New Year, Same Pandemic. As the new year rolls in, I am struck by how much the pandemic has taken from us: face-to-face meetings, ability to travel, and work-life balance. On the other hand, it has taught us to be resilient, adaptive, and grateful for what we have. In addition, the pandemic has allowed me to hit the “pause” button and learn how to garden.
The Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; the soul becomes dyed with the colors of its thoughts”. The lessons I was learning from gardening were seeping into how I managed my KOL interactions. In this article, I will share 4 gardening tips, I’ve learned, for successful KOL relationship management.
- Ensure a nutritive soil
I learned this the hard way. When growing a garden, it is important to make sure that you have good soil. You need to make sure to have a good bed for your seeds to sprout from and be able to hold strong. Similarly, to be a successful MSL, I believe it is important to have a good company culture and a training program that allows you to function properly and support KOL relationships. Much like how good seeds may not sprout well in malnourished soil, MSLs thrive in nurturing environments
- Not all seeds sprout at the same rate
Once you have a good foundation, you need to plant the seeds. However, not all seeds will germinate at the same time – some grow faster, while others are slower, some are seasonal. This is akin to an initial introduction with a KOL. Not all KOLs will be open to partnering with you for multiple reasons. Each KOL interaction is different and they may progress at different rates. From the KOLs’ perspective, ask yourself “Why you?, Why them? Why now?” These are critical questions to ask before setting the meeting agenda. Much like gardening, KOL relationship management requires patience and vigilance to ensure that the relationship, much like the seedlings, grows at their respective pace.
- Make sure to water the plants, but do not overwater them
While seeds grow into plants, it is important to make sure that you water them frequently, taking precautions not to overwater them. Similarly, as an MSL it is important to ask the KOL what cadence the KOL would like to hear from you, what is their preferred mode of communication, and ensure that you follow up appropriately. However, it is equally important not to drown them with too many requests or have an uncoordinated approach among different internal stakeholders.
- Be Bold with Pruning
Pruning is an essential gardening skill to ensure healthy growth and flowering. By removing excess branching, you provide good air circulation. As an MSL, it is important to take stock of your existing interactions and see which relationships need more attention and which ones are easy to maintain. Prioritizing internal meetings is also key. Asking yourself these questions:
When Prioritizing internal meetings:
- Are there certain meetings that are optional for you?
- Are there some meetings that will be recorded that you can listen to afterward?
- Can you ask for an agenda so that you know which part of the meeting you need to attend?
When Prioritizing External meetings:
- If you are already meeting with 3 KOLs from the practice, is it possible for you to focus on a couple of KOLs?
- If the KOL has multiple research interests, would it be possible to introduce them to respective medical directors on one call to save time?
- Does this meeting need to be a F2F (face to face) or zoom, or can it be done over text?
- Be curious about what support will help your plants grow stronger
Finally, one of the tips I’ve learned from gardening is that each plant has different needs. Some garden varieties like peas and tomatoes need trellises to support the plants to grow. A major challenge in the US healthcare system is related to healthcare disparities, as segments of our populations are affected in different ways and often do not have access to equitable clinical trials. The onus is on us in Medical Affairs to be diverse and inclusive in our clinical trial selection, but more importantly, realize that some sites may require more support than others. For example, clinical trials that require frequent visits to specific sites may place a burden on participants and the clinical trial staff. How can we be more flexible on-site visit requirements and incorporate digital health tools without additional burden on the staff/patients?
In conclusion, I hope you are finding hobbies of your own in the new year. I hope that these creative habits, the ability to make something new, allow you new perspectives and act as a buffer in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. More importantly, I am hopeful that moving forward, we can all have the best of both worlds – be back on the road for F2F (face-to-face) interactions and congresses, empowered with the new insights and perspectives we have developed during the pandemic.
Mitchell D’Rozario, PhD
Mitch is a Malignant Hematology MSL at Genentech/Roche. In his MSL career spanning hematology and ophthalmology, Mitch has supported ocular surgical devices, microdosing implants, biologics, antibody-drug conjugates, oral inhibitors and bispecific antibodies from Phase I-IV. Mitch enjoys advocating for customers and patients, collaborating with internal colleagues, and building strategic tools to make informed business decisions and deliver urgent medical solutions. Mitch earned his PhD from Drexel University and trained as a postdoc at Washington University School of Medicine. In a pre-COVID world, Mitch can be seen keeping pace with his two boys, Francis (2.5 years) and Miles (1 year). In a post-COVID world, he has been busy being a Montessori dad, learning how to bake, and going to OrangeTheory (while maintaining safe distance) to burn off the said baked goods.