The 'secret formula' for working with KOL's

Written on Wednesday 23rd March 2016

Scrutiny of Pharma’s interactions with key opinion leaders (KOLs) is intensifying, with regulators and lobbyists demanding greater transparency as to who gains what from these relationships. However, as proven by Menzel and Katz many years ago, we know that KOLs can exert great influence over other physicians when it comes to adopting a new therapy. Therefore, in this new world how do we work with these important customers without breaking the burgeoning and constantly evolving rules?

Firstly, let’s define what a KOL is because it is only when one considers this that an insight into their motivations and areas of mutual benefit become apparent. The Succinct definition is:

“A KOL is a customer who influences and shapes how other customers look at the therapy area and products within it. They do not promote one product over another and always provide scientifically balanced comments. It is these customers who should be the candidates for your KOL plan”

Therefore, to work with KOLs one needs to balance their sensitivities and interests, with internal and external compliance regulations, while still gaining some sort of benefit for the product — a tough ask! Fortunately, Dr Paul Marsden, a Research Psychologist, and Justin Kirby, a Digital Strategist, have provided us with a ‘secret formula’ to guide us through this balancing act:

The Inside Scoop: First and foremost KOLs are scientists and they want and like to be exposed to stimulating new ideas. They may not always agree with the direction the science is taking, but it is the very act of discussing the differences that is intriguing for them. They are well used to hypothesis building and the uncertainty of scientific development. Participation in the development process makes them feel like ‘insiders’ engendering a spirit of ownership in them.

A Sneak Peek: Giving the KOL hands on experience with a novel product gives them a reason for the word of mouth transmission that is required to create the product’s position, and affirms the KOL as a leader. As well as using the product there is a need for the science surrounding the product to contain something controversial, i.e. something different from the status quo. It is this element of surprise that creates an interest and willingness to pass information on to colleagues.

VIP Vote: Giving advice and participating in advisory boards, steering committees and clinical trials creates a sense of ownership, loyalty and goodwill that triggers adoption and recommendation. However, this is an iterative process and if Pharma chooses a different route to that recommended by the KOL this must be openly addressed with them.

A future of transparency, public scrutiny and regulation is putting pressure on the Pharma/KOL relationship. However, in this changing environment there are a few pointers that may help you navigate these troubled waters.

Change is an opportunity

Move away from the advocate-led key message broadcasting approach, to a more considered, long-term science-led KOL plan that puts the KOLs at the core of the strategy and not a tactic to be ‘managed’ on an ad hoc basis

Help KOLs be leaders

Opinion leaders are looking for something remarkable so they can talk about it and to be seen to be leads. Our role is to give them a cause and give them the support and data to make change happen

KOL strategy

This requires clear thinking as to how you wish to develop and shape the disease area as well as your brand. Importantly, it is in developing and communicating the science behind these strategies where KOLs can be appropriately engaged

Considerations for your organisation

Identify where and how the changes can trigger ideas about how your organisation can work in a transparent, mutually beneficial manner with the right KOLs. More than ever, a detailed and strategic KOL plan is crucial for the long-term success of your product

To discuss how Succinct can make the ‘secret formula’ work for you, please email Rob Barker.