Key Contacts: Sharing Responsibility for Your KOLs

One of the key elements for a successful key opinion leader (KOL) management program is having an individual team member who is ultimately responsible for the strategic oversight and coordination of KOL engagement for a product or overarching therapeutic platform. It is also important that every top priority KOL (the top 20-30) have a KOL key contact identified on the product team—someone the KOL can contact and can be confident that a response will be received (regardless of the request or situation).

In some cases, companies believe all KOLs should have the same key point person: the KOL strategy lead. However, I would recommend that KOL managers instead help to match and assign KOL key contacts across their teammates and team functions and share this responsibility with their team.

Why is there value in this distributed KOL key contact approach?

  1. It creates a greater sense of buy-in for KOL engagement from the internal team. If KOL engagement is solely on the shoulders of one individual, typically that one individual will be working the hardest to ensure it is successful. By dividing and sharing the responsibility for these KOL relationships with your colleagues, you can ensure more people are equally committed to KOL engagement success and will advocate internally for their KOLs’ interests and requests.
  2. You can match the backgrounds and interests of your staff and your KOLs. Like an individual KOL, a KOL strategy manager has a limited set of skills, knowledge, and interests. By matching the KOLs with internal team members who have similar skills, knowledge, or interests (or with staff that may be working with the KOL most frequently), you have a greater likelihood of successful rapport-building, genuine connections, and collaborative partnerships.
  3. You can divide and share the workload. Imagine if you had 30 individuals who were contacting you whenever they had a question or request; each day might be spent following up on someone’s requests (in addition to your other responsibilities). However, if you divide these 30 external experts across 8-10 cross-functional colleagues, each might have three to four KOLs who they might interact with semi-regularly, which is definitely more manageable.
  4. If there are staffing changes, all connected KOLs are impacted. Every couple of years, staffing within a team (including those responsible for KOL engagement) typically changes. If all KOLs are assigned to a single individual, this means transitions of 20-30 KOLs to another single individual – losing all of the rapport, insights, and experience with that KOL. If an individual leaves a team and only has three to four KOLs assigned, this only requires three to four introductions and transition meetings with those KOLs and makes for an easier transition process.

At the end of the day, each team must do what is right for their product, their business needs, their team, and their KOLs. There are greater successes possible when more team members are involved and collaborating with the team’s priority KOLs, rather than relying on one individual staff member to own all of these relationships. This doesn’t mean that the KOL strategy lead isn’t aware of the different KOL interactions—this is part of KOL engagement oversight and reiterates the importance of interteam communications. This simply means that additional team members are actively engaged with your top KOLs, and these experts have someone they know and trust to contact with their questions or requests.