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  • Writer's pictureKarsten Schmidt

Significantly improving interaction effectiveness through novel approach

In times of reduced accessibility to healthcare professionals for KAMs and MSLs, special attention should be put on maximizing the quality of customer interactions. We have invited Nigel Mansford, Managing Director of The Performance Works for an interview on this fascinating topic. Nigel has spent over 20 years heading up Patient and Commercial Services Organizations in the UK, Europe, and the United States.

Karsten: Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Nigel. Nowadays, innovative pharmaceutical products require more sophisticated dialogues between in-field teams and healthcare professionals. For that reason, enhancing in-call quality is of high importance for many Life Sciences companies. From your experience, what are still today main obstacles for increasing the engagement effectiveness of KAMs?

Nigel: That’s a good question. The skills that are required for really effective engagement today are more sophisticated and nuanced than those that worked a few years ago. We need to understand the physician's perspective, in detail, if there is to be an outcome from our interaction where the physician is genuinely committed to. Of course, the KAM needs strong product/scientific knowledge and clear communication skills, these are a given, but factors such as emotional intelligence, consultative dialogue and customer knowledge are now critical to call outcome. These are not easy skills to master and as we have all learned, very challenging in a virtual call. If I were a KAM or KAM team manager, I would be asking how well equipped I am to draw on these skills in face to face and remote calls.

Karsten: How can engagement performance be assessed objectively from your perspective?

Nigel: I think we need to define what good engagement looks like. We all have a view, but KAMs are facing engaging in a new world, through multiple channels. In our research we’ve looked at engagement through the lens of physicians, after all they are at the receiving end. In effect they should decide what good valuable engagement looks like. I am not saying this is the only tool we should use, once you have defined what skill and behaviours constitute good engagement in your company, self-assessment and manager feedback are powerful ways of signposting routes to improvement. Whilst qualitative feedback is useful, I think the organisation needs an engagement score on the performance dashboard. This helps managers be objective in assessing and comparing engagement standards.

Karsten: OK, I understand that there are self-assessments of KAMs, managers’ feedback and HCP assessments in terms of engagement effectiveness. How do these different assessments enlace with one another in your approach? Could you elaborate a bit on that please?

Nigel: We think it is really important that the KAMs and MSLs are involved in the process. Assessment is just the beginning of what should be an improvement journey. As a KAM or MSL you should take charge of your improvement journey, but your manager can be a great source of advice and guidance, so our process includes them as well. You’ll remember what I said earlier that it’s the more sophisticated engagement skills that are perhaps the more difficult to master and more challenging to self-assess, that is why we bring the HCP’s view into the journey. All steps are very detailed and highly structured, that’s what makes the outputs so valuable for KAMs / MSLs and their managers.

Illustration of holistic performance review process to improve engagement effectiveness

Karsten: How can assessment data be used to optimize engagement performance?

Nigel: Data is helpful, it helps us to understand where we are today. Most of us want to improve. To improve you need to know where you are starting from and have clear actions to progress. As a manager I want data at a team level, but also for each individual KAM. As a KAM I want to feel that the process which generates the assessment data has something in it for me, it is not just an organisational metric.

Karsten: Medical Affairs are often also interested in measuring the value and impact of the engagements delivered by their MSLs. What can be done to achieve this?

Nigel: Historically MSLs may have been seen as a means of educating and informing physicians about a molecule, its science and relevance to patient cohorts. Today, many companies expect MSLs to deliver value by generating insights that help the pharma company understand how KOLs are thinking about or interpreting new developments. Value may also be derived from developing strategic relationships with External Experts. These are sophisticated outcomes that require well developed consultative engagement skills. The starting point is to benchmark where the MSL team is today against best in class. This can help you to assess how developed or not, the skill sets are that underpin the productive dialogue that is needed to deliver a valuable outcome. You have a starting point. Then set some aspirational engagement goals, for the team and the individuals.

Knowing the science and being a clear communicator is important, but today these skills alone are not enough.

Karsten: Traditional in-call quality assessments rely on third parties providing this type of service in which observers often accompany field representatives during an entire day. Where do you see the main limitations of these approaches?

Nigel: As a former field manager, I would hope my observations of my team, were comprehensive! To be slightly more serious, I am sure these models have a place, but a couple of thoughts. KAM and MSL interactions with HCPs are detailed, sophisticated and often complex, does an observational model, help you understand how this nuanced conversation has landed or should the physician themself be the arbiter of what constitutes a good meeting? Secondly, in any observational model, you have to be aware that the observation itself may alter the behaviours of those being observed.

Karsten: With HCPs arbitrating the engagement quality in your approach, how is the assessment with KAMs and MSLs being conducted in practice?

Nigel: We build in the view of the HCP from real world and in our simulator technology. If you like we have “in vitro” and “in vivo” approaches. We collect data in a very structured way, which enables us to compare data sets against our HCP benchmark data. I emphasise the point I made earlier this is not a third party judging an interaction or an artificial intelligence diagnostic, it is the HCPs reaction and subsequent action that are the true indicators that communication has been successful.

Karsten: Apart from key European markets and the US, where do you see potential for deploying your innovative approach of engagement assessments moving forward?

Nigel: Well, it's clear that these are global as well as local challenges. Our programmes are technology enabled and operate in any language so geographic scale is not totally dependent on physical presence in a market. To answer your question, LATAM and Asia Pac are already being added to the European and US footprint.

Karsten: Thanks for sharing these valuable insights with us, Nigel. In summary we can say that due to the increasing sophistication of interactions between HCPs and KAMs/MSLs there is nowadays the need to evaluate the quality of this specific way of acting through the lens of healthcare professionals. Existing comprehensive benchmarking data that The Performance Works have already collected allows to compare the company´s engagement performance against best-in class. This is then the starting point to define improvement journeys in terms of skill sets for individual in-field team members.

Do you think that the described way of evaluating engagement effectiveness from the perspective of HCPs makes sense or would you consider additional or different aspects to succeed in this rather complex issue?

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Xeleratio Consulting Ltd.

We help Life Sciences executives improve sales performance with innovative best-in-class Business Excellence tools and methodologies . Expertise in Business Excellence has been gained with over 12 years of working in different global and regional roles in the Life Sciences industry.


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