Your Critical KOL Identification And Mapping Questions: Answered

Over the past two decades we have worked with leading pharmaceutical and medical device companies around the world to identify and map the key opinion leaders (KOL) that best fit their particular needs and objectives. Over time we have heard a variety of questions ranging from why they should perform KOL identification and mapping to best practices. We thought we might provide some perspectives on these commonly asked questions. Our sincere hope is that this provides you a solid framework to discuss KOL identification and mapping with your colleagues.

  1. Why undertake KOL identification and mapping? In a large survey involving over 200 physicians, Snowfish asked, “what factors are the most important to your treatment selection?” The most critical factor was clinical trial data. Given the unalterable nature of clinical data it is the hand you are dealt.The second most important factor, and one which a company has full control over, is KOLs. Over the past decade we have shown companies how influence is really concentrated in the hands of 1 to 2 % of the healthcare practitioners while 50% of the market has zero influence. Another noteworthy point is that our survey pointed out that “KOL” is not synonymous with peer; recommendation from peers (not KOLs) was designated as least important.
  2. How can I use the results from a KOL identification and mapping project? We have most often implemented KOL identification and mapping projects on behalf of the Medical Affairs and Marketing departments. The results are used in a variety of activities; developing advocates, establishing medical science liaison (MSL) regions, identifying speakers and advisory board members, determining with whom to collaborate on medical communications programs, and understanding the interrelationships with healthcare practitioners within the market. This may even include who would be valuable partners in digital initiatives. Effective profiling performed as part of the identification and mapping will facilitate successful use of the results.
  3. Are Rx volumes, ICD or CPT codes a good proxy for identifying KOLs? Prescription, diagnostic, or procedure volume is probably one of the worst proxies for identifying KOLs. The ideal profile of an “overall” KOL is a well rounded individual who is conducting research, publishing articles, speaking at major events, and being in a leadership role at major society, along with seeing patients to an extent,.The multitude of demands on a KOL’s time attenuates their ability to evaluate and diagnose the bulk of patients.The only exception is in the case of orphan conditions and still, these measures should not be used in isolation.
  4. To compare the cost of a KOL identification & mapping, can I simply divide the  number of KOLs profiled by the cost of the project? Unfortunately it is not that easy. Advanced KOL identification and mapping involves the integration of dozens of data sources, unique profiling, and a clear understanding the team and product’s objectives.The complexity of the ideal profile, number of sources used, the level of manual data review, and the number of KOLs identified and profiled and the clinical experience of the team are all major factors that go into the pricing of the project. Quite simply, having been hired to fix faulty KOL analyses, the value of each KOL is driven by the robustness of the data and insights behind them.
  5. How long does a KOL identification mapping take? Doing a proper KOL identification and mapping project takes time and thought. We strongly advise against using a cookie cutter approach.Our experience has been that a well done project usually takes approximately 10 to 12 weeks. Given the importance of KOL identification and mapping, plan ahead for the project and make sure that the time it takes to do the project properly is included in your planning.

Experienced industry professionals know the importance of KOL identification and mapping. As we’ve documented, it probably is the most critical activity that is fully within the scope of control of a company. KOLs drive awareness, understanding, and adoption of a product. It is hard to envision anything as more important once a product has been developed.

Snowfish are leaders in helping life science companies to build their stakeholder networks and engagement plans. We were pioneers in KOL identification and mapping and have continued to build on those core strengths to remain the leader in the field. Please reach out to us by going to


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Effective product planning requires asking questions, seeking answers, and analyzing the answers for insights. Don’t despair; you are not in this alone. We have the in-depth knowledge of the industry needed to answer your questions and provide actionable insights.