MSL Differentiation: Different Role, Same Questions

Image by AntkevyvRecently I met with a content provider working with MSL professionals and we talked about the MSL role.

I admit, I was surprised by what I heard.

I was surprised by how little the questions have changed.

Back in 2004 when I first entered my “advocacy” and consulting role through MSL Institute, the most common questions were:

  • What should be the role of the MSL?
  • How should we train for this role?
  • How do we measure the value of this role?

These top 3 questions underline symptoms of conflict and friction between the MSL function and other functions within the enterprise, especially with sales and marketing roles.

Cross-functional conflicts were eerily similar no matter what the company or therapeutic area:

“No, we aren’t off-label sales reps.
Yes, we actually serve an important purpose.
What’s the value of this purpose to the company’s bottom-line?
Let me get back to you on that.”

The medical science liaison “title” has been through various iterations and countless permutations and word combinations. Unfortunately, opinion leaders can’t remember all the way companies combine the words, “medical, clinical, scientific, information, manager” for their MSLs.

Differentiating MSLs by using different names for the role aren’t going to make your company’s “MSL brand” memorable with opinion leaders.

What if we follow the idea that the purpose of a business is to create a customer, and apply this idea to the purpose of the MSL profession?

What if the purpose of a MSL program is to create an opinion leader in a therapeutic area?

“Oh, we already do that!” Some companies may say, “We allocate a percentage of our MSLs’ duties to develop the rising stars!”

But I wonder if these activities are done in the spirit of creating a product advocate, instead of cultivating a true opinion leader in a therapeutic area.

The problem with creating true opinion leaders is that they may not always have a good opinion about your company’s products.

The problem with creating product advocates is that they may not always be trusted by their peers about the objectivity of their opinions.

Maybe the ideal is somewhere in between — cultivating a reliable opinion leader who has a clear vision for a role that a therapeutic product can occupy.

Maybe this is why we keep asking the same questions about the MSL role:
to find the delicate balance between “doing good” for the therapeutic area and
“doing well” by the company.

Jane Chin, Ph.D.