This article is aimed to discuss some methods of developing and cultivating effective relationships with your commercial partners. I’ll go through a few major topics and provide personal examples of my approach. I’ll mention the disclaimer that regulations are not the same at all companies, and company-specific guidelines should be used to assist these topics.
I wanted to tackle this topic first because it is single-handedly the biggest pain point in the medical-commercial partnership. There’s no easy way around it. It exists, and we have to figure out the best way to work together compliantly. Truth be told, compliance is an ongoing conversation that should take place between the medical science liaison (MSL) and commercial representative. Every person is different based on how ‘black and white’ they see the guidelines, and situations are not always so clear-cut.
Any time a situation blurs the lines of compliant collaboration is the perfect opportunity to have a discussion with your representative. Examples may look something like, ‘In the future, if this happens again, how would you like to have this conversation?’ Or, ‘Here are my expectations for how and what we can communicate. How does that align with yours?’ These are completely appropriate questions to ask and will only help build trust between the rep and MSL. The goal is to communicate and set expectations to allow for mutually, beneficial relationships.
A piece of advice that I tell my representatives is anything that you are unsure of or is borderline compliant, make a phone call. Absolutely nothing in writing. No forwarding of emails. No texts or voicemails with specific information. Just a simple, ‘Hey, I’d like to chat when you get a moment, call me’. That phone conversation can prevent any potential non-compliance before it happens and give the opportunity to have a discussion on expectations.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s bridge to a topic frequently mentioned already, communication. If I can think of one word to best describe communication in the MSL commercial partnership, it’s ‘open’. I strive to have every single rep feel comfortable and confident to talk to me at any time, about anything. During this year’s plan-of-action meetings, I made the point to have this discussion with my commercial partners. I told them not to feel like they are bothering me because I feel the same way when I call 14 times a week. Now, this was a slight exaggeration, but I’m in my first year in this territory and my reps know it way better than I do. I wanted to give them the green light to always feel free to reach out, which I followed very quickly with my preferred method of communication.
Yes, you guessed it. You should communicate how you prefer to be communicated with. Have the conversation about each other’s preferred method whether it’s email, text, phone, or any combination. For me, I prefer to text. I’m a younger millennial and dread spur-of-the-moment phone calls. It gives me anxiety. Saying that I realize that’s not the best method for those delicate situations I mentioned before. Text me first with, ‘Hey, are you busy, I’d like to chat, giving me time to prepare. I told them this and they laughed, but now all text me before. Be open with how you like to communicate, and your representatives will do the same to you.
The last topic I want to touch on is the flowing exchange of customer-specific information that can help guide interactions. The MSL and rep should have frequent touch bases on providers within the territory when account planning and customer-specific insights can be shared. More immediate exchanges should occur after interactions if an opinion leader says something intriguing. This exchange goes both ways from an MSL to a representative and vice versa. Of course, don’t forget about the first topic of compliance and ensure information exchange across medical and commercial does not go outside of your company-specific regulations. An example would be if a provider was very much interested in the safety profile of a specific product or drug class, or if a provider has had a particularly hard time with access recently. Remember, the relationship between you and each of your representatives will be unique, so communication is key.
These three topics do not fully cover every aspect of the perfect medical commercial relationship, but they are great places to start. After utilizing these techniques and methods, I have been able to cultivate and strengthen my relationships with my representatives. Building personal relationships with your commercial representatives will create trusting, open, and compliant communication.
Matt Kolenda, PharmD, MBA, BCPS, BCCCP
My name is Matt Kolenda and I graduated from pharmacy school in 2017. Following graduation, I completed a residency at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital and then accepted a position there afterward. I worked for 3 years as a clinical pharmacist specializing in critical care while obtaining my MBA. In May of 2021, I graduated with my MBA and started in my current role as an MSL with Janssen.