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Science vs Sales – a need for better MSL and KAM Coordination

Science and sales working together – It can be a Catch 22.


Medical Scientific Liaisons (MSLs) are the technical experts that physicians talk to when they have scientific questions. There needs to be better MSL and KAM coordination to develop and nurture the relationships within the account. MSLs have traditionally been separated from commercial functions.  This is usually done to maintain the credibility MSLs have with HCPs.  There is also a fear of crossing legal boundaries. We are often faced with 2 teams – Medical Affairs and Sales. They operate in the same account, but do not communicate! Should these two groups continue to work in isolation?


A Changing Role – the reason for tighter MSL and KAM coordination

The role of the MSL in the account management process has broadened in recent years.  As a result, the number of MSLs employed is on the rise. In contrast, the number of pharmaceutical field sales reps has reduced dramatically. MSLs – qualified, technical experts. Their knowledge and expertise allow them to nurture long-term consultative relationships with customers.

The pharmaceutical sales model has shifted from a transactional, tactical sales to a strategic account management model. KAM has been hailed as the most successful selling strategy in the Pharma industry in years. KAM is now recognized as an organizational necessity. One of the key success factors of KAM is to focus on long-term relationship development. This can be between many stakeholders on both sides of the relationship. It is clear then, that organizations should include MSLs in the Key Account Management process. Yet, not crossing the firewall between Medical and Commercial Sales is still important.


Industry Demand

The emergence of big data and a rise in requests for HEOR data has increased the demand for MSL’s to meet with KOLs. MSLs have the experience and reputation to engage in scientific conversations with customers. Clinicians expect a higher level of knowledge and clinical understanding. With conversations focusing on science rather than presenting a ‘pitch’, the MSL is the person to engage.  A study from Cutting Edge Information found the average time spent by a sales rep with a doctor was less than two minutes. The average time spent by an MSL was over an hour. It is also reported that MSLs spend an average 68% of their time in the field.

The job of medical affairs is more important than ever as physicians’ need for medical information grows. The below chart from BCG Perspectives shows that HCPs need larger volumes of more complex information from MSLs.

 A B2B Mindset

MSL’s historically focused the majority of their efforts with KOLs. While KOLs are generally very influential, they may not be the primary decision maker in the account. The role of the MSL is evolving. There is now an increased emphasis on other activities. MSLs now assist in the design and conduct of clinical trials, engage in competitive intelligence gathering, and present scientific findings. The scientific exchange between MSLs and healthcare professionals has also become deeper and richer.

MSL’s must be aware of the environment and be responsive to company and customer needs. Often, medical affairs arrive into an account at a critical moment without any context or timing of the conversation. There is a clear need, then for MSLs to be well versed in a B2B account management mindset. This is where greater MSL and KAM coordination can really be shown to help.


Compliant Coordination

Regulations demand a clear separation of medical affairs from commercial functions. There is also a requirement for transparency over payments by pharmaceutical companies to healthcare professionals. Furthermore, there are strict parameters about the type of information that is divulged.

Of course, there must be a clear separation and distinction between MSLs and KAMs. Without this separation, the credibility of the MSLs would diminish.

Firewalls are there to protect against inappropriate activities. Incidents of sales controlling MSL activities for sales objectives, for instance, need to be identified. This does not mean that firewalls should stop flows of communication entirely.  As long as there are clear protocols and monitored compliance, MSLs and KAMs can work toward a common goal to create long-term relationships with customers. Involve compliance early and often in the process to avoid any issues.

When multiple people from an organization (reps, specialty reps, KAMs and MSLs) are all calling on the same IDN, it can cause confusion internally and externally with customers. This occurs due to a lack of communication between the parties. They have no knowledge of who else is in the account, for what reason and with which stakeholders are they engaging.

MSLs and KAMs who are calling on the same customer need to be aware of any prior or existing interactions originating from the company. They do not have to know the details of those interactions. MSL Directors should ensure that they incorporate regulatory guidance into operating procedures. These need to be updated and reinforced on a regular basis to ensure compliance.


Should there be more MSL and KAM coordination within an account? Should they remain completely separate individual entities? Send us an email


The 4 Zones™ of Customer Engagement helps MSL’s develop a sense of account management. It provides understanding of the context and timing of conversations with KOLs while maintaining a firewall between MSLs and commercial sales teams

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