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How Chinese suppliers will understand your requirements

by Renaud Anjoran

Have you already received pre-production samples (or, worse, production samples) that were different from the requirements you had communicated?

Have you already wondered if the sales rep’s “well noted with thanks” means “everyone here gets it, thanks” or “I’ll try to translate it, no need to send me more emails about this“?

 If you work with Chinese suppliers, this might be your daily routine. Here are a few tips to reduce miscommunication risks.

General advice for communicating your requirements

At the very least, you need to concentrate your requirements in one document. Don’t send some info in several emails, with updates by Skype, and so on.

Also, the salesperson shouldn’t have to translate big blocks of text. She would probably summarize it in any way she can, and the result wouldn’t be pretty. Go visual. Use many photos. Videos might be OK, but remember that is blocked in the mainland.

Keep updating the same document, and make sure it can be understood by the production staff without much effort.

As I wrote before:

Prepare an easy-to-read manual

Some importers are very organized and write a clear QC checklist. The best practice is to show a lot of photos. For each potential defect, show one photo on the left (photo of the defect), and another one on the right (photo of what is acceptable).

Write “NO” in red or “OK” in green, on the photos.

Tips for dealing with a manufacturer

Assume that you are in contact with a representative who works in the sales department and who never goes on the production floor (except when a customer comes in and asks for a tour).

Also, assume that production staff doesn’t care about 80% of what salespeople say. The sales staff tends to be junior. They come and go. They often don’t understand how production works.

Production managers are 100% focused on cost control. They won’t even know that they are making a 30% margin on your order. To them, it is new (which means more complex and potentially time-consuming) and it is probably small. Their job is to find a way to make it for the lowest cost, and as fast as possible.

When you come to their factory, do not spend all your time with the factory rep in a fancy restaurant and/or karaoke. Get in front of a couple of production engineers/technicians, and ask if they understood your specifications. Put your specs sheet in front of them, and see if they are familiar with it.

You will probably have access to their current production (yes, you can see anything you want on the lines!) Take that opportunity to look at finished products before final inspection and packing. Are they up to YOUR standard? Are there too many workmanship defects? Give them feedback on the spot.

Tips for dealing with a trading company

You might be in contact with an employee, or maybe a manager, who is “in between”:

  • She faces the customer (you);
  • She constantly asks for quotations, forecasts, and other technical information from the factory.

She might go to the factory from time to time to talk to a manager or to the owner face-to-face. But make no mistake, she probably doesn’t spend time talking to production engineers.

When you come to China, if they allow you to visit the factory (and if that factory is that one that will really make production), follow the same tips as above.


Two remarks:

  • Try to gauge the supplier’s product development capabilities. Maybe they are very big and very familiar with your domestic market’s needs. Probably they are not, and the advice I am writing here will be helpful.
  • If you don’t know how to do this, some quality assurance agencies can charge by the hour for preparing such a document and for translating it. And they can send someone into the factory to confirm understanding.

Renaud Anjoran is the founder of Sofeast Quality Control and helps importers to improve and secure their product quality in China. He writes advice for importers on the Quality Inspection blog. He lives full time in Shenzhen, China. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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