a stronger advocacy platform, provides better MSL performance management, optimizes the use of internal resources, and makes compliance easy.

A KOL initiative developed after making a maturity assessment will generate the right mix of tools and strategies to efficiently satisfy the multi-faceted functions of KOL management. Depending on how far along the KOL Maturity Matrix track you are, remember that each KOL management plan will differ per company. The most important step is to begin and begin correctly. Otherwise, you might find your company caught "in the matrix."

Jim Zuffoletti is president of openQ. He can be reached at

Joel Mezistrano is senior VP of professional services at openQ and coordinator of the company's Best Practices initiative. He can be reached at

Alex MacMorran is the communications director for openQ. She can be reached at

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