KOL engagement in 2022 – A reality check

KOL Engagement in 2022 – A Reality Check

When key opinion leader (KOL) outreach activities moved online early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many saw the shift as temporary, assuming we would return to business as usual within a year.

Two years later, virtual interactions are the new normal between KOLs and pharmaceutical teams, and at least for the time being, the in-person ways that pharma once engaged KOLs don’t apply. Now is the time to take a realistic look at a system profoundly altered by the pandemic and determine how to optimize outreach in that context.

The preference for virtual interactions between pharma and expert counsel is unlikely to budge anytime soon, not only due to safety guidelines, but also the time-saving convenience of virtual meetings, which allow for more flexibility and eliminate expenses and time lost to travel.

Dressing Up Virtual Communications
KOLs will always be an essential resource to pharma for research, product development, and product support, but building strong relationships through online interaction is more difficult than in-person. Emails, Slack messages, and virtual meetings don’t have the vitality of face-to-face conversations.

One way to enliven virtual interactions is to communicate your message in narrative form. Rather than inundate KOLs with data and technical jargon, tell the story of your company’s projects and products with relatable emotion. This is meant to be a mutually beneficial partnership, so create a welcoming space that your contacts will want to engage with.

You can also enliven virtual meetings through a wide range of technological features. Consider integrating infographics, podcasts, video abstracts, polling tools, microsites, and social media into outreach. There are many ways to strengthen engagement that your employees may already have the skills to implement.

Creating a focused and streamlined plan is important with any KOL outreach, but particularly within 2022’s rapidly advancing oncology market. This exponential growth is primarily driven by 2 factors.

First is the large number of older adults in the population. Estimates predict approximately 70% of cancers will be in adults 65 and older by the year 2030. Second, immunology, combination therapies, and the success of increasingly personalized treatment plans have opened up exciting new avenues in the pharmaceutical industry. The global oncology pharmaceutical market is expected to increase from over $177 billion in 2021 to $313.7 billion by 2026.

In this time of overwhelming growth, relationships with scientific experts are becoming increasingly important but also more challenging. Today’s oncology leaders tend to be quite specialized, requiring pharma teams to carefully target the KOLs who can help products succeed.

Complex and time-consuming analysis and mapping of customer data are needed to identify ideal KOLs and plan an effective outreach approach, so partnering with the right agency is crucial to ensure the process is cost-effective. Even successful in-house information mapping can lead to more than 1 pharma team unknowingly targeting the same expert, which does not make the best impression. Contracting with an outside agency that has a large enough platform to keep a company’s micro and macro concerns in the picture simultaneously can avoid such mistakes.

Just as medical research is becoming increasingly global, so must pharma companies expand their business intelligence for more organization-wide KOL identification and engagement. A partnership with the right specialized agency gives companies the power of centralized data platforms that consolidate experts and activities into a single source, significantly reducing waste and inefficiency and allowing KOL outreach to be coordinated so that experts are strategically utilized for the projects that need their guidance most.

Communicating Quality
At a time when healthcare providers have shifted to patient-centered care that emphasizes value over volume, it is crucial for pharma to always transmit a message of quality.

KOL engagement in 2022 needs to clearly communicate how product and brand quality connects to the needs of your targeted KOL. The sincerity of your company narrative and your passion for the endeavor or product at hand must be felt. Your technology must function well as you communicate an engaging message that consistently supports a depiction of mutual benefit. All these factors combined are what will cause a thought leader to feel confident enough in your future to want to take part in it.

As you prepare your outreach strategy, consider what issues your KOL may be facing and develop solutions that you have the resources to implement. Assess their priorities and goals and demonstrate how their objectives align with your own. Ideally, you should already be targeting KOLs on the basis of how their goals dovetail with yours. One perfect-fit KOL is better than 10 connections that don’t quite hit the mark. Create opportunities for collaborations such as advisory board positions, sponsorships, and publishing opportunities. Consider how you can create partnerships between various KOLs you are working with.

Most importantly, to sustain a lasting, value-rich relationship, encourage open and honest communication with your KOLs. Welcome all kinds of feedback and consider it thoughtfully. After all, you have connected with your KOLs for their insights.

Be Gracious
In 2022 more than ever, professional courtesy is crucial. The pandemic has stretched most people in the healthcare industry to their limits. With ICUs filled with COVID patients, surgeons have had to cancel procedures that suffering patients need for mobility issues or chronic pain. Doctors at already-understaffed hospitals are traumatized by devastating working conditions and the grief and stress brought on by having to turn away or neglect patients in need. Under conditions like this, the kind of thoughtlessness someone might have overlooked a few years ago could ruin a relationship today.

Most KOLs consider time management the greatest benefit of virtual engagement, but they can only enjoy that benefit if you meet their expectations. Representatives need to log in for meetings at the agreed-upon time, fully prepared to proceed. Be thorough but wrap up meetings promptly. Extending conversation past the set endpoint disrespects your contact’s time. Be personable without being overly personal. It is best to allow your KOLs to set the tone and pace for the social side of your interactions and follow their lead when it comes to professional boundaries.

Agency Partners
KOL engagement in the current climate has a unique set of challenges. Partnering with a trusted organization that provides immediate virtual access to KOLs can give your company a considerable advantage. Aptitude Health’s digital platforms encourage collaboration, creating connections between clinical experts, life science companies, and community-based physicians with a robust virtual platform that makes communicating simple. Our hematology-oncology specialists will provide you with expert advice and feedback. Learn more about our services today.