5 Fundamental Tips for Effective Communication with Chinese Suppliers on Alibaba

This article is a part of Sourcing on Alibaba Series. See the previous article in the series: 5 Essential Steps to Finding Your Best Supplier on Alibaba.

So you, an entrepreneur, a purchasing agent, or an amazon seller – whoever you are, you want to make sure you do all the right things when talking to your potential Chinese suppliers.

You want to establish an effective communication – the key to any successful sourcing project. At this point it doesn’t matter whether you are doing product development and using a crowdfunding platform like kickstarter, or you’re just looking for another variation of a popular product.

The tips we’ve enlisted here apply universally to whatever it is that you want to source in China.

1. Be as clear as possible

You’re talking to someone who’s coming from a polar opposite culture, speaks beginner to intermediate English and has completely different ways of thinking. It’s therefore essential that you make your message as clear as possible. Leave absolutely nothing for your supplier to assume and use simple sentences – this already should put you ahead of all the people who skip this advice!

2. Be detailed and use numbered points

Assuming you’re communicating via email – provide as much detail as possible in your first message. Introduce yourself (or your company), explain your business or project briefly, e.g. if you’re sourcing for a crowdfunding campaign, explain that you’ll need more samples for marketing purposes.

It is very important that you use numbered points. This way your contact can refer to each of those points separately and it makes it much easier for iterations that will most likely follow. If you just send them a piece of text with many questions spread over the paragraph, it’s most likely that some of them will be left unanswered or not addressed properly.

3. Talk and look like a Pro

Let it be known from the beginning that you’re not a newbie who is unlikely to be ordering any big quantities in the future. There’s not much wrong about being honest and telling your supplier that you’re just getting started, but at least show that you’re serious and you didn’t start sourcing yesterday. Remember, most quality suppliers are likely getting a lot of e-mails from people who are not all that serious. It’s your job to differentiate yourself.

So what should you do in order to look more serious?

  • Use a company’s signature that includes company’s name, your title (e.g. Purchasing Agent), and ideally – company’s website and logo. Don’t have a company? Make up some name.
  • Have a website. If you don’t put your website link in your signature, many suppliers will ask you for your website down the road anyway. They most likely get a lot of inquiries and want to vet the potential buyers this way.
  • Use industry’s language. This, depending on your product, could be a variety of phrases like: injection molds, stitching, or FOB. This could be about asking for price per unit or how the packaging process is dealt with – just something that tells them that you know your stuff. This is crucial, even more so than having a signature and company’s website. And it all goes back to Tip #5: Do your research.
  • Create some anticipation. Be clear that the first order you’re potentially going to order is not going to be big, but you’ll be more than willing to buy larger quantities if you (and your customers) are happy with the product.

4. Be honest

On the surface, this tip might go against the previous one, but there is actually a line between merely faking until you make it a little bit and building your relationship with a supplier based on lies.

If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to necessarily pretend that you’re a big company as this might actually harm you. Most factories will quote you higher prices and otherwise take advantage over the assumption that you must have plenty of capital to spend.
As long as you use industry language and show them that you are knowledgeable, it’s okay to be honest about telling them that you, say, are launching a crowdfunding campaign and therefore there is a great potential for future (more significant) co-operation.

5. Do your research

Make sure you find out what the production process is normally like, for the product you want to source. This can involve a lot of information from production times, to machinery needed, raw materials, to safety and quality standards. You should have at least the basics nailed down – this alone will pay off a long way throughout the whole sourcing process.
We’ve talked about knowing your product and enlisted the global quality standards in previous articles in this series.

There’s certainly more tips and hacks for communicating with Chinese suppliers. We’ve decided to save some of them for the next and upcoming article in the series, which will cover the actual act of negotiating with Chinese suppliers. Want to be the first person notified when we publish it and gain access to resources we don’t post on the site? Get on our mailing list below!


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