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Are MSL’s now Sales Reps with a different business card?

As the life sciences industry becomes more complex in step with scientific and medical advancements, there is a greater need for organisations to invest in their Medical Affairs resource. In 2022, there are more Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) operating in the field than ever before. This trajectory is heading firmly upwards as companies react to the evolving demands of their customers and capitalise on the relevance & value that MSLs bring to the table.

Medical Affairs is clearly a big part of the industry’s future, and this is reflected in the increase in budget and resources allocated to the department. So, how can you ensure that this investment delivers increased value to your organisation, whilst balancing the realities of role definition & compliance? Or, in simpler terms, how can you make the most of your Medical Affairs resource? A hint: it's not by treating them as Sales reps with a different business card...

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Arthur Fletcher

What shouldn’t your Medical Affairs department do?

Let’s start by turning this question on its head to determine what Medical Affairs shouldn’t do in order to deliver to their full potential. Progress is occurring at an industry level and within companies at a head-spinning rate, and the core function & responsibilities of Medical Affairs can be dynamic and hard to pin down. Due to this, it’s easy to fall back on old patterns of measuring and rewarding performance, but this should be avoided. In fact, it’s crucial to make sure that Medical Affairs teams don’t adopt traditional, sales-based metrics or KPIs.

By apportioning measurements like call rates, coverage and frequency & KOL targeting call rates to an MSL, we risk turning our MSL teams into what is essentially a pseudo-sales team. It’s an undesirable proposition on the part of the MSL, not in the least because it’s doubtful many of them came into the job wanting to do that.

Additionally, it erodes the trust you’ve developed between the organisation, and external stakeholders who observe & more importantly experience this mismatch. Our stakeholders are not so busy and oblivious that the substitution of salespeople for ‘salesy’ MSLs would pass unnoticed, and damage to your relationship from this kind of inauthentic behaviour is inevitable.

It’s short-term, path-of-least resistance thinking, applied to a complex scenario. Needless to say, the overall effect is counterproductive to the organisation that chooses to take that route.

How to make the most out of your Medical Affairs resource

Smart leaders and organisations know that the value of Medical Affairs teams goes far beyond metrics. These organisations embrace the true value that the MSL role can bring to customers, stakeholders, and clinicians as trusted advisers & thought partners. Beyond disseminating data and technical information, empowered MSLs play to their strengths and engage in a broader level of expertise-sharing within their therapeutic area.

By engaging with stakeholders through the art of questioning and more importantly, listening and gauging when is the right time to share their knowledge, MSLs utilise their unique skillsets to the benefit of all.

Make the conversations count, rather than merely counting the conversations

The measurement of Medical Affairs effectiveness should, ideally, capture the dynamic described above, bearing in mind the shifting nature of the industry at present. Focus needs to be placed firmly on the quality of the conversations they hold with key stakeholders, and their ability to deliver genuine insights for sales and marketing teams to act upon.

Starting with the end in mind, the goal should be about understanding current beliefs and exploring possible disconnects. MSLs are uniquely placed to share and disseminate real evidence, and to seek alignment based on reflection & common ground. With this in mind, your organisation will be best placed to make the most of your Medical Affairs departments expertise and position to leverage stakeholder interactions in the future.


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