KOL Management Will Remain the Only Differentiator

The life of a pharmaceutical sales representative (SR) is not an easy one. An SR has to keep track of various Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), follow them around, regularly update them and most importantly, needs to meet drug sales target for the month consistently to survive in this field. However, what is most harrowing is that many sales reps, despite their best efforts, fail to meet their sales targets. Despite hounding the best KOLs around, encouraging drug sales figures evade them. There is only one explanation that can satisfy this unbalanced equation - they are not implementing vital steps required in the process of effective KOL management.

KOL management has been around for more than a decade now, but it is only recently that pharma companies are waking up to the need for it. There are a few basic and important steps that need to be followed when a person wishes to properly execute KOL management and extract the maximum benefits from it.

Why need KOL Management?
It’s a little known fact that the process of introduction of a new drug in the market is a lengthy, complicated and tedious one. As of today, less than 1 in 10 drugs that are tested in clinical human trials actually succeed in satisfying the stringent rules and regulations of drug authorities. Furthermore, according to Forbes, this process usually takes an average time of a couple of years and an average cost that can range from USD 4 billion to USD 11 billion. So, a pharma company incurring costs of this staggering amount to develop one new drug, will surely look to recover its costs in the form of sales. The sensible method to generate ROI (return on investment) would be to approach KOLs. The reason being rather than ridiculously overpricing new drugs and hoping that a handful of sales to gullible patients will help a company recover its costs, it makes more sense to instead modestly price the drug and then introduce it to a group of influential KOLs, so as to ensure that its sales reach a figure where the drug brings profits or at least manages to break even initially for the pharma company.

Need for KOLs challenged by few
KOL management has attracted a lot of unnecessary negative publicity recently owing to the smarmy and skewed views that have been scathingly presented by a few medical researchers, who claim that doctors and physicians are to be blamed for mindlessly plugging unnecessarily expensive drugs to their patients in return for ‘gifts and favours’ from pharma companies. While there is no denying that just as in any other field, there may be a handful of people involved in unscrupulous activities, till these accusations are proven; one cannot point a finger at pharma companies nor physicians. In fact, many well meaning physicians work hard to ensure that they educate their colleagues and patients about new drugs with fewer side effects that hit the market on a regular basis.

As mentioned above, without KOL management, the introduction of new drugs in the market will cease as pharma companies will simply be unable to afford the entire process of research and marketing for new drugs. It can therefore be said without a shade of doubt, that to properly introduce and ensure sales of a new and beneficial drugs in the market, pharma companies are left with no choice but to turn their attention to KOLs. Especially those whom are well informed, influential and have a trusting, undeterred patient flow.

KOL Management System
As pharma companies are slowly waking up to the need for KOL management, they need to figure out a way to ensure their entire process of KOL management is a smooth running venture. This can be effectively achieved with a successful CRM implementation. CRM software does not only help to channelize and effectively help in KOL management, but will also address many issues where KOL management fails, these include:
  1. Addressing the right KOL: Sales reps, despite being well informed regarding the composition, indications, contraindications and effects of a drug, often tend to indiscriminately approach clinicians with it. This leads to not only wastage of time but also irks many physicians who do not have the time nor bother to hear a new sales rep desperately trying to plug a drug. Thus, the first and most important step in KOL management is to address the right KOL. Drugs that are meant for patients suffering from kidney diseases should be shown by and addressed to nephrologists and general physicians only. A CRM database helps to enlist physicians according to their degrees, location, patient statistics, etc. Thus, having a comprehensive database regarding KOLs is the first step to a successful KOL management strategy. 
  2. Checking for Trends: Many a times, pharma companies do not tend to follow trends and enlist them in their software. Every drug has a certain ‘peak’ period which is an excellent time to address KOLs with it. For example, as the flu is more commonly seen in winter, pharma reps should make a listing wherein their priority is to plug flu related drugs at this time. If a certain strain of a bacteria or virus becomes endemic in a certain region, pharma companies should spring into action and address KOLs residing in that region to prescribe drugs that could help cure or act as prophylactic measures for this disease. Thus, having a CRM system in which trends and environmental factors influencing drug sales can be fed, helps to ensure more sales at the right time. 
  3. Feedback and Reports: Even a seasoned KOL is often apprehensive about prescribing a new drug that has hit the market, because if the drug fails or proves to cause more harm than good, his reputation goes for a toss. Thus, when approaching KOLs with a new drug, pharma companies need to be sure to keep a handy feedback system that tracks the reaction of each KOL. This will help decide if the drug is reaching its target group of patients or not and whether it is benefiting the general public or not. Feedback helps to gain an insight into the KOL and patient’s responses to drugs, which comes handy when drawing a yearly report on which drugs to continue marketing and manufacturing and which to pull out of the market. 
A survey was done in 2004, wherein, fifteen of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world were quizzed and they admitted that this is an industry that regularly spends a little less than one-third of its total marketing expenditures on KOLs alone. The magnanimity of this statement should make pharma companies wake up and realize that KOL management is the key to the future of pharma companies. With an effective CRM solutions in place, it will be easier to execute, strategise and ensure a high success rate for the entire process of KOL management, which will only translate into more profits for pharma companies and for the public in general.