10 self-coaching questions MSL should ask and answer to keep growing professionally

questions or decision making conceptAccording to Pareto rule, it’s possible to get 80% of result with 20% of the effort. Often 20% means having right habits. In order to establish successful habits and consistently achieve professional and personal goals, it’s helpful to adopt some self-coaching behaviours. Self-coaching is a powerful skill set of tools and techniques that any MSL can apply to create instant and sustainable work (and life) changes. Developing a strong habit by asking yourself these questions at least once a month will make a difference. When thinking of questions to ask yourself, keep in mind that they have to move you towards a solution rather than in the direction of another problem.

1. What do I want to achieve on MSL position?
Obvious, but in fact not always asked within the teams. It’s essential to have this question raised at any time, as it clarifies the expectations from the role, facilitates and stregthens the links between personal aspirations and eventual MSL impact. Write down the answer to this question.

2. How will I know when I’ve achieved success?
Make your goals as specific or measurable as you can. What will be the customer and stakeholder perception of your input? What do you want it to be? Set the realistic milestones and treat them as steps of the ladder leading to the top of your ambitions. Put the answer to this question in writing because that will force you to clarify what you want as a result, and keep it visible daily. Any of your goals should be supported by this question, as it bridges your plans with reality.

3. What is my first step towards this success?
The most difficult step of a mountain climb isn’t the last one – it’s the first. Making a first step is important as it initiates the direction you have chosen. After the difficult first step, every your movement becomes easier and the progress becomes faster. Try not to postpone your first step and do it as soon as you can even if it is be small: make an project outline, a customer call or just a meeting invitation.

4. What stops me from moving forward?
Normally these are our fears and inertia appearing at the border-cross of our comfort area. Obviously our path to development lies through those fears, anxiety and low confidence. This might be a lack of knowledge as well. The answer to this question might become a check-list for your personal and professional growth. Think to yourself, how wisely involving your colleages or your manager you can overcome those barriers.

5. What are three things I am doing regularly that don’t serve or support my goals?
We need to have a filter for work or opportunities we receive. The more things we are doing, the more quickly we become distracted and pulled away from our course. The only way to keep on path is evaluation of our work in terms of support for our goals. This might be our useless and distractive habits that bog us down and prevent us from achieving goals. Answering this question in writing as well will help you to filter out things for down-prioritization or quitting.

6. What resources have I never used?
A question that releases our entrepreneurship spirit and triggers out-of-the-box thinking. Working solely inside MSL job description doesn’t not make us outstanding. A job done beyond our responsibilities will help to make MSL team great. Use the insights of this question to become more creative in finding opportunities to achieve your goals.

7. What would be the biggest impact from achieving my working goals?
MSL actions should ultimately lead to the achievement of Medical Affairs goals and mission. Comparing your impact against your organization goals may reveal some insightful thoughts on how to strengthen the link between the work you do and stakeholder expectations.

8. What would I try now if I knew I could not fail?
My favourite question and one more trigger to release our inner genius. The stream of fresh ideas is right behind this door, you need just to open it.

9. If I did know, what would the answer be?
Simple and brilliant. “Not knowing” may appear to be our latent intent to avoid risks of change. Asking this question gives us unconscious permission to dream and be creative because in fact we do know. If not MSLs, who then?

10. What can I learn from this?
If you can learn from a negative situation you reduce the likelihood that it will ever happen again. Besides, reflecting on this question, you may find ways to turn your trouble today into basement for your best success tomorrow.

Written by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev,


10 Questions MSL Should Ask Any Thought Leader

Shutterstock_Questions_ImageThought leaders are an important extension of the pharma organization’s central nervous system. With the increase of strategic importance of thought leaders to pharmaceutical business, Medical Affairs role is expanding in response. MSLs are taking on a progressively more strategic role within their organizations as thought leader relationships become more and more valuable in establishing market dominance. Regulatory limitations of sales-to-physician dialogue and high complexity of science behind the products has led to a growing customer-facing role for MSL teams with focus on thought leaders. Why question them? To better understand medical practices and habits, patient needs and gain feedback on job MSL are doing to bring value to thought leaders and eventually improve patient access to new therapies. These powerful questions may always be used in discussion with any thought leader.

1. What do you think?

These words are probably most important to use in any conversation. Commercial people rarely address this question to customers, possibly because they believe they already supposed to know what is on the customers’ mind. Asking this question doesn’t reveal our incompetence, it bridges us with other people and helps to gain a lot of valuable insights.

2. What can we do to serve you better?

Probably the single most important feedback MSL can gain from thought leader relates to ideas MSL share to help physicians to improve medical practices. When it comes to gathering ideas for your innovative project, the voice of thought leader should be at the top.

3. How is our team doing on this project?

When you are eager to make the work as good as you can you may want to ask this general question. Be prepared to seriously consider the feedback. That doesn’t mean that you have to do everything that’s suggested, but you should at least listen and think about it.

4. Give a recent example of how we’ve exceeded your expectations? Or not met them?

In case you want to receive a more robust answer, instead of just asking previous question, make the questions specific and over a recent time frame so that your feedback will likely generate more actionable items.

5. What is the one thing that none of the pharmaceutical companies do that you wish they did?

This question directly leads to the potential differentiation points between you and others. Obviously you don’t have to implement what you hear, it’s more important that it may lead to new insights.

6. What’s the one thing we should never stop doing?

This question possibly will reveal useful, if not surprising information. You might expect the answer to be related to something like slides preparation and receive feedback about the your politeness and helpfulness. This question will likely reveal strengths worth promoting.

