By Jacob Yount
In working with overseas vendors, buyers tend to fall off one side of the horse.
They err too far in one direction.
Or they lean too much in another.
Over my years of working with overseas vendors, I’ve learned the best form of communication is a balance of professional courtesy.
Keep in mind the old expression, “It’s just business, nothing personal”.
Don’t be too nice to your overseas vendors.
Nice meaning, overtly sweet and condescending. Many of these suppliers are hardened business professionals.
Just because the salespersons has a Hello Kitty backpack doesn’t mean they’re 6 years old.
Certainly don’t be hysterical and emotional.
Firm and to-the-point, but not robotic. If you’re too robotic the supplier may only function “to-the-letter-of-the-law” and not look out for solutions or expansion.
For example, “If the client wanted us to fix this problem, they would’ve told us.”
Western buyers get beguiled by initial “niceness”.
Caveat: this is written at the risk of some generalizations, but keep in mind I’ve got 18 years experience to back me up.
Buyers, in their sourcing, become amazed by the “sweetness” or agreeability of their vendor.
This lulls them into a lack of awareness.
It decreases their defenses.
Decreased defenses mean lack of order control.
“I mean, after all, the supplier is so nice. She’s so sweet on our Skype conversations.”
This shouldn’t make a difference in how we handle business.
The Western buyer gets caught up in making sure they appear “friendly” to the overseas vendor…
It’s like for some Western buyers, they treat their importing experience as if they’re on a light-hearted school field trip.
They wouldn’t treat vendors in their own home country this aloof.
But something happens to their sharpness when crossing borders, either virtually or physically.
China businesspersons have years of negotiating warfare on their side.
They know to start off sweet. In their minds, being kind leads to reduced blame when problems happen.
We all appreciate ‘nice’.
Whenever a problem arises and you ask how will the vendor compensate you, notice what happens to the “sweet”.
Will directness or frankness hurt a relationship with your factory?
I would say “that depends”.
If you’re accustomed to being casual and overly friendly, yes the directness may affect things.
If you’re too chummy, the sales contact comes to know you as Mr. Nice Guy.
The word “friend” may even be thrown around.
So, then when you decide to get serious on a matter or if something becomes a very stern focus, the supplier isn’t able to process.
In some respects, supplier see Westerners as either cold-hearted robots or teddy bears. If you’re always the teddybear and then decide to get serious, the supplier has trouble processing it.
When you, the teddy bear, really double-down to show something needs extra focus or there’s a problem, the supplier doesn’t understand the weightiness of the situation.
You may say it doesn’t culturally translate well when you go from friendly to tough.
Your lower-level sales contact will then will feel betrayed and go into “do whatever you say mode”.
This mode is dangerous and they’ll stop actively looking out for solutions (see above “robotic”)
So don’t be topsy turvy.
Avoid being casual when things are going great.
Then flipping your lid at the first sign of problems.
Be firm and professional from the beginning. The factory’s main goal as an organization is to make money, regardless of what each individual salesperson thinks or feels.
Be firm and professional from the beginning.
If the supplier thinks you can accept this new change, then they’ll see if you can accept another.
They’ll keep moving the goal posts if you can accept it.
The standard isn’t a nebulous “what’s right”.
But the standard will be whatever they can get you to accept!
Be professional, be consistent and your factory will actually respect you better.
This shows in the supplier’s service and more importantly, in your quality.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or find him on his blog.