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Overcoming supplier communication obstacles

by Jacob Yount

Overcoming China Supplier Communication Obstacles When Importing

When importing from China, overcoming supplier communication obstacles, leads to better quality merchandise and smoother projects.

A primary obstacle, if not the heart of all obstacles, is understanding where your supplier is coming from.

You read an email and do not know exactly why the supplier just said what they said, what’s the gist, what do they mean…

There are aspects in communication and customer service the supplier is not grasping or making the effort to grasp.

Instead of accommodating their communication and updates to you as a client, the Chinese supplier seems to let the words flow and you jump on the ride.

In other words, by default, right or wrong, the burden of proof for clarity lies on the client’s shoulders.

On the surface, it is a lack of professional consideration on the supplier’s part.

But in reality, the supplier considers aspects and scenarios in great depth. In the supplier’s mind they are truly thinking and OVER thinking.

They may consider the buyer’s reaction and understanding 99 different ways. But the supplier communication obstacle, is putting their own thoughts into practical application.

Pulling the curtain back and elaborating on supplier communication obstacles, gives the buyer more patience and knowledge to be 1-step ahead of the game.

1-step ahead can be the difference in quality merchandise (ie avoiding a disaster) or achieving your timing goals.

Here are a few common supplier communication obstacles. Knowing these help you to gird your loins in battling the cloud of confusion that frequently accompanies China importing.

Suppliers communicate to buyers as if the project in question is the buyers only project or concern

Emails lack point of reference, reminders and connecting points. Because everything that was just confirmed or said, of course, is at the forefront of your thinking, right? Suppliers do not realize you may have 10 different projects going on with 10 different vendors.

Train your suppliers to use certain subject lines and to always keep an ongoing format in their emails. Train your suppliers to refer to the project as you refer to it and alway repeat and use the same key words. If you are always using different and erratic wording, do not expect the supplier to be consistent.

Also, do not forget to scroll below on the email (duh!). Many times, if what the supplier is saying does not have a reference, usually it is connected to the last thing just said on the below email.

Suppliers’ communication does not take into account that buyers are largely in the dark

Many times, the person you work with in the factory is a young sales contact. They do not value their own role and comprehend that they are, in a sense, your eyes and ears.

Their communication is as if you see everything they see and know everything they know. Thus they do not communicate as if they are updating someone remotely who relies on every word they say.

There is also the assumption that the buyer an expert on the product. That you understand the product and its production processes to the fullest or else you wouldn’t be importing the item.

Suppliers are still learning that in the Western world, there are industries and professions that deal simply in buying and selling.

Someone needs to be the expert on the process and suppliers do not realize that they need to step up to the plate.

Clearly define to your vendor what you expect from them.

Suppliers do not consider the value of updates.

Regardless of how small or mundane the supplier perceives the update, they do not realize, that to a overseas buyer, it can be like cherished gold.

There are many cultural and understanding considerations wrapped up in this one.

Since the supplier does not know what you do not know, suppliers also do not know what to update you on.

What you appreciate hearing.

What’s important.

A skilled importer can hear pieces of an update and know immediately what further questions to ask and what aspect to dig in to…to see if everything is on track.

The supplier still largely thinks:

Well, of course they should trust me. If there is something important, of course I’ll tell them. And if it is real important to the buyer, shouldn’t they hop on a plane and come visit?

To some suppliers, expecting frequent and thorough communication from the supplier, is a sign that you do not trust them to handle the case. Frustrating, huh?

Any nervousness you may have as a buyer

Buyers are overseas, do not touch and see the order production…like I said above, they largely operate in the dark.

Suppliers do not really take into account, that this causes a nervousness on the buyers part. Whether obvious or subconscious, that “apprehension” is there.

Suppliers may even communicate with a casualness on aspects that you think are darn important.

Be sure to clarify your main goals and what you consider to be important aspects. Let the supplier know you require frequent and clear updates (reasonable of course).

The ultimate goal, as you do more and more business and reorders with the same supplier, is that THEY will understand where YOU are coming from.

But in order to do that, someone needs to take the first steps.

If you are always sourcing new vendors and shopping around, you’ll always be starting at square #1 in overcoming supplier communication obstacles.

Jacob Yount lived in China from 2001 to 2012, during which time he started JLmade. He is now based out of North Carolina in the US and his home office is still in Suzhou, China; manufacturing and exporting branded merchandise, promotional products and retail gifts for distributors worldwide. Contact Jacob at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or find him on his blog.

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