Effective Thought Leader Engagement: Winning Support Vs. Earning Trust


For many years, my company has been asked by pharmaceutical and medical device companies how to best win the support of industry thought-leaders. As the health care environment has grown more complex and scrutinized, I no longer believe companies should focus on winning over these key thought-leaders.

Instead, pharmaceutical executives must work to earn the trust and respect of these top-level health care professionals. Today, winning the support of a leading doctor or researcher just scratches the surface of what it takes to effectively manage and work with this core constituency that can help share information about a new ground-breaking treatment or new research that is being conducted by colleagues.

For companies that build strong relationships with their thought-leaders, it is important to share scientific and disease specific insights with such physicians, talk to these experts about what matters most to them and ensure that your internal teams know what is being shared so they can reaffirm the message.

So how can you earn the trust of your thought-leaders in the future? Everyone knows that medical science liaisons (MSL) are critical to this relationship, so it is imperative for MSLs to not only deliver exceptional services, but to develop a rapport and bond with the people they will be working with for years, if not a decade or more.

In whatever way your company chooses to work with such experts, you absolutely must communicate directly and honestly to them about your expectations as well as ask them for their needs and work to serve those needs.

Best Practices, LLC, suggests following these steps to focus on your selected KOLs and to promote long-term relationships:

Carefully Target Your Thought Leader Segments
• Be clear what thought-leaders you will work with directly, indirectly or not at all. (You cannot build relationships with everyone, so choose wisely.)

Build Trust over Time
• Become a “discussion partner” with such thought-leaders and experts
• Use questions to grow understanding and the relationship
• Become one of the essential inputs for their work and in driving Investigator trials

Identify Key Issues & Needs
• Think from the thought-leader’s perspective
• Understand the information needs and distinctive decision-making styles of these partners

Be a Visible Stakeholder
• Learn key heartburn issues for short, mid and long term. Link their critical needs to your work and update as needed
• Use direct, discussion-based, personal communication whenever possible
• Earn a seat at the “science lab” by providing support that’s insightful and actionable

For more of our recent research on Thought Leader Management, Click here. 

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