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What's In It for the KOL? 3 Keys to Understanding their Goals and How to Move Forward

When building relationships with your KOLs, you need to understand what motivates them. Understanding the foundation of the KOL relationship is the number one step to providing the KOL ultimate value. Moving forward includes assessing their needs, understanding their goals, networking, following up, and giving without expectation. This article will discuss action steps for you to take your relationship with your KOL to the next level.

Foundation of the KOL Relationship

KOLs are first and foremost - healthcare professionals. They went to medical school or nursing school and may have completed fellowships or advanced training to learn how to treat patients. Their primary goal is to provide the best acute and preventative care to their patients. This MUST be the foundation for all engagement with KOLs - whether from a medical or commercial perspective.

KOL, needs, engage

Assessing Their Needs First

When you want to engage and evaluate the needs of your KOL, start with a plan. If your meeting with the KOL is commercial in nature, it is best to focus on opportunities such as white papers or speaking engagements. If the KOL is meeting to support the medical team, interests may lean toward clinical research, medical education, or health economics.

Medical Side

If the KOL is supporting a team on the medical side, their needs and interests could vary significantly. Whether they need to better understand new research on a certain receptor or why there were significant variances in response rates in a company’s clinical trials, it is important to anticipate and understand their needs.

Anticipating these questions and having well-thought-out responses will show intelligence and preparedness. If answers are not available, acknowledge this and provide a summary of the ongoing work.

Commercial Side

KOLs that are meeting with sales and marketing teams on the commercial side could have varied needs and interests as well. These needs may range from disease state education, speaking opportunities, or development of new patient support tools. They may be looking to impact the way PCPs understand a disease state or to contribute to awareness endeavors on patient and caregiver support.

Personal Side

Beyond caring for their patients, KOLs do have professional goals to improve or enhance their careers. Accepting the personal gains is necessary to understand. Personal benefits include things like speaking or writing or boosting their reputation with speaking engagements and publication acknowledgments. Some KOLs may be interested in:

  • Research Opportunities - investigator-initiated studies or company-sponsored clinical trials

  • Education - educating fellows or physicians

  • Content Creation - white papers or screening tools

  • Personal Reputation - publications and speaking opportunities

You must understand what the KOL’s goals are if you want to be successful in advancing the medical or commercial goal or mission at hand.

Understanding Their Goals

Understanding the KOL’s goals is not difficult if you engage with them effectively. Don’t hesitate to ask the KOL about their goals. Without this step, you will miss important opportunities for further engagement and productive collaboration. Asking these questions can be done in person or via a survey for data collection. You have to remember to be authentic, open, friendly, and give without expectation. Research is key.

Here are a few questions to ask your KOL to begin establishing a collaborative relationship:

  • Where are you from?

  • Where did you go to school?

  • Separate from your career, what are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?

  • Are you interested in ________ (speaking, writing, conducting research, etc.)?

Your goal should be to build a friendship with the KOL. Working to break professional and work barriers allow the KOL to open up and share their passions, likes, dislikes, and professional goals.


Moving Forward

After you understand the KOL’s goals, it’s time to align their interests with the company or group’s goals. Differences will exist whether this is for a commercial or medical group. The same word applies to both: value.


If part of the medical organization, the goal may be to:

  • understand gaps in knowledge

  • advance the understanding of a disease space

  • advance the research

  • gain more real-world data

  • better educate fellows or primary care physicians


On the commercial side, the goal may be to enhance the disease state knowledge, improve understanding of the label, generate awareness at centers of excellence, or encourage referrals to specialists.

Networking Tips

When networking with your KOL, it’s important to meet face to face. The best place to get to know KOLs are at live, in-person events where there is time to connect.

Places to Engage with your KOL include:

  • Investigator Meetings

  • Advisory Boards

  • Speaker Trainings

  • Congresses

Social events related to the meeting are vital to networking. Use the welcome reception the evening before or a morning hike the day of the conference to connect. That is where more open conversations can happen.

Follow Up

After meeting a KOL at a live event, it’s important to follow up with a personalized thank you that recaps some of their input at the meeting. This communication shows you listened. If not already discussed live, the thank you can include a brief survey on their professional interests.

Follow-up meetings with KOLs can take place at congresses, or visits to their practice to discuss projects or activities that are underway. This is an excellent opportunity to revisit their interests discussed after the live meeting or how they responded to a survey or follow-up communication.

Give Without Expectation

Giving without expectation will push your level of engagement with your KOL forward.

Ways to give without expectation include:

  • Sending your KOL bi-weekly or monthly summaries of new literature on subjects they may be interested

  • Preparing an overview of a congress if they were not able to attend, highlighting the data releases and plenary presentations

  • Offer a speaking engagement at a congress or a publication opportunity - assuming the KOL is qualified and that they have expressed interest

The corporation's goal may be that the KOL shares feedback from the medical community on your therapeutic or product still in development. Or, you may want them to agree to be a speaker at an upcoming presentation. Don’t expect it, but if they do, consider it a bonus. Remember, give without expectation.

The goal for you is to build a harmonious relationship with your KOLs where you understand their goals and strengths and can set them up for success in these areas. It’s about partnership and moving forward together.

It won’t happen overnight, but over time, you will build enough social capital with your KOLs where they will feel a connection and as a cohort, will provide the feedback, input, and intelligence from the area that you desire.

If you are interested in discussing tools, methods, and support for your KOL engagement programs, contact Sharoni at