Medical Affairs continues to grow into a new role as the information center of life sciences organizations. As MA teams expand their information connections, other participants in the healthcare and life sciences fields are taking note.
Increasingly, pharmaceutical sales reps are receiving requests from providers and other customers to make an introduction to the MA team. The sales rep is often the only point of contact a provider has with the organization — yet what the provider really wants is access to the organization’s knowledge center.
By collaborating as information sources, medical affairs teams and sales representatives can further develop an organization’s reputation as a knowledge leader, deepen relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs), and improve the sharing of information and knowledge on key topics.
MA and Sales: United in a Need for Knowledge
Collaboration across departments in a life sciences organization is unfamiliar territory for many. During the twentieth century and into the early twenty-first, a siloed approach to work resulted in satisfactory results more often than not.
But the past model for success isn’t producing the same results today. “We’re no longer operating in an industry that’s the same as it was twenty years ago. In fact, the sales process of 2022 bears virtually no resemblance to the sales process of even two years ago,” writes David Meacham, director at The Echelon Effect.
Over the past ten years, three major changes have shifted the role of medical science liaisons (MSLs) to the forefront:
- New regulations now require companies to disclose payments to physicians and teaching hospitals, among other information.
- A shift toward promoting precision medicine required new subject matter expertise from those who explain these therapies to providers and hospitals.
- An explosion in the volume of published medical research far outstrips any individual person’s ability to keep up with the information available.
During the past ten years, sales teams have also shifted to new models. Among these is a greater focus on key account management (KAM) processes. KAM focuses on strategic account management — a function that can benefit from the information provided by medical affairs teams and medical science liaisons, writes Chris Deren at Servcorp.
The primary focus of sales reps hasn’t changed. They’re still tasked with building the relationships required to sell pharmaceuticals and other therapies, and getting these items into the hands of providers, hospitals, pharmacies, and ultimately to patients. The demand on sales reps to know, understand, and explain ever more specific details about these product offerings has called for the expertise of MSLs to back up the work of sales.
Providers seeking to understand new therapies have increasingly specific questions — and they want to hear from MSLs who have become subject matter experts or who can connect them to knowledgeable KOLs in these areas.
The Relationship Between Medical Science Liaisons and Sales Teams
Pharmaceutical and biotech sales teams have long been called upon to share information with potential and current customers, including healthcare providers. The call for constant learning related to new products and applications is precisely what keeps the role challenging for many sales representatives.
When the sales team enters the picture, they’re learning their information from already knowledgeable sources. Medical science liaisons are often engaged in knowledge-gathering and relationship-building during the clinical trial process — long before a new treatment goes to market.
Key opinion leaders embrace MSLs’ early participation in the knowledge-sharing process. The majority of KOLs in the EU (and nearly as many in the U.S.) say MSLs should start to gather knowledge and build relationships before or during phase III trials, according to a 2022 ZS study.
That same study found that prior to launch, KOLs rely heavily on MSLs for product information, scientific context, and similar information. Much of this information is the same knowledge that customers seek from pharma sales reps after a product becomes available on the market.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, MSLs and sales reps can work together to share information, communication strategies, and tips for fostering relationships with particular points of contact.
Building Stronger Relationships Through MSL and Sales Connections
Sales reps play a key role in addressing new expectations for relationship-building in the life sciences. The ZS study found that while KOLs were eager to embrace virtual communications with MSLs during the pandemic, KOLs’ tolerance for the virtual format has waned. Key opinion leaders now want to speak to MSLs, sales reps, and other life sciences representatives in person. Similarly, providers who can now return to in-person conversations with sales teams often prefer to do so.
Established relationships demonstrate less tech fatigue than new ones, according to the ZS study. MSLs and sales reps who already have connections with outside sources won’t see much impact if they continue using virtual channels to communicate. Building new relationships, however, appears to be easier when done in person — a skill set that sales reps rely on daily and one that MSLs can leverage to their advantage.
“Digital-first medical affairs can help to drive more collaborative projects over a larger geographical footprint, including real-world data initiatives,” writes Miranda McLaren in Pharmaceutical Technology. MSLs and sales teams can collaborate to share skills for building relationships both digitally and in person.
“In eons gone by, medical representatives (MRs) of pharmaceutical and medical equipment companies were entrusted to be the bearers of information to medical doctors,” writes Lionel de Souza in The MSL Journal. In the 1960s, medical science liaisons began to take on the responsibility of understanding the science behind new product offerings and communicating that to providers.
Today, MSLs play an essential role in managing the vast quantities of information available and in building relationships with others interested in communicating that knowledge, like KOLs. Sales reps continue to play a key role in sharing information with providers and other parties. To have the mental resources available to focus on the work of sales, however, sales reps can benefit from the support of MSLs to sort through, refine, and focus scientific communications and to answer highly technical questions.
Medical science liaisons and sales representatives have an opportunity to collaborate to become a vital source of knowledge for parties outside their organizations — including healthcare providers, KOLs, and other researchers. By leveraging their respective skills and abilities, MSLs and sales reps can meet their own goals, build stronger relationships, and advance the ability of life sciences organizations to produce effective research and products.
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