Communication with Chinese Suppliers

Communication With Chinese Suppliers

Communication with Chinese Suppliers

How to communicate with suppliers that you have just met at the trade show?

I have received many emails from the Chinese suppliers I met at the trade show however I am not ready to deal with them until I gain more knowledge. Can you please advise the best way to respond to their emails at this stage? I have a lot to learn about their culture, and I don't want to come across as rude or disrespectful.

My answer to your question below assumes that you are in an early stage of researching the suppliers. I have skipped a lot of details because I do not know exactly what type of product that you have in mind to order. – Is it customized? In a brand new design way or a small tweaking way? So allow me to jump through a few stages that you might go through.

A. At the early stage – just thank the suppliers for their email and tell them that you are at an early stage of researching a group of suppliers. Generally, suppliers are eager to correspond with you by email, so just make it clear that you are at an early stage. They will understand this. Some of them will continue to email you with new product offerings every month, sometimes every week. Nothing wrong with this, it is standard email marketing they do and is not culturally specific. The most important thing is to thank them, and that would be culturally specific enough.

While at this stage you may be tempted to ask them a few questions about product specifications, it is better to hold off until you are clear about the product that you want to order.

B. Later on when you are clearer on the type of product that you plan to order, or you are ready to order because of other timing issues – you might want to pursue a communication strategy with 20 suppliers that are in a desired location or match in terms of another non-price factor (e.g. they all have made products that you can already see on the shelves in your country). The source of the list of suppliers may include those which you have met at the trade show plus others that you have found through searching on the internet.

The aim at this stage is to create a shortlist of 5-10 suppliers. The criteria for creating this shortlist should be a bunch of questions concerning non-price factors:

a) Responsiveness and demonstrated an understanding of your needs as per the product specifications in Part A.
b) Questions about order and delivery

a. Minimum order quantity?
b. Lead time?

c) Location – close to airport or major city for you to visit (i.e. less than 1.5 hours taxi from major city center – means 3 hours max to supplier and back)
d) Location of specific and Key raw material/component suppliers, which you also might need to visit especially if you have a customized product whose performance depends heavily on a specific component.

C. Once you have settled on a short list, then you might want to ask them some more specific questions assuming that you have a specific product in mind.

a) Factory visit would be important here – but if you are reluctant to do this then please at least do b) below
b) Due diligence questions

a. Basic credit reference check on the supplier – Can get a lawyer to do this for less than $US200, online credit agency (e.g. can do for cheaper).
b. Years in the business
c. Previous products/samples that they have produced
d. Do they have a reference (another customer) whom you could contact – possibly a customer in another country?

Any question you ask – make it the same for every supplier – then you are able to compare their responses. Like an Apple versus Apple comparison. Mike covers this area in more detail in one of the videos in the Basic course.


Dr. Neale O'Connor
Cofounder of the China Sourcing Academy, founder and director of the China Supplier 1000 Project. Senior consultant of the China Lab at Silk Road Associates (Hong Kong). Currently teaching at the Hong Kong Baptist University.