In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSLs are embracing virtual technology to keep in touch with their KOLs. This article will review the tactics MSLs reported using to successfully obtain virtual engagements. At the time of the survey, many MSLs were converting planned face to face interactions to virtual meetings. However, MSLs were finding it more difficult to set up new virtual appointments. Our KOLs are understandably very busy at this time, and meeting with a MSL is likely not a high priority. Additionally, there are likely to be significant regional differences to KOL receptiveness as different regions are affected by the pandemic at different times and to varying degrees. It is critical to display flexibility during this time, for example by offering your KOLs multiple ways to engage. Some may prefer phone calls over video conferencing while others may want to email or exchange texts. And of course, many may not respond to your request at all.
If you are going to proactively reach out to KOLs and request a virtual meeting, it is crucial that you are bringing value to them. Luckily, this is a skill that MSLs routinely develop! Now more than ever, it is necessary to have a clear purpose when you reach out. Set an agenda in advance so both parties are clear on what will be discussed. Focus on concrete objectives like sharing new data, completing speaker deck training, or sharing clinical trial updates. When reaching out, display empathy about the pandemic and give your KOLs an easy out with a statement like “I understand if you are unable to meet at this time and would prefer to postpone until things settle down”. Some MSLs have reported more success by focusing on KOLs that they have the strongest, most established relationships with. The key message here is to be respectful, flexible, and understanding that KOLs are facing extreme challenges right now. Understand that even by applying these tactics, your success rate may not be as high as you are accustomed to.
Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative and try new tactics. Some surveyed MSLs report utilizing sales colleagues to set up meetings while others report having success partnering with medical directors and HEOR to set up joint appointments with KOLs. As you continue to experiment and decide what works best in this new, difficult environment, don’t forget to share your successes, and more importantly your challenges, with your teammates and medical affairs colleagues so that we can all learn best practices from each other.