Due to various regulations, the pharmaceutical industry cannot sell and market their products using traditional means. Sales and marketing material must stick entirely to facts that have been proven by neutral organizations such as the FDA or independently clinical studies. No degree of exaggeration, misleading facts or unproven data is permitted. In fact, pharma sales reps – despite the job title – are not really salespeople in the traditional sense; they are consultants who supply health care professionals with data and claims, the exact wording of which have been approved by the medical and legal departments.
So if pharmaceutical companies can not boast about their own products, who can? Quite simply, people who don’t work for the pharmaceutical company. After all, they are not subject to the same restrictions. In theory, they can say whatever they want. So pharmaceutical companies try to identify health care professionals who will serve as their ambassadors and write and speak about their products. Of course the more influential the health care professional is, the more important it is to win him or her as an ambassador. These people are known as Key Opinion Leaders.
So how does one go about identifying Key Opinion Leaders? The traditional way is simply to ask and find out which health care professionals influence other health care professionals. If certain names are frequently mentioned, they are believed to be key opinion leaders. The problem is, these key opinion leaders are likely already ambassadors for other products and companies. Even if they would never openly call themselves ambassadors – they should act neutrally of course – they probably prescribe certain products, they write and speak about these products, and they participate in clinical studies involving these products as well. It is difficult to shift their allegiance towards a new line of products.
So the real challenge is not to find the key opinion leaders of today but to determine the potential key opinion leaders of tomorrow. These are the rising stars: the younger or lesser known health care professionals who are just starting to publish, speak, take on leadership roles in organizations and gain influence and followers.
If a pharmaceutical company correctly identifies rising stars and gets them involved with a new product – in particular one that has not yet launched – they can build a pool of effective and influential promoters for the product early on. When the product hits the market, the rising stars may already be high in the sky.
In a future blog post we will describe ways to discover the rising stars.