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China supplier communication: Question & answer tips

By Jacob Yount

Asking your China supplier the right question and interpreting the answer is a critical part of successful China sourcing.

When communicating with Chinese vendors, there’s a better way to handle question and answer process than if you were talking to someone within your own company or own country. I recommend it to be more deliberate purposeful and record what has been said.

In the previous post, the foundation was laid for the importance of China suppliers questions.

 

If time allows in your question / answer path

Start with the basic questions and gain a rapport; a momentum in the back-and-forth. When approaching new suppliers, that may be very capable, if you ask something out of their wheelhouse, they may quickly say not and show little no interest. This quick “no” and brushing off is largely cultural, where they are timid to commit to something on which they lack understanding. They can also be hesitate to approach something new with an overseas buyer.

Therefore, start out revealing your plans in bite-sized chunks. You don’t necessarily need to inform them what you hope to do 2 years down the road, but give them more of a here-and-now scenario. Remember, the Chinese suppliers goal for a new customer is to establish trust and see if actual business is going to come in.

If you start out asking questions about larger scenario concepts, although the supplier is ABLE, they may quickly brush you aside and have no interest in providing an answer and quote.

Again, I’m speaking more of a scenario when time is on your side and your developing a product. Start out with mini goals; we’ve achieved this understanding, we have this quote, we have this sample, let’s move on to the first order and then down the line, we’ll see how far the supplier is willing to expand. By this time, it may mean factory visits and tackling the larger question and answers face-to-face.

Consider if a question is going to get you in the weeds. ie is this something that has to be discussed in the here-and-now or is this question better saved for later or once I see results?

Including too many questions and requests in 1 email causes the key points to be lost. If you ask 10 questions, the supplier may only give 5 answers. You then get frustrated and want to know about the other 5 and a cycle of time waste now begins.

Slowly not rapid fire; like your emails to suppliers, your questions should not be streams of consciousness but a question with a purpose.

• Gauge the supplier’s knowledge

• Increase your knowledge of the supplier’s capabilities.

• Learn more about your product – although avoid using your suppliers as simply a research center. Spend your own time and efforts in learning about your products.

 

What to look for in a supplier answer

Look for inconsistencies in answers. It may simply be a language issue. Other times there’s indeed an existing discrepancy in confirmations or supplier understandings. Now you see an area in your sourcing process to further dig in to and to become even more purposeful and inquisitive.

Take notes of what’s been said. Don’t go back and ask the supplier to repeat what was already said, but have proof of what was said. If they do not back up an answer or spec they already gave, then have the electronic or written proof to show them.

Ask your supplier to answer via visuals. Instead of tell me how something is done, think show me how something is done. Ask for images of previous production examples. What evidence can the supplier show you that backs up their answer?

Be slow to draw conclusions to any given answer. Especially if you’re talking electronically, email or chat, the supplier tends to answer first, check later. The supplier view cases to be hashed out and discussed. Answers are considered, from the point of view, to be building blocks to the result, not a result in and of themselves. Actually this how a bulk of us all communicate face-to-face. Buyers tend to put large emphasis on individual answers because they want to quickly get what they need and then proceed to the next phase of the business.

Be patient with the flow of answers. The supplier is doing their best to hang on to what you mean and establish the relationship.

A good rule of thumb in China sourcing and manufacturing, is not to get too excited about good news and don’t get let down about bad news. Information changes quick.


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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