Creating and Maintaining a Strategic KOL Management and Engagement System
Across the pharmaceutical sector, regulatory and access issues have reshaped interactions with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs).
And with KOL interactions affecting everything from clinical development to product launch, the issue of strategically managing these critical exchanges looms large for small and large pharma organizations alike.
While technology advances have given rise to software platforms that tout their ability to help manage this complex task, some companies are taking an additional approach: using dedicated staff to oversee and coordinate the strategic aspect of KOL management.
Software for KOL management isn’t always easy to use and organizations can’t rely on software alone to strategically manage KOL relationships, said a senior director of medical affairs who participated in a recent study by Best Practices, LLC on the issue.
“We’d love it if the software was easy. That’s a huge issue. I am not sure if it’s there yet. I think you need easy software that documents and records what you need, and then you can pull the data out and you can still do data analysis off that software. But you can’t expect the software to tell who to invite to an ad board or who to use for speakers or who to use for research,” said the senior director.
One of the recurring themes in the study was that participants felt a strong core team that was empowered to lead KOL management was the most effective way to coordinate the complexities of working with thought leaders. The primary research project was focused on current approaches to creating a strategic KOL management system.
Study participants – who represented 29 biopharmaceutical and device companies – also extolled the use of dedicated KOL staff to help create a more effective thought leader coordination/communication system within an organization.
“Do I think [separate roles] enhances our KOL management? Yeah. I mean I think that there is so much involved with KOL management because there are multiple pieces of it. But having separate roles does facilitate that because people can sort of focus on one area or responsibility. But that certainly then requires some level of oversight ultimately to ensure that the right hand is talking to the left hand and the left hand is talking to the right hand,” said a senior manager of global KOL strategy.
Participants highlighted the importance of using KOL mapping to identify and manage thought leaders.
But – like KOL management in general – there is more than one component to an effective system for identifying and managing KOLs, which is usually handled within the medical affairs function.
While it seems obvious that the importance of strategic KOL management should be driving organizations to adopt new approaches to this issue, change can be a hard sell in an established company.
For instance, 28 percent of the companies participating in the study said they have no formal KOL management process in place.
“It is important but when you put that on your budget and say, ‘I need a person to manage KOL interactions,’ – it’s like how soft is that? It’s one of the first things that doesn’t survive a budget cut,” said another senior director of medical affairs.