Our Customer’s World is Changing: How Super MSLs are Leading the Way.
Healthcare is one of the fastest changing ecosystems on the planet. Keeping up with those changes can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be so.
Quantum’s research with leading MSL teams in oncology, immunology, and biopharma, has uncovered five new superpowers that top-performing MSLs consistently demonstrate in a fast-changing healthcare ecosystem where flexibility, agility, and complexity are the new normal.
In this article, we’ll highlight what those superpowers are, what good looks like, and why they’re so important.
Five New MSL Superpowers
#1 Manages many complex projects in parallel, to deliver shared outcomes across diverse stakeholders.
The first superpower is a reflection of the demands we now place on our MSLs: The ability to keep many parallel projects moving forward in order to crush a set of shared deliverables aligned with the larger goals of Medical Affairs and the business as a whole. Whether it’s supporting the launch of a new brand, training marketing or the sales force, running ad boards, distilling real-world evidence, developing clinically deep relationships with KOLs, or capturing game-changing insights and sharing them internally, the ability to keep things moving in parallel is a superpower.
In a setting where most people get overwhelmed by complexity, today’s Super MSLs have the ability to simplify the complex. They know how to work with a wide variety of people, from very different backgrounds, to get parallel projects across the finish line fast and in a way that leaves everyone feeling good about themselves and the work they’ve done. The social intelligence dimension of this superpower is so important that we believe it is its own superpower.
#2 Works collaboratively, transparently, and compliantly with internal teams to engage key stakeholders across the ecosystem to amplify the contribution that others are able to make.
The essence of this superpower is amplification. When an MSL meets with a KOL or responds to a medical information request, they are not just sharing complex scientific information. They’re amplifying the ability of that person to do something meaningful for them and their customers. This means the MSL needs to go beyond the surface request and ask about the larger context that prompted the request in the first place. Finding the stakeholder’s “Why” is the key to providing the kinds of information that will elevate that stakeholder’s capability. This is true for nearly everyone our MSLs communicate with. Their job is to empower. The content they share is scientific and clinical insights, but the purpose is amplification.
Working collaboratively requires social intelligence and a deeper kind of empathy than we normally think of. Most people think of empathy as the ability to understand how someone feels, and that’s important. But there are other kinds of empathy: Workflow empathy means understanding what someone else’s day-to-day workflows, deliverables, and timelines are. Functional empathy means understanding what another person’s functional perspective is. For example, a KOL’s perspective, a brand team’s perspective, a field reimbursement manager’s perspective, and so on. The ability to gather and share the right kinds of actionable information at the right level of detail is another key skill that adds up to this superpower. It all boils down to empowering others to amplify their contribution.
#3 Proactively develops a deep network of scientific relationships with HCPs and scientific leaders in the ecosystem.
The key word is proactive. The defining characteristic of a middle-performing MSL is “responsiveness.” They respond to MIRs. They respond to requests from internal stakeholders. But the essence of this superpower is being proactive about developing a large network of strong, clinically credible, relationships.
It’s more than inviting people to connect on LinkedIn. The size of your network is important, but having authentic relationships is what it’s really all about. That means knowing what’s important to the other person. Understanding them and the world they live in, the challenges they face, their aspirations, goals, and priorities. And that takes time. It’s been said that it takes three meetings to develop a relationship. In our research, it’s closer to five.
These relationships are a powerful source of insight. They help the MSL stay plugged in and develop “field awareness.” They help the MSL develop and share a near real-time understanding of what’s happening in a therapeutic area. It helps them monitor competitor moves and surf the leading edge of unfolding science.
#4 Is highly perceptive, emotionally intelligent, and intuitive when communicating with others.
The ability to read the room, pick up on micro-messages, and notice other social cues is the fourth MSL Superpower. Too often MSLs are so focused on the science that they miss important signals from both internal and external stakeholders. The classic example is going into too much detail about an area. This superpower is about reading and adapting in real-time. Sensing when you need to go deeper. Sensing when you’re saying too much and pivoting in real-time. It’s about getting in synch and staying in sync with others. And it’s powerful.
Finally, this superpower is about the ability to connect the dots to a larger understanding. Spotting trends or implications is a key part of this MSL Superpower. The ability to see the larger pattern, and synthesize a new understanding or opportunity, is critical because the insights MSLs bring back to the company are just as important as the insights they share with their internal and external stakeholders.
#5 Is an impactful communicator who goes beyond educating to transforming and empowering others.
The last MSL Superpower is about impact. Too often, MSLs are satisfied with responding to requests or sharing the latest clinical data without thinking too much about the impact of what they share on how stakeholder thinks and acts. It’s true that the commercial team’s job is to promote, but everyone plays a role in facilitating change. Changing the HCP’s perspective. Changing how they view our brands. Changing how they approach treatment and manage adverse events.
The litmus test of an impactful communicator is not whether knowledge was acquired or even remembered. It’s about whether the experience changed the way the receiver thinks and approaches their job. Are they more effective? Can they create more impact with their customers? Or even their customer’s customers. The ability to see through this moment and into how the information you share will be used is critical.
In many ways, this last MSL Superpower supports the first four. The ability to capture attention, energize others, establish credibility, and inspire action contributes to almost everything an MSL does. From collaborating with a KOL to supporting the launch of a new brand, from capturing HCP perspectives from an advisory board to synthesizing that insight into something that might influence the next generation of products, the ability to change thinking and action truly is a superpower.