Reimagining the pharmaceutical sourcing process

Kellan Barfield, CEO of SOURCE EXPLORER, shares why we need to take a different approach to sourcing

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Pharma IQ

Sourcing is a time consuming and costly process for many pharmaceutical companies. But Kellan Barfield, CEO of SOURCE EXPLORER, believes there is a better way, it just requires a bit of matchmaking.

Pharma IQ sat down with Kellan to find out the frustration that drove her to break away from the traditional process, why vendors need to start leading with transparency and how project managers can gain back control.


Pharma IQ: What drove you to develop a vendor matchmaking service?

Kellan Barfield: Well, it was born out of a problem that I was experiencing. I guess that’s how a lot of solutions develop, from the frustration you constantly have.

I was working in Gilead in London and my team would hire 30 to 40 suppliers a year. I was the Head of Commercial Excellence and every time I would go to the sourcing team and say I’ve got X project, who do you recommend, they would always suggest the same three companies.

All of them were great, but they were generalists.

And unless you were spending millions of dollars, you didn’t get the A team that comes into pitch, you got the C team to come and work on your project. So I wanted to go to a company where what I was spending was significant to the company and I was getting exactly what I thought I was buying; a boutique specialist.  

I couldn’t find anyone on Google. And a personal network is great, but sometimes it just doesn’t reach as far as you want it to. So I built my own site. And that’s how Source Explorer came to be.

We’re not physically matching clients to suppliers. But we’re giving the project owners the ability to go in and select from a category of types of suppliers, see their sub-specialities and find their own sweet spot.

It’s giving people more control so that when you go to sourcing you can say this is who I want.

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Pharma IQ: Do you think in the past that this element of control in the sourcing process has been overlooked?

Kellan: Absolutely.

I asked a lot of my former and current colleagues at the time about what kind of names they getting back from sourcing and it was always the big people. If you think about it, there is generally one sourcing manager or specialist per 100 people in a pharma company. And these 100 people may work in ten different functional areas.

There’s no way a sourcing professional can be an expert in every area.

My old sourcing manager used to be a specialist in marketing suppliers. But if someone else goes to the same sourcing manager for another function, he wasn’t necessarily equipped. And there are approved vendor lists but you get minimal information. That’s why we introduced ratings and reviews on the site.

So, it really is something that is being overlooked.

Project managers are losing resources to time-consuming admin when they should be focused on the patient

And if you’re spending less than £100,000, you don’t even have to go through sourcing. You can do that on your own. It’s about knowing who to be able to go to quickly, because I personally have spent up to four months on multiple projects just trying to find people to include in my RFP.

That’s four months to even start the RFP process, six months by the time I get the pitches. That’s so much administrative time that I could have been spending doing my job.

You want to be focused on the patient, but you’re focused on admin instead.


Pharma IQ: For an industry so focused on productivity and efficiency, it seems like a potential black hole where they’re losing resource time.

Kellan: No question about it.

There’s so much more competition now and you have to do things faster. If you’re doing things just like you did them ten years ago, then you’re going to fail. You’ve got to keep up with technology; you’ve got to keep up with efficiency and productivity.

So why not be more efficient about how we’re doing everything in the organization. And sourcing is a critical part of that.


Pharma IQ: Agreed. What other frustrations do you find the industry has about the sourcing process?

Kellan: Well, when I was interviewing science professionals before we started the site, I asked them what is your biggest frustration when sourcing a supplier.

And the same theme kept coming up. They told me that they were tired of working with suppliers, vendors and agencies who tell them they can do it all because they don’t want to lose business.

I’ve had vendors tell me they can create what I need, then they outsource it and upcharge me and I’m left with no control.

So what people really want is someone who understands what they’re being asked to do. They know the problems, they know the challenges and they know how to get past them effectively.

That’s why we feature the subspecialty areas that each supplier focuses on. We’ve all sat through the same boring capabilities presentations. I would always raise my hand and say, what are the top three areas you specialize in.

Many suppliers would stumble, trying to answer for ten minutes, because they didn’t want it to be something I didn’t want. But if you can be upfront about what you’re really good at, then you can optimize a partnership from the start.

This is an opportunity for vendors to be transparent about their capabilities and help you optimize your future partnership

So many people lose sight of the long game because they’re so focused on the sprint rather than the marathon.

If they get involved and say, you might not need me right now, but I’m great at these three things, then they’re going to get so much more business in the future. They’ve got your respect up front. Someone saying we can do it, but that’s not our speciality, says a lot about the integrity of a company.

You’re going to reach out to them again when you have something and you’re more likely to refer them. There’s an opportunity for vendors to step up and be transparent and that is needed.


Pharma IQ:  How would you like to see the situation change for project managers moving forward?

Kellan: I want to see project managers become more empowered. They are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of a project and they understand what type of specialise they need better than anyone else.

By taking advantage of new technology and approaches to the sourcing process, they can be a true partner to their sourcing team, maximizing the chance of hiring the perfect suppliers for their next project. 


READ MORE: Download our eBook on outsourcing trends in Pharma and Biotech