Marketing to Professionals: Key Opinion Control - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Marketing to Professionals: Key Opinion Control
KOL relationship management should be an essential component of any pharma brand team.


Pharmaceutical Executive


A culture of transparent engagement and collaboration Easier said than done. It would be easy for pharma to shrink from engaging the leading thinkers in their specialties for fear of creating conflicts of interest. Many pharmaceutical companies have elected to put strict "no talk" guidelines in place between certain functional groups within a company and KOLs. While some restrictions should be called for, the degree to which a company is open with the KOL about their business objectives can limit the need for broad communication restrictions. If a pharma company is transparent in its intentions and collaborative in its manner, it is likely to avoid trouble and drive a better program.

A relationship-management process Like every other business process, new or old, a defined process supports monitoring, measurement, efficiency, and clarity, for all parties involved in a process. As KOL relationship management has emerged as a business consideration, the underlying process, with disciplines around actions such as planning, developing, identifying, and managing programs, needs to be considered and documented.

Adjustments to market-driven changes in a KOL relationship With turnover on brand teams happening as frequently as six months in some major pharmaceutical companies, it becomes very tempting to make this year's plans the same as last year's, even if the world has changed. Every KOL program has to be committed to making adjustments as the market changes—adjustments to KOL events, plans, and content. An adjustment might be a change in product positioning based on a suggestion by a KOL, or the alteration of scientific material after it has been presented by a KOL.

Without these KOL management practices in place, it is possible that several different departments within a company may unknowingly approach the same physician in different or even conflicting ways. Although a cross-section of various teams within pharma may be aware of their specific interactions with individual physicians, they are often unaware of the specific physician interactions within other departments of their organization. These actions could negatively affect the KOL relationship if one department overuses or overbooks that KOL, or if their expertise isn't being fully maximized.

A best practice of some of the principles mentioned above is observable in the medical device industry. At one major life science manufacturer, a KOL group had designed and implemented a program in which KOLs are systematically used over the course of the year according to a pre-established engagement plan specifying advisory meetings or training sessions. Uncoordinated actions, such as a regional event that conflicts with a planned national event, are discouraged. It is best to make time for interactions that are established up front (or ones that come up via a sensible revision process). But how is the plan created? It starts with a discussion about shared or independent objectives of the group and the KOL, and ends with a mutually agreed upon, completely transparent plan.

Measuring Impact

In an effort to comply with the recent emphasis on cost management, pharmaceutical companies have begun adopting strategic KOL management solutions that allow for goal-oriented information capture and communication, which include both timely reporting of key metrics and alignment with necessary regulations.

Understanding each physician network, the influences, locations, and the way information is disseminated, is essential to maximizing the effectiveness of KOL program dollars. And successful KOL management solutions, with adjustments as the KOL relationships are developed and executed, reflect positively on marketing and business goals at any pharmaceutical company.

Jim Zuffoletti is president and founder of OpenQ. He can be reached at

Otavio Freire is executive vice president and co-founder of OpenQ. He can be reached at


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