The cornerstone of the Medical Science Liaison role is RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. In a nutshell, better engagement equates to better relationships. The purpose of this article is to address the importance of proper business etiquette and the impact of social awareness and emotional intelligence as it relates to the MSL, as well as any customer-facing professional. Dale Carnegie, author of the best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, once said, “If you want to collect honey, don’t kick over the beehive.” Some of the simplest principles and practices can help ANYONE prepare for professional interactions – whether meeting someone for the first time, stepping into an important meeting, or continuing to build upon a positive professional relationship with someone you already know. Not to mention, help you strengthen your professional brand.
Here are 10 key tips for better engagement:
1. Make Your Conversation About the Other Person
- The most important rule to keep in mind is to focus on the OTHER person’s needs.
- Consider using these types of questions in your KOL meetings:
- “What can I do to help you?”
- “What do you need from me?”
- “To be respectful of your time, what are your preferred means of communication and when is it good to reach out?
- “How often would you like to hear from me?”
2. Embrace Digital Mediums
- While this seems obvious, digital mediums and platforms are here to stay, so EMBRACE them and get really good in all forms of digital communication.
- Follow your KOLs on social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.,) to pick up cues on what is important to them and gain ice-breakers or talking points for future interactions.
- Again, ask KOLs their preference for communication to learn if e-mail, text or video are acceptable – and perhaps even preferred. Proceed with caution and be aware of your company policy for these interactions to be sure of compliance recommendations as well as restrictions.
3. Remember Names
- In a study published in the Brain Research magazine, it was found that certain parts of the brain light up when we hear our own name – not when we hear other’s names, only our own.
- Be careful not to use the KOL’s name too often. If overused, it can come across as insincere and condescending.
- Always use the person’s name in email communication rather than jumping right into the message. It is more likely to yield a response when addressed appropriately.
4. Master the First Impression
In the words of legendary investor and billionaire Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Be mindful of the impression you are making in each and every interaction, whether it is live or digital.
- Phone – Answer the phone with energy/enthusiasm and set a positive tone. Utilize a warm and professional greeting. Maintain a genuine tone throughout the call and end with gratitude for their time.
- Face-to-Face – We all know that a smile, a firm handshake, and good eye contact is critical. But it is also important to let the other person know you are grateful for their time.
- Video – Arrive early, be prepared, and professionally dressed. Most importantly, maintain eye contact throughout the meeting.
- LinkedIn – Use a recent and professional photo and make sure your experience is up-to-date, as well as thorough so that others get the proper image of you.
- E-Mail – Be extra careful in all e-mail communication since it is traceable. Since there is no “tone” in emails, be extra careful with word choice and phrasing. Always start with a salutation, which includes the person’s name, and close your email with a “Thank you” or “Thanks in advance.”
5. Use the Three (3) Rs of Pre-Call Planning
- Ryan Norman, Medical Outcomes Liaison with Teva Pharmaceuticals, shared his pre-call planning strategy in a recent podcast. Ryan uses the three Rs:
Commit ample time to research, review and rehearse before each meeting and you will likely see greatly improved interactions.
6. Communicate with Confidence
- Establish yourself as a Subject Matter Expert for peer-to-peer interactions.
- Others need to believe THAT YOU BELIEVE in everything you are saying.
- Know your material and deliver it with a true belief in what you are communicating.
7. Offer Genuine Compliments
- Offer congratulations on a recent career-related milestone or accomplishment.
- Comment on recent publications or announcements that include this person.
- Recognize others for a job well done or any other notable stand-out actions.
8. Foster an Attitude of Gratitude
- An often missed personal, yet professional gesture is to say “thank you” to someone who offered you their time.
- Routinely send short ‘thank you’ notes to both external as well as internal colleagues to show gratitude and appreciation for your relationship.
Research shows that signing off your emails with “Thank you” or “Thanks in advance” will result in greater response rates.
9. Develop a TEXT Relationship (whenever possible and appropriate)
- Establishing text communication can bring a relationship to an entirely new level.
- Again, ask KOLs what their preferred means of communication is. Perhaps they suggest text as a preference.
- Consider getting a Digital Business Card, which will add your contact info to the other person’s phone.
- Proceed with caution: Many people have personal boundaries and may not be open to communicating through text. Not everyone feels comfortable with it.
10. SMILE! Say HELLO to Everyone
- We never truly know who might be in a position to help us.
- A genuine smile can change the entire dynamic in an encounter – whether via video, face-to-face, or even on the phone.
- The simplest gestures can make a huge impact on the impression others have of you and how you are perceived.
Relationships will always be the key to success in any customer-facing role. Now, more than ever, MSLs and Field Medical professionals must work at finding effective techniques for genuine and memorable engagement. To close with another quote from Dale Carnegie, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Tom Caravela, BA
Tom Caravela has 30 years of pharmaceutical industry experience and is the Founder and Managing Partner of The Carolan Group and Host of the MSL Talk podcast. Founded in 2002, The Carolan Group is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech search firm specializing in Medical Affairs and Medical Science Liaison recruitment. Tom is responsible for leading a team of expert recruiters and account managers in client expansions for various levels of field-based and in-house Medical Affairs professionals including Medical Science Liaisons, MSL Leaders, Managed Care/HEOR Liaisons, Medical Directors as well as various other medical and clinical affairs roles. With almost 3 decades of pharmaceutical industry experience, Tom is a frequent speaker and Medical Affairs Consultant for clients, advisory boards, and industry meetings. His strategic interests focus on hiring, retention, and career development for the field-based MSL role.