How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed KOL Engagement for Pharma Companies

During the early months of the pandemic, convention halls were shuttered. Conferences were canceled as outreach activities rapidly shifted online. Many of us hoped these changes would prove temporary. But 1 year later, it is clear that the pandemic has permanently altered key opinion leader (KOL) outreach. Some companies are still scrambling to catch up.

KOLs remain a valuable resource for clinical and medical insights for pharma companies. It’s time to consider long-term shifts that will enhance your outreach strategy. Virtual communications are here to stay. The right approach can ensure a successful partnership with KOLs through virtual platforms. Read on to learn more.

The Trend Toward Virtual Communications
COVID-19 accelerated existing trends toward virtual meetings and gatherings. As of late 2019, the shift was already underway. Many KOLs withdrew from in-person communications and had begun to rely on virtual engagement. Virtual meetings provided greater control over busy schedules. KOLs also discovered they could be more selective about partnership opportunities. Online communications provided more-diverse offerings and streamlined workflow. Many KOLs had already embraced virtual meetings by the start of the pandemic.

Busy KOLs knew that in-person meetings and travel aren’t always efficient. Some individuals were reluctant to transition their work online. But many quickly discovered the benefits of virtual platforms. A rising number of professionals now report no interest in resuming their pre-pandemic routines. The shift toward virtual communications is likely to be permanent. Some face-to-face meetings may resume. But as we look ahead to 2022, companies should expect to continue virtual outreach.

KOLs Remain a Vital Resource
For pharma companies, KOL engagement remains a high priority. KOLs provide essential guidance on research and marketing endeavors. Strong relationships with KOLs can provide support throughout a product’s life cycle.

The pandemic has touched every industry, and pharma is no exception. Companies urgently need guidance and input from KOLs. These individuals’ on-the-ground insights are tremendously valuable during times of sociocultural change. Investing in KOL outreach now can position your company for success in the coming decades.

If you feel that virtual meetings are a poor substitute for face-to-face contact, you’re not alone. But the right strategy can boost the effectiveness of your virtual outreach efforts.

Tips for Virtual Engagement With KOLs
Integrate Digital Features
Virtual meetings and emails sometimes feel flat. But digital features liven up virtual communication. These tools provide useful information for KOLs.

Consider what features might already be at your fingertips. Your company might have invested in video abstracts, podcasts, infographics, microsites, or polling tools. Deploy these features during KOL outreach to boost engagement.

Be Prompt
KOLs often consider time-management a key benefit of virtual contacts. Busy professionals enjoy skipping traffic, long flights, and lengthy presentations. As they shift toward virtual engagement, they expect your company to fit into their timetable.

Ensure that your representatives show up on time with the relevant materials. End the meeting at the agreed-upon hour. It can be tempting to stretch out virtual meetings. But keep in mind that KOLs are busy. They respect partners who respect their time.

Continue to Use Video Calls
Many companies have grown weary of virtual meetings. However, video chats remain the best way to build lasting relationships with KOLs. They are not a perfect substitute for in-person meetings. But they offer greater warmth and more opportunities for personal connection. Virtual meetings can also serve as private chats or panel discussions. Your company can leverage video calls to build relationships between contacts.

Tell a Story
If your virtual meetings are an endless string of numbers and jargon, it may feel cold. When reaching out to KOLs, soften your message through the use of narratives. Explore the story of your company’s products or research endeavors. Communicate your goals with passion and empathy, and KOLs will respond in kind.

Developing a KOL Engagement Plan
KOL engagement doesn’t happen by accident. Companies need a game plan for accessing KOLs and building lasting relationships.

When creating your strategy, consider the following
Anticipate KOL needs. Find out what problems your KOLs are grappling with. Then position yourself as a resource that offers valuable solutions
Use an objective-driven approach. Keep your priorities at the forefront of your mind. Find out your KOL’s priorities too. Look for KOLs whose objectives dovetail with your own and nurture these contacts. Rather than connecting with dozens of KOLs, look for a few “perfect fits”
Create collaboration opportunities. KOLs are always on the lookout for sponsorships, advisory board positions, and publishing opportunities. Find areas for collaboration. Look for ways to support partnerships between various contacts
Embrace feedback. Your KOLs will have a great deal of feedback to share. Encourage open, honest dialogue about your company’s products and services. Take a close look at any critical feedback

Aptitude Health
Building relationships with KOLs can be a challenge. But trusted partner organizations provide immediate virtual access to KOLs. Aptitude Health’s digital platforms improve communication and encourage collaboration. We create connections between life science companies, clinical experts, and community-based physicians. Our hematology-oncology specialists provide your company with expert advice and feedback. Meanwhile, our robust virtual platform makes communication easy. Learn more about our services.