A Single Source of Truth for KOL Mapping

A list with vetted names shared among colleagues and/or a dedicated internal team with advanced web searching skills paired with an uncanny ability to hone in on great KOL candidates: that’s how mapping external experts or KOLs often still work in the life sciences industry.

This approach, however, is no longer sufficient and suffers from a series of shortcomings.

Basing your expert mapping on whom you know and whom they know bakes bias into your selection. Instead of starting with the entire universe of possible candidates and then narrowing it down based on carefully selected criteria, you start from the inside out with people you know and their inner circle. By using this approach many highly qualified experts will never show up on your radar screen. Since people like to surround themselves with those who think alike, you might miss a whole new school of thinking and innovative new approaches.

It’s slow, inflexible and expensive to scale. An unexpected project means the existing team has to work overtime or you need to hire more people with a set of qualifications that isn’t easy to find.

Maybe most importantly, this approach fails to establish a single source of truth.

All three points are important, but the last one speaks to a particularly serious problem: coordination of expert engagement is all but impossible if the information an organization collects about them is fragmented. What is needed is a centralized database that captures all information — external as well as internal — about an expert from the multiple touch points across functions (clinical, medical, commercial) and geographies (international, national and regional).

Needed: a single source of truth

“Single source of truth” is an overused buzzword that nevertheless points to an important concept that everybody who ever struggled with chasing down and consolidating different versions of a document understands: if you don’t have a master document that is used by everybody and that automatically updates and tracks the information added/edited by one user for all, chaos will ensue.

Avoiding chaos, however, is of critical importance when it comes to expert engagement.

Here are two important reasons why.

Which expert should be engaged by whom for what activity needs to align with the overall objectives and goals for the indication, therapeutic area and the entire organization. This requires coordination between functions and departments. A top KOL who is an engaging speaker, comes across as a natural on camera and is great at synthesizing complex information will be sought after by many departments. Without coordination, this KOL might get hired to speak at regional conferences early in the year and then — having hit the spending cap — is not available for an important strategic engagement later in the year.

Keeping track of who, when and why interacts with experts is not a nice to have but a must in the effort to make the best strategic decisions for the organization.

Just as important: experts expect customized and targeted experiences. They don’t want to be approached with engagement proposals that don’t interest them or are outside of their area of expertise. KOLs are consumers, too, and if Netflix manages to find just the right TV series and Amazon knows exactly what product to suggest, then pharmaceutical organizations should approach KOLs with a good understanding of their expertise and interests rather than inundating them with irrelevant or uninteresting requests.

The single source of truth: a comprehensive database

What does this single source of truth look like? It is a database that combines two important pieces.

It contains comprehensive publicly available information about every healthcare provider pulled together into a rich profile. It contains, e.g. data about publication records, talks and poster presentation at conferences, clinical trials, social media activities, network, education, affiliation, claims and payment data where possible — among others. This information has to be easy to search, sort and filter based on relevant criteria.

Possibility to annotate this database with internal information, e.g. how this KOL has been engaged in the past, current and past activities, preferences, interests and feedback.

Being able to pull all this information together in a single database ensures not only that highly qualified experts with diverse expertise and experience are identified but also that these experts can be strategically deployed where and when they have the most impact for the entire organization.

While critically important, the digital underpinning provided by a database does not replace personal interaction with KOLs and other experts but provides the context and content for personalized strategic expert engagement. Based on this single source of truth, departments across pharmaceutical companies can craft engagement strategies and cross-functionally coordinate their implementation to not just optimize the value to the organization, but also to the KOL thereby increasing the chances of reaching the ultimate goal of KOL engagement: a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship.

Ariel Katz is CEO & co-founder of H1.