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KOL Management in Pharma and Life Sciences
The next wave of CRM applications.
Posted Nov 1, 2006
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As pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies search for the most effective, efficient ways to manage collaboration with the physicians who conduct research, write articles, or speak on their behalf, relationship management of the interaction with these elite physicians, or key opinion leaders (KOLs), has ultimately emerged as an individual business discipline. Similar to CRM, KOL management is an essential component for marketers and medical staff throughout the life-cycle process of a specific drug or product.

By sustaining a business process that creates and maintains meaningful and collaborative relationships between KOLs and business functions from marketing to medical affairs, pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies can experience increased share of voice and accelerated adoptions at the global, national, and regional levels. A CEO of a major pharmaceuticals company recently told a group of analysts that effectively managing KOL relationships was essential to companies' future products and market expansion.

Essence of KOLs
As physicians strive to choose from a myriad of drug options for their patients, they often turn to fellow key opinion leading physicians for knowledge and advice on specific drugs. Key opinion leaders possess a unique credibility, as their validity often stems from years of industry experience and medical affiliations. As a result, pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies have begun relying heavily on key opinion leaders to help establish the knowledge base about their drugs and expand their markets throughout all stages of life-cycle management.

Like customers, KOLs are an extremely valuable and necessary component of any company's success. As such, KOL relationship management and customer relationship management possess similar business philosophies in which both the customers and KOLs play a central and critical role within all business activities. Both KOL management and CRM enable organizations to better manage those important and often complex relationships through systems, processes, and procedures. Essentially, the goal of both customer and KOL management systems is to create and maintain lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.

How KOL Management Works
As a result of the large number of potential KOLs with whom a life-sciences organization works, enterprisewide adoption of key relationship management is an essential part of any KOL and collaboration planning program. Without KOL management, different departments within an organization may unknowingly approach the same physician. Sales and marketing teams, clinical research and contract research organizations, and medical education and clinical affairs groups have contact with KOLs on a regular basis but generally lack a reliable way of tracking these KOL relationships. The repercussions of mismanaged relationships can cost a pharmaceutical or life-sciences company millions in wasted marketing dollars or create significant compliance problems.

Although specific KOL management criteria vary depending on company size, type of therapy, and adoption within the market, they generally involves the same critical elements. To engage the KOL most efficiently, companies must develop a systematic approach to KOL identification and profiling, as it is important to understand the capabilities and development objectives of each individual KOL and just who the KOL is. Also, because KOL management has emerged as a business function, the underlying process needs to be considered and documented with the same or greater level of rigor as in a traditional customer relationship management process. In addition, any KOL management program must harbor a commitment to adjusting events, plans, and objectives as the market changes. Most importantly, it is critical for a pharmaceutical or life-sciences company to foster a culture of transparent engagement and collaboration with the KOL.

KOL Management Driving Customization/Personalization
The emergence of KOL management within pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies has undoubtedly pushed CRM technology toward an increasing trend in customization and personalization. In order to successfully manage and streamline complex key relationships, pharmaceutical and life sciences companies require a flexible and customized program that fits the unique needs of each key opinion leader and the complex aspects of a key relationship which extend far beyond a traditional customer supplier relationship. The shift toward customization and personalization within KOL management is causing companies to reevaluate the programs in place for CRM as well.

Customers, similarly to KOLs, also have unique needs and complex relationships within different functions of the organization. To successfully enhance customer relationships and service, pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies first need to identify the way in which each customer defines quality and success and then design a CRM strategy based upon individual requirements and expectations. Within the overall CRM strategy there should exist a generous element of configurability that allows for modification according to customer needs that inevitably alter as a product or drug progresses through its life cycle. Personalized CRM programs play a major role in determining the success of the customer relationship, ultimately working to maximize the potential of the relationships.

KOL Management as an ROI Tool
In recent months, pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies have been facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny regarding the achieved results of their comprehensive KOL management programs. The results of these programs, however, are often intangible and difficult to measure particularly since one outcome of an effective program and the transparency it supports is maintaining compliance with new state and federal guidelines. As such, companies have recently begun adopting strategic KOL solutions that allow for goal-oriented information capture and communication, including both the timely reporting of key metrics and alignment with necessary PhRMA and AdvaMed industry compliance codes and regulations.

Understanding each physician network, its influences, locations, and the way information is disseminated, is essential to maximizing the effectiveness of KOL program dollars in attaining educational goals or patient outcomes. With processes, plans, and technologies in place, it is possible to review the impact of a KOL program within highly regulated industries. Throughout the pharmaceutical and life-sciences industries, senior marketers undoubtedly agree that successful KOL management solutions should map back to marketing, business, and compliance goals with adjustments as KOL relationships are developed and executed.

The Future of KOL Management: Key Relationship Management
The impact of KOL on product or drug adoption is undeniable. As such, the mutually beneficial, collaborative relationship between a pharmaceutical or life-sciences company and its KOLs is invaluable but critical to manage properly to maintain company and physician independence at every point. As pharmaceutical and life-sciences companies continue to realize the tremendous positive impact that KOLs have on their business, KOL management will continue to evolve and develop as a business discipline with lessons that could translate to key relationships in other industries.


Jim Zuffoletti is the cofounder and president and Otavio Freire is cofounder and executive vice president of technology of openQ. Please visit www.openq.com.

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