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Sustaining relationships

Do you really understand the KOLs you work with?
sustaining relationships

You don't need to be told about the importance of working with KOLs or external medical experts, nor that you are in competition for their time and attention. But how well do you know what motivates an opinion leader to work with you and your company rather than with a competitor? Understanding them as a group and as individuals is vital to ensuring a long and fruitful working relationship.

Recently we asked a number of clients and external medical experts we have worked with to provide comments about us for our new website. One of those we received was this below from Dr John Haughney, senior lecturer, past president of the International Primary Care Respiratory Group, and a man well-known not to suffer fools gladly.

He said: “It can take years to build relationships. KOLs appreciate Kendle Healthcare's thoughtful, personal and consistent approach. In addition, they're fun to work with! I presume that's why they're still around at the top of the game.”

I was happy to include his quote here, of course, because it says nice things about us, but also I thought it was important because it says a lot about the nature of the relationship between KOLs and industry.

KOLS want clear and demonstrable ethical standards from a company

It stresses that it takes time to build good working relationships, relationships built on trust. This process can't be short-circuited but you can get off to a good start by showing that you're one of the 'good guys' who understands the nature of the relationship and that you're not looking at it just from your own point of view.

It might surprise you what external experts want from pharma relationships

John clearly values a 'thoughtful' approach. This isn't just a normal transaction - the expert giving a talk at a meeting you've organised or coming to your advisory board and in return you pay him a fee. It is easy for a busy executive to get so focused on his own needs that he forgets to ask himself what the KOL wants out of the relationship but it is essential that you should think about that.

A few years back my company conducted some research among international KOLs about what was important to them in working with pharma. Apart from the concrete benefits such as the opportunity to work on clinical trials and educational activities much of their wish lists involved concepts such as 'openness and honesty' and 'clarity and transparency' - knowing what the company expects from them and in turn what they could expect. They wanted clear and demonstrable ethical standards from the company. They wanted to be involved in a genuine partnership and to be listened to but at the same time for pharma to recognise their need to remain independent.

Every KOL has different interests and wants to be engaged in a different way

It's one thing to understand KOLs as a group but it is also essential to know them individually. This means understanding what their research interests are; which other opinion leaders they most frequently collaborate with; what marketing and communications activities they're happy to be involved in and good at - are they good writers and speakers; are they good on commercial advisory boards or do they struggle to think in those terms? You should also ask what do and don't they like - are they passionate about educating HCPs or patients, willing to get involved with the media or go on speaker tours? The best way to find out what opinion leaders want is simply to ask them, and they will be pleased that you have. John also mentioned that he appreciates the people he collaborates with being fun to work with. Unfortunately concepts such as enjoyment, fun, humour even, are being eliminated from our industry but it is important for all of us to enjoy our work and these concepts are not incompatible with being professional and serious about what we do.

How can you ensure more effective KOL engagement?

Many pharma companies are really good at working with KOLs. However, you won't be surprised to hear me say that partnering with an agency such as ours - through strategic and tactical programme planning, identification and profiling, to engagement and even to training KOL-facing staff - can create tangible benefits by helping you develop strong, lasting relationships with opinion leaders.

Whether you do it on your own, or with the help of an agency, a partnership approach based on mutual respect and understanding, and mutually beneficial relationships can transform your involvement with KOLs.

Article by
Neil Kendle

managing director of Kendle Healthcare.
Contact him via email or visit

21st January 2015

From: Marketing



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