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January 19, 2021

Tips for strengthening KOL engagement in pharma

How to improve KOL engagement by deepening partnerships in a hybrid environment.
strengthening KOL engagement
Article updated May 2023.

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) have the ability to help shape your product and help it reach its target market. And while the importance of leveraging KOLs in the healthcare industry isn’t new, accessing and engaging with these experts has become more complex. Industry regulations and compliance guidelines create obstacles, information channels continue to proliferate, and most physicians and researchers are busier than ever. How can teams improve pharma KOL engagement?

Meeting with key opinion leaders in person has always been the best way to engage and form new relationships. However, the paradigm shift to hybrid and virtual work allows access to a different group of experts within the medical community. With this approach, pharmaceutical teams can expand their network of experts to include healthcare professionals and opinion leaders worldwide.

Within3 accelerates time to milestone achievement across the pharma commercialization lifecycle, giving KOLs what they need in a format and schedule that works for them worldwide. Ready to get more from your KOL engagement?

With a new focus on effective virtual engagement, KOL mapping can be even more accessible, allowing pharmaceutical teams to get even more granular in matching experts with important topics. Whether your team performs KOL management tasks in-house, works with outside experts, or wants to understand more about better engagement with key opinion leaders, there are always ways to strengthen relationships with your network of experts through advanced yet personalized KOL management.

What is KOL engagement?

KOL engagement involves forming relationships with expert clinicians and healthcare professionals in your target market or amongst your key stakeholders to gain their input and other valuable insights that may help strengthen your company’s position or competitive edge for your product or service. Engaging with a key opinion leader is like forming a relationship with a trusted advisor or mentor in a mutually beneficial relationship.

Forming intentional and strategic engagement and communication plans will be a key first step in this process. Start by identifying a wide range of potential contacts and develop an objective-driven approach to build your medical affairs KOL engagement team.

To be effective and respectful of their time, understanding your goals before conducting KOL outreach is paramount. Make this a collaborative process by prioritizing organizational needs, getting a sense of what they need or want from this relationship, and creating opportunities to achieve them.

What is a KOL engagement plan?

Your engagement plan is a documented strategy of identifying, mapping and engaging experts in a way that supports your goals. It might include things like a yearly engagement calendar, logistics for in-person and virtual engagements, and other KOL engagement activities that strengthen the relationship between your team and these key experts.

Why is KOL engagement important?

Leveraging an expert thought leader in your target market can help strengthen your company’s position in the eyes of your stakeholders. These figures are often experts in their fields and, therefore, credible sources their peers look to for guidance or advice when making decisions. Leveraging a KOL relationship can help build credibility for your brand or product and help with broad adoption in the marketplace.

Gaining a competitive edge

These respected experts can offer their expertise and input on product life cycles to help shape critical aspects of your business at every level, from product development to research and development and through commercialization. Strong relationships with these experts allow you to gain insights into clinician priorities and offer the best ways to influence and reach your audiences. Key experts can help with critical business aspects and guide an effective marketing strategy by providing feedback on how your messaging and product will resonate with key audiences. You can further leverage their expertise to:

  • Design effective clinical trials to reach desired endpoints
  • Shape a strong commercialization strategy
  • Create greater treatment access for patient populations
  • Help break into new markets

What are the different factors that impact pharma KOL engagement strategy?

With the expansion of communication channels and more pharma products than ever before, the market is highly saturated. It is important to know what experts are looking for, assess what your organization offers that others do not, and bring that to the table. Effective KOL development strategies are a good opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition. If you continually offer convenient and productive engagements and allow experts to contribute thoughtfully to a scientific narrative, you’ll have less difficulty engaging them in the future.

Related: For better ad board participation, offer KOLs the flexibility they need

KOLs value engagement online because it’s more convenient and conducive to providing deeper insights. How do we know? We asked them. Read more here.

Creating a value-based partnership

Key external experts in the pharmaceutical industry are driven by growth and medical advancements. The chance to contribute to these advances is an exciting possibility. Forming partnerships with pharma companies provides an opportunity for KOLs to be at the forefront of a new product or breakthrough and a chance to establish themselves as leaders in the space.

Physicians are interested in finding ways to achieve the next level of their career, so providing training, education, or resume-building prospects are great incentives to bring to the partnership. The possibility of adding exciting research to their portfolio, accessing the latest information, and gaining peer recognition are key motivators for a stakeholder in the pharmaceutical space.

Though experts may be moved to promote science and data or raise the profile of their profession, they have deep knowledge of their subject therapeutic area and understand the impact of sharing that knowledge from years of clinical research and working with patients to help life science teams flourish. These professionals have a degree of authenticity that lends authority and trustworthiness to the information they share.

Leading pharma organizations have much to offer, whether access to innovative and cutting-edge technology in the labs or the opportunity to bring an expert in to develop a new therapy. Any of these benefits appeal to an expert thought leader and may encourage them to partner with your organization.

Creating a lasting and meaningful partnership mutually beneficial to both parties is key to gaining strong pharma KOL engagement and feedback.

How can KOL engagement be improved?

Acknowledging experts’ commitment and embracing their feedback as part of your KOL strategic planning is important. Transparency is a key aspect of this partnership. Build trust by providing all of the information they need upfront, including your product’s side effects or potential downsides. Meeting them early and consistently can help your organization understand their reservations about your brand or product.

Answer their questions, help them get what they are looking for so they can confidently back your mission, and help build a marketing and engagement strategy. KOL relationship management does not only pertain to those who think positively of your product and organization – but it’s also important to be aware of those who have neutral or negative opinions and attempt to form relationships and channels of communication with these leaders.

In the pharma community, adding value for the patient should be a strong focus. Providing a chance to review unpublished research or informing their community on how a new treatment fulfills a patient’s unmet need can be appealing to any KOL in clinical research, protocol development, medical affairs, or other roles. Including interesting opportunities within and outside the pharmaceutical industry in your engagement plans – such as management and educational opportunities – and ways to collaborate and expand your experts’ networks are great ways to add value to your partnership.

Taking your KOL engagement virtual

Using a virtual platform encourages each participant’s active involvement. At Within3, we’ve learned that helping pharmaceutical teams leverage virtual capabilities allows for a wider group of voices to be heard, leading to more insightful conversations, feedback, and, ultimately, more valuable actionable information.

Taking these relationships virtual means you can hear from leaders all around the globe, gaining a more comprehensive outlook on the subject matter. Meeting in person will always be a great way to build relationships, but a hybrid approach provides the most flexibility for strong and productive relationships.

Read more about KOL engagement trends on our blog.

LinkedIn. 8 steps to successful KOL engagement.
Reuters Events Pharma. A 6-step guide to KOL engagement.
Medical Affairs Specialist. The rules of engagement with key opinion leaders.

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