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Selling to Formulators: An Insider's View

Business people in a modern all glass made meeting room

June 6, 2018

Wondering what you can do to ensure your products stand out from the competition? Or how your team can attract the right customers and convert them into satisfied paying customers?

We reached out to George Deckner, a formulating chemist with over 40 years of experience in the Personal Care & Cosmetics Industry, to provide insight on how suppliers can improve relationships with prospective customers.

George Deckner, Personal Care industry expert

George’s career includes a successful tenure at Procter & Gamble, and a total of 354 granted and filed global patents (201 U.S. Patents). He helped develop many of the core platform technologies used today in skin care products under notable brands such as Olay, Clearasil, Noxzema, and more. George served as the Associate Director of Exploratory Formulation for skin care product development before being appointed a Victor Miles Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble.

Throughout his career, George has collaborated with many raw material suppliers on developing numerous marketed skin care, fragrance, and oral care products. When asked how suppliers can best work with product formulators, George offered the following advice:

Top Things Suppliers Should Do:

  1. Understand your competition and benchmark your materials against the best.
    It’s easy to get business when you’re better than the best, and in the cases where you are not, be transparent about the material’s strengths and weaknesses. Your customer would rather make an informed decision upfront than waste time testing something that will not meet the action standard.
  2. Have good data and present it clearly.
    Large CPG companies will base their decision on the facts. For actives in personal care, having in vivo human data is critical.
  3. Thoroughly understand the chemistry of the materials you sell and how to correctly formulate them.
    Questions from your customer will be technical in nature and you should be able to answer them without pause. This leads to the type of salespeople that formulators like to work with. Your salespeople should have a very strong technical background and be able to talk about the technology.
  4. Provide good technical support and quickly respond when customers have problems.
    Suppliers should follow up quickly on questions, literature, and sample requests. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to get the materials they need, even if it’s self-service via a website.

Top Things Suppliers Should NOT Do:

  1. It’s common sense, but don’t waste a formulator’s time.
    Only schedule appointments when you have significant things to talk about, and give your potential customer the space to experiment and manage internal processes.
  2. Don’t ask inappropriate questions that could be construed as asking for confidential information.
    A good formulator will not provide it, and it puts him/her in a really uncomfortable situation.
  3. Don’t overpromise or make commitments you can’t keep.
    R&D is accountable to a larger cross-functional team for adhering to a tight project timelines. If you cannot deliver on their schedule, it impacts their credibility with the team.
  4. Don’t introduce products that have potential freedom-to-practice issues.
    Formulators don’t want to take risks with patent infringement due to the ingredients they use.
  5. Don’t make a potential customer sign a confidentiality agreement to get samples of a commercially available material.
    It’s an unnecessary hoop that does not help the relationship.

And lastly, remember, if you have great materials or ingredients, the formulator will want your help as much as you need the sale. The best scenario is one of full partnership, where both parties work together to find a solution exceeds the expectations of the end user.