An MSL can have a significant impact on a brand’s ultimate adoption, yet this value can often be overlooked or misunderstood. Such lack of recognition often results in creating an MSL without sufficient motivation to continue the job – a clear waste of what should be a valuable resource to the organization. To elevate their perceived value, many MSL teams resort to working harder, and yet, still fall short in the desired result. What I have learned over my many years in managing MSL teams across numerous specialties, is if you want to be recognized for delivering value in an MSL team, working harder is not the way to do it. Rather, you need to work smarter. What do I mean by that?
An MSL who works within a silo to develop relationships with KOLs quickly realizes that he or she is often viewed by others within the organization as simply providing a contact point with a KOL. Such contact is often not perceived by management as bringing tangible merit, and over time, this lack of perceived worth becomes a reason for the MSL to leave. Conversely, the MSL viewed as a significant contributor is one who has learned to creatively collaborate with others in order to deliver value to the organization. This is working smarter.
Why is this important? When an MSL team can historically justify to management how it worked with other teams within the organization to deliver added benefit to its KOL targets, this activity transcends more than a “pat on the back” for a job well done. It demonstrates real value in the delivery of actionable insights. When the MSL team works collaboratively with others within the organization, the MSL Director can then navigate within the leadership team with conversations reflecting this teamwork. This will “toot the MSL team horn” and achieve the desired recognition for its achievements.
There are a number of ways the MSL Director and teams can work to demonstrate the value they offer to the pharmaceutical company:
1. Field MSLs need to start with strategic planning of their respective territory – to take a look around the MSL team to see whom they are working within real-world applications. This could include delivery of expertise via omnichannel platforms, however, understanding what resources are there when the MSL hits the ground with conversations is key. MSLs need to understand what feedback they are receiving and who else in the territory is available to enrich the relationship based on that need. MSLs have a job to educate in a conversational manner and need to recognize what else they can offer the KOL. To be truly valuable, this needs to be more than offering attendance at conferences or speaking engagements. To fully utilize relationship skills and elevate perceived value within the organization, the MSL has to involve other people from the organization.
In order to do this compliantly, preparation and strategic design must come first. This should be done based on knowing the players within the company who will help bring the relationship to another level. These collaborators could include commercial field, contact center or customer service reps; regional and divisional managers; HEOR specialists; and government affairs teams. (It is particularly important to know the government affairs representative if there is a VA hospital in the region.) Once these other players are defined, one needs to determine how to work with them. There has to be a clear pathway to compliance as it is better to ask permission than forgiveness when satisfying a need outside the medical conversation. The MSL needs to establish a clear communication process for what should be done when the conversation is not medically based. To accomplish this, the MSL should set up a meeting virtually or face-to-face with other territory team members, exploring each other’s roles and how to work compliantly in the future to satisfy the needs of the KOL.
The MSL need not necessarily be present when someone from outside the team presents information, but the MSL should be sure to educate the KOL on the different roles each person fulfills. Care must be given to not promote proactively, but if questioned, the MSL needs to define for the KOL the role to be played by the person being introduced. For instance, the MSL might state “that pricing is not my expertise, but I can bring that expert into the conversation and set up a meeting to address your questions.” Such a collaboration adds enormous value to the relationship and outcome.
2. MSL managers/team leaders have the responsibility to connect with other regional and national managers within the pharmaceutical organization in order to best present to C-suite leadership. These managers and leaders should be communicating successes of their MSLs from a collaborative standpoint. Such conversations reflecting this cooperation could have the Divisional Sales Manager indicating that a particular MSL brought in the field sales rep to present to the KOL, and as a result, together they were able to make a big impact; or perhaps the action of the MSL was able to get the HEOR team in front of a P&T committee to discuss the economic value of the new drug. It is important to remember that one must demonstrate what results are being produced in the form of insights. but should do so collaboratively. The MSL director should start the collaboration story by recounting the valuable insights gleaned, and then let the respective collaborator team tell the story. C-suite leadership will ultimately use the findings brought to light in these meetings to make decisions on contracts and budgets; therefore, making sure the MSL value is brought to light is critical.
3. Finally, it is equally important that MSL managers communicate downward from leadership to the field MSLs. They need to let the MSL know that their collaborative work is important and being recognized within the company. This communication is very important to sustain energy and morale within the team.
In today’s rapidly evolving landscape, there are many tools MSLs can use to elevate their game and deliver value. Some conversations are being done virtually now, even before COVID dictated conversation protocols. Some MSLs can tap into omnichannel platforms to deliver customized educational content to their KOLs. Knowing how to tap into all resources, particularly drawing upon the expertise of other teams within a territory, is the kind of working smarter that will pay off in raising the profile of the MSL and delivering the kind of valuable insights the organization needs to succeed.
Jeff Vaughan, PharmD
Jeff Vaughan is Director, Field Medical Science, Ashfield Engage. Jeff has worked on both the pharmacy and field science sides of the industry and has served as a Clinical Pharmacy Director as an Air Force Officer, and as regional and national director for several pharmaceutical companies.