Effective MSLs Talk in Specifics

When you applied for the MSL job, the job description probably called for self-motivated professionals and the quality of a “self-starter”.

Image by B S KYou’d probably not have applied if you didn’t believe that you’re self-motivated and a go-getter. The MSL job isn’t made for sloths, just the travel alone will have you playing perpetual catch-up in paperwork.

I’m not going to argue about the rare rogues who goes on the rooftop to catch a tan while pretending to be meeting KOLs, trust me, the manager knows only she’s figuring out a plan, but that’s a different article.

What many MSLs have found to be true of this job is the lack of mentoring and guidance. The way you learn on the job is like being thrown into the deep end of a swimming pool and then expected to learn how to swim. Some of you figure it out, some of you swallow a bellyfull of water (in the MSL world this may be embarrassing first meetings with KOLs or rocky experiences with the sales team).

Then you get the helpful MSL coaches and consultants who give you a lot of general advice that you can get everywhere else: “Pay attention to internal stakeholders. Make better use of your time by making appointments with more than 1 KOL in a geographical area. Don’t waste KOLs’ time. Be a scientific resource.”

No one is going to argue with these clichés: these are all true and generally useless once you’re out in the field on your own.

If you want to be successful, start by getting really specific about your skills as a MSL.

For example: Capitalize and Build on Strength

How many times have you heard this at motivational seminars or in leadership training? Enough to make you roll your eyes back and say “Duh.”

But do you actually know what your strengths are, beyond the obvious and the endless parade of proprietary assessments?

I’m not talking about vague statements like “I’m good at presenting data” or “I’m a driver, a dominant, a Garnet in the spectrum of the gem of personalities.” [Yes, there really is an assessment tool that assigns gem stones to people.]

I’m talking about specifics, like: “If I were in a room of 10 other MSLs who are equally good at presenting data, my KOL will remember me as the MSL who ___________________”.

Or, “I’m the type of person who will probably become a micromanager because I’m obsessive about control, which means I’d have a tough time with ____________ , ____________ , and ____________ .”

Get specific, and you’d be way ahead of your peers who are still thinking in general terms of their strengths and weaknesses.

Specificity is what is missing in a lot of “MSL advice”, and specificity is why new MSLs and veteran MSLs alike can benefit from ongoing mentoring and guidance from people who truly have insight not only about the MSL job, but the nuances when executing specific tasks in the MSL job.

There are senior MSLs who are truly good at what they do are masters of job insight as well as task masters. These are the ones you want to seek guidance and mentoring from. They can tell you where the landmines are even when you don’t know enough to ask about them.

Otherwise, you must be relentless in your self-assessment, and pay attention to how well you are able to do what you said you planned to do, and how you will continually improve the outcomes of your actions.
Jane Chin, Ph.D.