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January 12, 2021

A guide to KOL mapping and KOL identification

Make the most of your KOL engagement by identifying the right experts to help you reach your goals.
kol identification

Your team makes significant investments to develop and nurture relationships with key opinion leaders, or KOLs. Identifying the right key opinion leader for the task at hand – across different therapeutic areas, specialites, and geographies – makes the most of this investment and ensures a high volume of actionable insights for better decision making in the pharma industry.

Before you execute a virtual advisory board and other KOL engagements, you’ll want to ensure you’ve identified the right KOLs. KOL mapping ensures you identify the experts you want to help you achieve your team’s goals, regardless of global region or clinical area. Here’s our guide to the basics of KOL mapping and identifying expertise.

What is KOL profiling?

KOL profiling, or mapping, is key to a pharmaceutical or medical device team’s ability to quickly find the right key opinion leader for the job. This is a quantitative approach to identifying KOLs on a regional, national, and global level – knowledge pharma teams can use to pinpoint the most valuable voices for specific tasks.

By identifying individuals with expertise in specific therapeutic areas and matching, or mapping, them according to their level of influence, life science teams can quickly ascertain who to engage for highly targeted feedback on a variety of subjects. The ultimate goal is pinpointing an individual who has high levels of influence and interest in the specific therapeutic area to accelerate commercialization or product adoption in the pharma industry. Similarly, you’d want to identify a KOL in clinical research when looking for an individual equipped to help achieve success in a clinical setting.

In an asynchronous setting, it may seem less critical to drill into the details because there’s no limit to how many KOLs you can include. However, when it comes to KOL management in pharma, it’s still important to identify the experts who can provide the most relevant and actionable insight to your medical affairs team.

What is KOL identification?

To strengthen pharma KOL engagement, start by identifying influential individuals in specific therapeutic areas and within the appropriate geography. Note who is consistently speaking at important medical congresses and scientific meetings, and who is publishing journal articles or is frequently quoted in the media for their clinical experience.

Next, consider what your KOLs need: How important is it for them to stay close to work and home rather than travel to a meeting? Do they tend to be more introverted in face-to-face settings? Are they rising stars who might be reluctant to speak up around more experienced clinicians?

While it’s true that any expert thought leader can thrive in a virtual setting, your medical affairs KOL management team may find it beneficial to understand which individuals are actually more comfortable and authoritative in an asynchronous discussion. Enabling KOLs to use the venue in which they’re most comfortable and most likely to participate in a meaningful way is a win-win in which your team collects a higher volume of actionable insights and the KOL is able to share their knowledge while continuing to establish their place alongside other experts in the pharmaceutical industry.

What qualities make an ideal KOL?

Trustworthiness, credibility, and authority are all important qualities in KOLs, but in a virtual setting, your team will also want to identify experts who are proactive, have a partnership mindset, and share an interest in collaborative knowledge exchange. Building a deep bench of talent is essential to obtaining the quality of insight that moves your work forward.

One school of thought says that a KOL’s prominence is the most important quality. While it’s true that certain KOLs are rock stars in very high demand, pharma and medtech teams also benefit from engaging with more specialized KOLs that might be flying under the radar. These individuals might be micro-influencers in their particular field or specialty, and they might bring to the table a deeper understanding of subjects that are critical for life science teams to understand.

Most of these qualities apply to both in-person and virtual settings, and most Within3 clients find that age, technical savvy, or previous experience with asynchronous platforms don’t preclude KOLs from engaging and thriving in virtual discussions.

What is the difference between a KOL and an influencer?

While influencers – such as those who represent consumer brands – are mainly motivated by self-promotion, KOLs are moved to promote science and data or raise the profile of their profession, research, or work with patients. They have deep knowledge of their therapeutic area and understand the impact of sharing that knowledge with life science teams.

In other words, KOLs have a degree of authenticity that lends authority and trustworthiness to the information they share – it’s both why you engage with them, and why you want them to engage with others on your behalf.

KOL mapping and virtual engagement

Identifying the right KOLs is crucial regardless of how you’re engaging with them. But remember that a virtual approach can provide what many experts want from knowledge-sharing opportunities: convenience, exposure to global perspectives, time for thought and reflection, and more frequent opportunities for learning and interaction. If your team plans a return to in-person interaction, virtual engagement is a great low-impact strategy to nurture and strengthen KOL relationships all year long.

Wondering how a single KOL can have a major impact? One pharma company used Within3 Select to identify a niche expert who provided insight that led to a potential blockbuster drug. Read the success story.

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