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.
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.
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.
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