7. What’s one thing we do better than other pharmaceutical companies you work with?

In this question you are trying to discover something that you can work with as a true differentiator. This is probably the question you’ll need to work hardest at getting specifics. You want to look for words and phrases and actual experiences that keep coming up over and over again, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you.

8. Will you refer us to other physicians, and if so, why?

This is the ultimate question of satisfaction because a truthful answer means your customer likes your services and likes the experience of getting your services.

9. What would you say is one of the top three priorities of your current work?

Find out what’s the focus of you customers work and what initiatives they already have in place. This of course will help you to define key areas of interest where you potentially aim with you engagement proposals.

10. What other sources of information do you consider credible that help you make medical decisions?

This will help you to envision other ways of influencing and communicating your messages to thought leaders. Also – a good way to stay updated on current scientific trends and learn the market better.
Written by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev,

Which metrics are you using to show impact of MSLs/Medical Advisors on medical practices?

1af9e88672b031f9641f434915a80cfbQuantifying performance and measuring results are no longer the attributions of sales organizations. Though not all non profit organizations as Medical Affairs need to measure impact – this depends on how leaders determine relationship between actions and their impacts. Organization’s rationale is supposed to explain, that actions should ultimately lead to the achievement of its goals and mission. To determine how you are performing against your business objectives, metrics are used. The goal of MSL/Medical Advisor metrics is to drive the desired MSL behaviors and also to demonstrate the value of the organization. Such metrics are still debatable in pharma companies. Since strategic role of MSL/Medical Advisor teams is to address unmet medical needs through credible communication of scientific information to thought leaders to ensure safe and appropriate use of therapies, are there ways to capture their impact on medical practices?

For me the best metric set should contain both quantitative and qualitative metrics with emphasis on the qualitative measures or outcomes – like feedback from customers on the services MSLs provide to external customers. A number of quatitative metrics reflecting engagement in the field with the customers should be small. A good way to capture feedback from customers is continuously asking them about their satisfaction (current status) and expectations (future). Both can be collected with a thought leader surveys. This tool has already become a standard means of performance measurement across the pharmaceutical industry. Currently, 58% of all companies surveyed by Cutting Edge Info conduct thought leader feedback surveys to assess MSL performance. Customer feedback is perhaps the final key measure of the perceived MSL value from the perspective of not only customers, but pharma company itself.


MSL Activities and Performance Measurement: Harnessing KOL Relationships for Optimal Clinical Support” (

Written by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev,


Effective questioning as a critical skill of tomorrow MSLs

6a00d8341bf7cb53ef013488dba177970c-piPharma’s engagement with thought leaders and advisory boards is significantly transforming under intense public observation and demands transparency. This makes Medical Affairs teams enhance patient access to optimal medical treatment through clearly demonstrating value to physicians. In order to understand and clearly demonstrate value, Medical Affairs have to strengthen understanding of local medical practices and patient needs, deriver relevant insights from this and utilize those insights to ensure that brand strategy maximizes the medical benefits for patients and physicians.

The first critical element of this chain is understanding local medical practices and patient needs. Both require an MSL skill of effective questioning. Effective questions will help MSLs to connect with thought leaders in a more meaningful way and better and fully understand their needs and problems.

An analogy might be the trainer who asks a lot of questions, mostly irrelevant,  slips off topic, unable to get to the essence of the training. At the end of the training when little progress was made, the attendees are left wondering what they learned. Like a trainer is responsible for the progress of the trainees, MSLs are the corporate owners of thought leaders engagement and education.
Asking good questions is not an abstract idea. There are concrete steps one can take to acquire this skill.

1. Have a specific goal. Decide in advance what you want to achieve with your questions to a thought leader. Focusing will help you eliminate unnecessary questions.

2. Do your homework. Write out the questions you want to ask, in advance. Make sure every question relates to the idea or topic on which you are focusing. Put these questions in a logical sequence. Even if you end up deviating at times your list will give you a road map to follow.

3. Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” To do this, ask questions beginning with: Who, what, when, where, why and how. For example, instead of asking, “Will the current guidelines fit to respond to these clinical challenges?”, ask “What is it about the current guidelines that will make them a response to the new challenges?”

4. Ask only one question at a time. Otherwise, you risk to cause confusion or receiving a partial response. For example, instead of asking “Why do you say that product A is more efficacious than B and what was wrong with B and how do you think the patients should be treated instead of B?” ask, “Why do you think product A is more efficacious than B?”, “Why do you think product B failed?”,“How do you think the patients who fail on B should be treated further?”

5. Ask empowering questions. As I said earlier, most people like to talk about themselves and the work  they do. So ask questions that allow them to reflect on their experience and share it with you. For example,“May I ask for your advice?”, “Based on your experience, what are your recommendations?”

Behind effective questioning is also the ability to listen to the answer and suspend judgment. This means being willing on understanding what the person who is talking is really saying. What is behind their words? Good listening is a part of effective questioning. Though sometimes a desire to keep control of the conversation and demonstrate intelligence and skills may prevent us from listening or asking good questions.

As a conclusion, development of effective questioning skills in MSL teams may lead to gathering better information, do more solution oriented problem solving and eventually reduce mistakes. Also good questions may help to persuade thought leaders in smooth and trustful manner.

1. Pharma Medical Affairs 2020 and beyond – McKinsey & Company Report.

2.The Art of Effective Questioning: Asking the right question for the desired result.

Written by Dr. Alexander Tolmachev,