As a medical science liaison (MSL), when a healthcare provider (HCP) has a technical question you are called in to answer, it’s easy to assume that you don't need to create a plan for the call. You will simply answer the question during the call. However, that’s not the most effective way to support the HCP. If your goal for the call is to provide value to the HCP in the treatment of his or her patients, then a little planning before the call can ensure not only that you effectively answer the question, but that the HCP perceives you as professional and supportive.
You can effectively plan your call on an HCP or opinion leader by:
1. Engaging the sales representative
If the HCP request came through the sales representative, then the sales representative should have a good understanding of the HCP’s personality, the context of the question, and what's driving the request. Depending on your organization’s policy, knowing that information can help significantly in your preparation. For example, if you know the context of the question, you can not only prepare a complete response, but you also can be prepared to answer any associated questions the HCP may ask.
Having an in-depth discussion with the sales representative before the call also can help you avoid pitfalls or inflammatory topics the HCP doesn’t want to discuss. Knowing what not to discuss is just as important as knowing what to discuss. Working closely with the sales representative to ensure that you clearly answer the HCP’s questions has many advantages and is a good common practice.
2. Planning how you will establish credibility
You likely came to the MSL role with an advanced degree. However, that doesn’t ensure that the HCP is going to find your comments credible. If you are meeting an HCP for the first time, you have only a few minutes early in the call to establish your credibility. To do this, at the beginning of the call:
- Be confident. Nothing speaks to your credibility more than your confidence. If you have prepared for the conversation and done your homework, then you need to demonstrate confidence in your demeanor and conversation with the HCP.
- Focus on research and data. The more you can illustrate your understanding of the research associated with a topic and cite the data confidently, the more the HCP will trust your presentation.
- Create dialogue and listen. HCPs will have more confidence in your presentation if you ask good questions to develop a deep understanding of their perspective before you provide data and information. By carefully listening, you not only uncover valuable information you can use to respond to their requests, but you also demonstrate respect.
3. Planning what you are going to say
Before the conversation with the HCP, think about what you want to say and how you are going to say it. Your initial message and response to the HCP’s inquiry needs to be clear and concise. The conversation needs to focus on what will bring the HCP value, not what you want to tell him or her.
4. Identifying good questions you want to ask
Not only should you plan what you want to say, but you should also identify any questions you might want to ask. There are two kinds of questions—ones that uncover additional information and ones that clarify what you heard. Obviously, you can’t plan your clarifying questions, but you can plan the questions you want to ask to uncover additional information. For example, you may want to understand more context for the inquiry or why the HCP is asking it. Good discovery questions need to be genuine and provide you meaningful information related to the inquiry.
5. Identifying what you are going to show
During the conversation, you probably are going to want to share data or information with the HCP. Before the call, you should have that material ready and have planned exactly what you want to show the HCP. Fumbling around through your materials during the call can waste valuable time and make you look unprepared. If you are showing a study, have the page you want to share tabbed and ready, and ensure that the reprint is quickly accessible.
6. Anticipating objections or obstacles
We often plan the call but don’t develop strategies for dealing with objections or obstacles. Again, other colleagues in your organization, such as the sales representative, can help you think about what issues the HCP may bring up. It’s better to prepare for an objection and never need the responses than to be caught off guard by an objection and not be able to handle it.
One kind of objection you may encounter in your role as an MSL is skepticism. When an HCP is skeptical, it means he or she isn’t completely convinced about the information you are sharing. A good way to handle skepticism is to provide a good proof source, something the HCP will believe to support your information. Perhaps you can use a published study or something from the package insert for the product to overcome the HCP’s skepticism. Simply trying to overcome skepticism through dialogue only doesn’t work. You need a good source to support your comments.
7. Tailoring your presentation to the HCP’s style
HCPs are people, and people have personalities. As best you can, tailor your presentation to the HCP’s personality. Other colleagues in your organization who may have called on the HCP, such as the sales representative, can provide feedback about how the HCP likes to receive information. Some like information delivered quickly and to the point, while others may want a good conversation with give and take. The key is to deliver your information in a manner that best meets the HCP’s needs. Be flexible in this delivery. You may have heard that the HCP is analytical, but during the first few minutes, you discover that he or she is more expressive. You need to be able to pivot in the conversation to meet the HCP's needs.
Rehearsing, not just thinking about or reviewing the material, but articulating the words you want to say, is highly effective when preparing for a call on an HCP. Speaking the words aloud helps you clarify what you want to say and how you want to say it. Almost all conversations will go a different direction than you anticipate, but preparing by rehearsing will help you stay focused on the key points you want to make.
Planning your call on an HCP is critical to ensuring a good outcome. Knowing what you want to say and how you are going to deliver it through thoughtful preparation will help ensure that you bring value to HCPs and their patients.