MSL Strategic Plan


One of the bright lights to come out of the darkness of the Covid-19 Pandemic are the Friday weekly webinars from the MSL Society. I put out summary notes from a previous webinar about How MSLs are Coping with the Pandemic because I thought the content was so compelling. Here I am back to the well once more with information related to a webinar on the MSL Strategic Plan that I believe was equally valuable.

Moderated by Samuel Dyer, the Chairman of the MSL Society, and driven by information provided by Davida White, MD, the US Oncology Field Medical Alignment Director at Merck and Robert Groebel the VP, Global Medical Strategy at Monocl, this webinar was designed to answer the following:

• What are the elements of an effective Field Medical Strategic Plan and why do we need one?
• What are some of the advantages of an effective Field Medical Strategic Plan?
• What are some of the disadvantages of not having an effective Field Medical Strategic Plan?
• How a Field Medical Strategic Plan facilitates alignment with the greater organization.

To be blunt, I tuned in for the wrong reason. I thought the topic was about the MSL’s territory plan that each MSL uses to effectively engage KOLs, research sites and clinical practice facilities within their defined geography. Instead it turns out the field medical strategic plan is one level up from that and guides the whole of strategies and sometimes tactics of the MSL field force. Reinforcing my point that the Field Medical Strategic Plan or what I am calling the MSL Strategic Plan is lesser known throughout the MSL role, the Society surveyed 221 MSLs and only 57% had seen the MSL Strategic Plan, 31% had not seen it and 6% were firmly with me in having no idea what it is!

The three presenters really helped to bring a clearer understanding of how the MSL Strategic Plan is the road map for the Medical Affairs function. It demonstrates the role and value of medical affairs  and  through more active sharing helps move and influence the overall direction of the organization. The speakers all agreed that the MSL Strategic Plan is critical to the success of the MSL role and equally important for demonstrating to the whole organization how the Medical Affairs field force, MSLs, delivers value.

The strategic plan is like a GPS above each MSL’s territory plan. It acknowledges strengths and weaknesses, allocates budgets in line with priority initiatives, brings clarity to the priorities and, like a timekeeper, ensures that an organization considers the lifecycle stages of its products. This plan helps facilitate MSLs bringing alignment of the right actions to KOLs in their topography to drive impact and demonstrate value to the market.

The MSL Strategic Plan goal is to deliver strategic value in the most efficient amount of time to each KOL an MSL interacts with. It ensures that MSLs do not work in a vacuum from Medical Affairs and an organization’s management, while making sure that the fire wall between the commercial department and promotional efforts is not compromised. The strategic plan is designed to be dynamic, taking into account new insights. It is in contrast to the mostly quarterly based POAs (Plan of Action) of the sales force. MSLs are more effective when focused on long-term relationships incorporating a strategic vision of the benefits that relationships with KOL/Thought Leaders can deliver.

The Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the MSL Strategic Plan are mostly qualitative. They set the type of insights sought and help manage expectations throughout the organization as to what the MSL field force can deliver. The KPIs of the Strategic Plan can unlock unmet needs. Identifying these unmet needs through KOL knowledge, and delivering the right science data to the right person at the right time to uncover the most important actionable insights, is the process that the organization depends upon the MSL role to provide. The Plan when designed and executed properly, facilities gaining valuable specific feedback from specific KOLs. This type of success demonstrates to the organization at large the value of the MSL field force and helps justify the resources provided. The MSL role can be a difficult one to attribute ROI to, but the strategic plan can demonstrate tangible measurable achievements.

The types of insights derived from the Strategic Plan can touch many areas including competition, conferences/congresses, content development and publication planning needs, data development and investigator initiated trials and medical communication and messages. How to pace the dissemination of insights strategically to the right stakeholders and in a fashion that effectively engages them is critical for MSL and company success.

All speakers stressed the importance of utilizing the MSL Strategic Plan to bring everyone into alignment company wide BEFORE the MSLs create their territory plans. One of the most important outcomes of the Strategic Plan is to create an understanding throughout other departments as to what the MSL role does and the value it delivers with clear actionable goals and deliverables.

Interested in discussing your career or your hiring needs for MSLs?  Contact Smith Hanley Associates MSL and Medical Affairs Executive Recruiter, Nihar Parikh at [email protected].



This event was co-hosted by Monocl,  a firm that enables professionals in life sciences to confidently identify and engage the right experts, and The Medical Science Liaison Society and this recording as well as many others are available to everyone on the MSL Society’s website.

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