How to sell chemicals to cosmetic chemists

As a cosmetic formulator you will have the opportunity to meet lots of raw material sales people. These meetings can be extremely helpful and you can learn a lot. You may even be inspired to leave the lab to become a salesperson yourself. It can be a great career move if you are so inclined.

But selling to cosmetic chemists is not easy. They are trained scientists and don’t (or shouldn’t) fall for the type of marketing beauty product consumers fall for. When I was formulating, I always met with sales people and tried to encourage them to bring me products that I could incorporate into my formulations. Unfortunately, they rarely did. They made some fundamental errors that made it difficult for me to use their ingredient.

Since a number of chemical sales people are fans of this website, I thought I’d share some tips for how to effectively sell to cosmetic chemists.

1. Have some novel technology that provides a unique consumer benefit

This is the most important tip. If your company has a technology that provides a unique consumer benefit, cosmetic chemists will use it. And if the benefit is significant enough, the price will not matter. Do you have something that will lighten skin, tighten skin, cover gray, or solve any of the other 10 most significant hair care and skin care problems? This will be easy to sell. Unfortunately, the reality is that almost no company has ANY technology that provides a significant, consumer noticeable benefit.

2. Have some novel technology that provides a unique formulation benefit

Alright, if you can’t produce a compound that provides a unique consumer benefit, there is still an opportunity for new technology. Cosmetic chemists will buy a technology if it provides a unique formulation benefit. Maybe you have technology that will speed up production, significantly improve stability, or reduce formula irritation. Or maybe your technology demonstrably improves the performance of the formula in lab testing (not consumer noticeable). These are still of interest to cosmetic formulators. Granted, they are not as exciting and you will not be able to charge as much as technologies that have unique consumer benefits, but real, demonstrable benefits versus what the chemist is using right are easy to sell. The trick is you have to be able to clearly demonstrate the benefit and solve a problem that the formulator has. I’ve seen way too many new raw materials that solve problems I didn’t have!

Pro tip: Formulators do not need any more emollients

3. Sell it at the lowest price

If you don’t have any unique technology, you can still be successful. You just have to sell the product at the lowest price. Formulators respond to lower prices. Purchasing groups especially like lower priced raw materials. However, I caution you that this is not a slam dunk. Just because your price is slightly lower than your competitor’s, formulators will not automatically change. You have to demonstrate that it will lead to a significant cost savings. For this you’ll need to figure out exactly how much the company could save by switching. At my former company, if the cost savings didn’t lead to at least a $100,000 a year savings we wouldn’t even work on the project.

4. Have the best customer service

In truth, competing on price is not a great game to play. There is a “race to the bottom” mentality and eventually you will lose out to a company that can undercut your price. There can only be Walmart in the world, and that’s a tough position to be in. But cosmetic chemists are people and they respond to the personality of the salesperson. Be friendly, be responsive, and provide value. This can be in the form of education, samples, market data, lunches, or even gossip about the industry. Just don’t waste their time. And if you can’t answer a question, direct them to a technical person who can. Other customer service things like easy billing, shorter lead times, longer credit limits can all influence whether a formulator uses your ingredient or not. Remember these will not be as compelling as the reasons above, but they can be the difference between making or not making a sale.

5. Provide a reliable second source

If you can’t do any of the other things, you can always be a second source for a material the formulator is already using. The second source can be slightly more expensive but you have to be reliable. And you have to prove that your source is not going to mess up their current formula. This won’t lead to lots of new sales but formulators never like to be single sourced on ANY ingredient. If you can position yourself as a second source for a raw material, you’ll make sales.

Bonus. Solve the cosmetic chemist’s problems

Finally, cosmetic chemists like to work with people who can help them solve their problems. If you can figure out what problems they are having and offer a solution, that will be remembered and will lead to sales now or in the future. Help them solve their problems, real problems, then selling raw materials will never be a problem for you.

Are you a cosmetic sales person with some more suggestions or a cosmetic chemist who has something to say? Leave a comment below.

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