How do big data insights transform your sales teams’ approach?

Christian Schweiger on How do big data insights transform your sales teams' approach?

Can close working between medical science liaisons and sales teams help to strengthen relationships between pharma and key opinion leaders?

Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) are harnessing the power of big datasets to help sales teams identify clinicians and other key opinion leaders (KOLs) and develop communication strategies that are tailored to their individual needs.

To achieve this, they are not only gathering valuable historical data; they are also obtaining real-time information on everything from a new abstract published by a KOL to the latest clinical usage data on a specific drug.

Until recently, obtaining this level of insight was virtually impossible owing to the sheer volume of global data that is being created – much of which is scattered across thousands of siloed or incomplete sources, or not even in the public domain.

“Identifying the right KOLs and engaging with them in a scientifically credible way, based on their body of work and clinical interests, enables pharma to take a holistic and tailored approach to KOL management”

Identifying the right KOLs

Identifying the right KOLs and engaging with them in a scientifically credible way, based on their body of work and clinical interests, enables pharma to take a holistic and tailored approach to KOL management. This is a key advantage as securing meetings with time-pressed clinicians and other KOLs is becoming harder.

MSLs can now obtain comprehensive background information on an individual KOL at the touch of a button, ranging from their clinical qualifications and specific areas of interest and expertise within a disease and therapy area, to the committees they sit on and the professional associations to which they belong. This enables pharma to see a KOL in the context of their entire scientific network, including peer groups.

It is highly beneficial to back this up by tracking a KOL’s research in real time, including abstracts and non-peer reviewed papers. Such documents may not be published in a journal for up to another two years – since the time gap between abstract and full publication is variable. However, they could contain insights into the latest thinking on a disease and therapy area and may provide starting points for valuable conversations.
Similarly, pharma should find out about any talks given in the past two years by a KOL, how they are rated as a speaker and the impact of a specific conference. If they are unable to find any relevant research or speeches for an individual, then engaging more widely among a peer group can provide valuable intelligence.

Gathering product insight

It is, of course, essential that sales teams keep abreast of the latest clinical usage data on their drugs and know what is being said in real time about specific drugs and their competitors. Big datasets now enable pharma to measure the amount of scientific activity and discussion around any product or disease area globally, regionally, or even within a specific conference. This helps market access and sales teams gauge how well they are doing competitively and also where their scientific information can best be disseminated.

It is also possible to measure the quality of product mentions in a journal, conference, institution or by an author. So, pharma can assess whether a KOL is highly relevant to a particular therapeutic area or drug, enabling it to measure the true impact. This helps sales teams to identify the most influential experts at meetings and conferences. It also highlights the need for a more educational approach if their drugs are not being mentioned by those experts.

Personal service

If a KOL has a question about a therapy area or drug during a sales meeting, there is a golden opportunity for an MSL to research the answer so that the sales representative can feed it back in a scientifically credible way. This type of personalised service
can really help to strengthen relationships between pharma and KOLs. It does, of course, require close working between MSLs and sales representatives.

In fact, pharma could go one step further and conduct a gap analysis to anticipate a KOL’s data needs. For example, it is possible to find out which university research databases particular KOLs use, and what they are likely to feature. If a critical abstract or non-peer reviewed paper is not likely to appear on that KOL’s database for a few months, a sales representative could alert them to it and offer to supply it. This could lead to partnership working and even joint publication, if a KOL or member of their team was publishing a paper on a relevant theme.

A better understanding

The completeness and consistency of data that is now available is helping pharma sales teams to better understand their customers and anticipate their wants and needs. This is vitally important in an era where securing face-to-face meetings with time pressured clinicians and other KOLs is becoming increasingly difficult.

The ability to construct a rounded view of a KOL – from their area of expertise to what they are writing or saying about a specific drug or therapy area in real time – can transform the way that sales teams engage with customers and enable them to make the most of every interaction. The ultimate goal of any interaction is to provide valuable information and create a long-term relationship built upon scientific credibility.


Dr Christian Schweiger, MD-PhD, is Vice President for Medical Affairs Strategy, Europe, at Pharmaspectra (formerly Medmeme). Go to

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