One of the best ways to validate your new technology with your customers is with publications (especially those of happy customers). What do you do when you don’t have them yet? Key Opinion Leaders or KOLs can be a great resource for getting things moving in the early days before there is a compelling publication record.
Who are they?
Although most scientist-founders will easily be able to name the key people in their field, it is important to find out who your future customers regard as the Key Opinion Leaders. Set up meetings with your customers, face-to-face if possible, over coffee, in their labs, at trade shows and everywhere and anywhere that you can. You want to generate a candidate list of about 10 – 15 Key Opinion Leaders. During this discovery process, be sure to ask who the ‘up-and-coming’ leaders in the field are as well. The top people can be fickle as they are courted by many whereas the leaders of tomorrow tend to show more loyalty (The up-coming leaders will likely value the relationship more since it can have a bigger impact on their own careers).
Who gets what out of this?
Your goal is to develop a relationship that you and the Key Opinion Leader highly value. When you and your company are valued, the Key Opinion Leader will talk about you at industry conferences, provide valuable insights on what the key issues in the field are and many other tangible and intangible benefits that will help you with your product launch and even early sales. Putting some thought into what you hope to get out of the relationship as well as the benefits for the Key Opinion Leader are essential to maximizing this effort. The two lists below are some examples of the types of things to be considered.
What They Get from You
- Free conference attendance and travel
- Early access to instrument or product
- Free instrument, supplies etc.
- Completion of a small study by your R&D team on their behalf
- Increased visibility among their peers as you promote them
What You Get from Them
- Keynote speakerships at tradeshows
- Completion of a small study on your behalf
- Testimonials for your marketing team
- Publications with your product (eventually)
- Early insights in the field with regard to trends and opportunities
Ready, Set, Go!
Now that you know who the Key Opinion Leaders are that your customers most highly regard and what you will do for each other, it is time to reach out to them. These early discussions can set the stage for how well this effort will turn out for both of you. Share with them what you hope to gain and what they could expect to gain from the relationship. By the end of this you should have agreement on outcomes, timelines for when you and they expect to deliver on your commitments, how any issues that come up should be resolved and how frequently you will connect to discuss progress (aim for at least once a month if not more). Having a plan like this in place at the outset will insure that everyone’s expectations are in line and will give you the best possible chance for a successful outcome.