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Communication with Chinese Suppliers: Banging Your Head Against the Wall?


Over the years, Chinese manufacturers have gotten better at understanding their overseas customers. And, in many industries, their quality has tended to improve.

However, communication with sales people is still an area of frustration for many buyers.

In many factories, junior English-speaking employees are placed in a sales role. Their basic function is to translate what customers write/say to the rest of their organization, and vice versa. Over time, as they gain in experience, they are given more autonomy.

One thing they are generally NOT taught is how to manage their projects to make communication easy.

And, in some cases, we have seen buyer-supplier relationships that had to be dropped, in spite of a positive attitude on both sides. Why were they dropped? Because keeping the project on track was requiring too much effort for the buyer.

Communication can be very difficult; hand-holding is a must

From what we have seen, there are two reasons for this.

First, as I wrote above, the manufacturing company doesn’t provide the training and the tools necessary for a proactive and pain-free communication. I’d say this is still the rule in China, with a few exceptions.

Second, the salesperson often doesn’t have the right profile. In many cases, as long as they can write and speak English and they don’t ask for a high salary, they will be hired!

What we have seen is salespeople who:

  • Do not keep their projects organized, with a clear overview of what is at what stage and what the next step is
  • Do not pay sufficient attention to details
  • Are following too many projects at the same time and have insufficient time

Some other issues are as follows:

  • Many factories only have 1 English-speaking person for all their export business. It creates a bottleneck!
  • The salesperson has limited technical knowledge and has trouble translating what customers or production people say
  • The company has little experience with international trade
  • They tend to ignore small orders, since they are often paid a percentage of their business (and they focus on large orders only)

Why is it frustrating? Many of these suppliers have a good attitude, can provide the support needed, and offer competitive prices.

What should purchasers do, in such cases?

I asked Liliane, in our Shenzhen office, about the way to deal with these situations.

If you really want to work with a supplier suffering from the deficiencies I described above, he suggested three rules of thumbs:

  • Be aware that what is not said is not done, quite literally.
  • Be respectful and patient
  • Guide your supplier so they understand and improve over time

In practice, dealing with a supplier that needs a lot of hold handing can consume a LOT of time, and yet that approach is mandatory to the success of your project.

Here is what Liliane recommends in such cases:

  • Break down a list of actions with target dates
  • Constant communication and follow-up through emails & chats
  • Go visit them when needed
  • Keep emails short and concise: separate email by topic and priority
  • Cross-check, again and again
  • Document and illustrate; provide easy-to-fill templates so that nothing is forgotten
  • Repeat & remind instructions whenever necessary

Have you got such suppliers? How do you work with them?

From: qualityinspection

Sunchine Inspection

Sunchine inspection focus on providing more flexible and humanized inspection service to clients from all over the world.

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