Comment

Nov 15, 2022

How to improve your KOL Engagement #3 Which key opinion leaders (KOLs) should we work with?

I was talking to an old client yesterday about how we can help him in his latest role (working for a start-up) and he said something that has prompted this post: “We don’t have the resources that our competitors do and so we cannot afford not to pay for your insight. We cannot afford to waste our engagement opportunities on people who are not the best people for us to be engaging with.”

And this made me think about how we decide which key opinion leaders we work with and the importance of that decision. The decision is important because we need KOLs’ expertise to carry out clinical trials, to interpret product data, and to help shape the story of when to use the product; we also need the KOLs’ to help spread this story of a product’s place, to ensure that it is prescribed when appropriate. Often when it comes to working with KOLs we will work with those we, or members of our team, know. Or we will attend conferences and talk to the speakers and meet KOLs that way. This has two advantages as a way of identifying who we should work with; it is cheap (at least initially), and it is quick. When it comes to working with KOLs we already know, it also has the advantage that there is a relationship already established. But if this is the case, why did our old client say that he couldn’t afford not to commission a formal identification?

There are several important advantages to a formal identification. A systematic approach is more objective. We tend to over-estimate the importance of the people we like and underestimate those we’re not so friendly with. A formal identification also allows you to cast a wider net. As one of our clients said recently, “we’re doing this KOL mapping because we know who we know. We don’t know whether they are the people we should be engaging with, and we don’t know who we’re missing”. A formal identification helps to ensure that the advice and insight we receive into a therapy area is representative; if we only engage with people we know, there is a danger that these people are all similar and have similar views which are not representative of the overall area. A formal identification reveals not just who is influential, but who influences who, which allows a more targeted approach to engagement. Finally, a formal identification can reveal not just who is influential, but how you should work with each KOL given their particular interests and expertise, and your context. The formal identification therefore ensures that you can achieve much more with your KOL engagement, improving the advice you receive and your ability to deliver the right message to the right people.

So how do you choose a vendor for a formal identification listing? I believe you need to ask yourself the following questions: are they delivering insight into my specific context, or are they delivering data and asking me to parse it myself? Is what they are delivering bespoke to me, and to what extent? Will it be clear who the most influential people are? Will there be a scientific history for each KOL? Will I know who influences who? Will it be clear how I should engage with each KOL? What sort of support is there to use the listing to transform my engagement? What is the up-front cost? And what is the recurring cost for this service?

Joe Kendle