One of the most intimidating aspects of being a private label seller on Amazon communicating with foreign suppliers. While there are manufacturing options available all over the world including right here in the United States, many companies choose to import from China due to the country’s fantastic logistics, efficiency, and prices in manufacturing products across all kinds of different niches. But in order to access the benefits that sourcing your products from a country like China can bring, you will need to learn to communicate well with Chinese suppliers.
Fortunately, most warehouses that export to the United States are well-equipped to handle American customers that do not speak Chinese. Communication can be done in English, and issues with language and cultural differences can often be avoided with careful conversations. Here are 10 tips for improving communication with overseas suppliers.
1. Do plenty of research before starting a professional relationship
Some communication issues can be avoided before communication even begins. There are thousands of factories in China designed to manufacture goods, and regardless of how specific your needs may be, there are going to be multiple options available to you. Reading reviews on specific manufacturing companies and even reaching out with a couple of preliminary questions can help give you an idea of whether or not a particular manufacturer you are considering will be a good communicator before you even move forward with doing business.
2. Be extremely clear, detailed, and thorough in your RFQ
When you decide to move forward with a formal RFQ (request for quote), be as detailed as possible. Include details that may seem obvious or self-explanatory to you. Keep in mind that your supplier can not read your mind, and any detail that you leave out may not be accounted for.
In addition to being thorough and communicating what you want, the RFQ is also a great place to establish some trust with your new supplier as well. Where applicable, leave certain aspects of production open to suggestion; perhaps if you are willing to get feedback or a second opinion on a material being used or an aspect in the packaging. Or perhaps you can show some flexibility on order quantity if you have every detail of your product already worked out. Being clear and concise while also showing that you value the input of your supplier is a great way to start off your professional relationship.
3. Iron out a quality control checklist before production begins
Once you have moved past the RFQ stage and into pre-production, express what you are expecting with a quality control checklist. Doing this before production even begins will give your supplier the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Quality control checklists should include all of the exact specifications of your product including measurements, materials used, packaging, colors, and labels.
You can build this QC checklist yourself or enlist the help of a third-party inspection company. Either way, be sure to get feedback from your supplier, making sure that you have a mutual understanding of their quality control methods and your quality control requests.
4. Use simple and concise language when communicating via email
It is important to be extremely detailed in conversations about the specifications of manufacturing your product. But less is more when it comes to everyday conversations. Because emails will often be run through some kind of translator, those with complicated questions or concepts may wind up getting fuddled in translation. Conversely, an email with a couple of simple questions or comments will be much easier for your supplier to understand and respond to.
5. Pictures and measurements make for excellent visual aids
When you do need to cover more complicated topics via email, visual aids including pictures and measurements are a great way to break through the language barrier. For example, including a picture of a sample product you received that clearly labels which part of it needs to be manufactured to different specifications will be far easier for a supplier to understand than a big block of text would be. Consider ways that you could simplify your email with pictures or diagrams before sending it out.
6. Follow up with your suppliers on the phone when appropriate
If email correspondence has stalled or you feel there is a disconnect in communication between you and your supplier, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and make a call. One of the cultural differences between China and the United States is that some Chinese businesses look to avoid asking for clarification or admitting to something being wrong in an effort to save face and appear professional. A phone call may correct this problem; by offering clarification and asking about potential issues, you may prompt a response that gets the ball rolling again.
7. Inquire about other preferred communication methods like WeChat
WeChat is one of the most popular social messaging apps in China. The app has over 1.2 billion monthly active users, and the majority of those users report that they use the app for business communications. While email will almost always be a viable option, ask your supplier if they prefer WeChat, WhatsApp, or any other messaging service. Your manufacturer will likely appreciate your willingness to use their preferred communication platform, and doing so will likely improve communication.
8. Cut down on miscommunication opportunities by communicating through fewer people
Many of us learned from a young age how a message can get garbled across multiple recipients in playing the “telephone game” as a child. One child whispers a message into the ear of another child, who whispers it to another, who whispers it to another; and by the time this message reaches the final child in line, it is often totally different from the one the original child spoke.
This concept holds true in adulthood and becomes even more problematic when dealing with a language barrier. The longer the string of communication is, the more likely it is that important details will be lost in translation. Cut down on unnecessary communication within your own organization, and if possible, try building a relationship with one specific liaison on your supplier’s side.
9. Consider using a third-party inspection company as a liaison
If communicating with your supplier becomes too time-consuming or difficult, take advantage of the presence of third-party inspection companies in China. There are many companies available in China that speak fluent English and Chinese designed to cut through all of the communication issues that may arise during overseas communication.
Having a third-party liaison will not only make communication much easier, but it will also give you eyes and ears on the ground that can actually visit factories to inspect your products and assure quality control. Not all Amazon sellers will require third-party services, but they are an excellent investment for some people, especially when ramping up to large-scale production.
10. Schedule an in-person meeting with your supplier
If you have the time and money, arranging a visit to your supplier’s factory is an excellent way to build rapport for a long-term relationship and to get a first-hand look at all of the ins and outs that go into manufacturing your product. Importers that make the effort to travel across the world to visit their supplier show this supplier how serious they are about doing business and creating a long-lasting relationship.
Face-to-face communication will always be superior to technological communication. This luxury isn’t one that everyone can afford, but it can be a great and rewarding experience for those that can take advantage of it.