3 Tips to Communicate with Chinese Suppliers

The dos and don'ts of writing and speaking with Chinese suppliers.
Seth Kniep
Nov 15, 2019
Build your Amazon product
The potential for miscommunication is a hard reality, and your business could be directly affected by it.

Let's say you found a supplier that you like on Alibaba, an involved process on its own. But the emails you're getting back aren't clear and don't really address your issues. You sit there, scratching your head, wondering why. You know how to write a clear, detailed, and professional email. The problem is you don't know how to write an email to somebody in China.

If you don't do it right, there's a chance that your product isn't going to come out the way you would like. You would have to go back to your supplier and try to explain your specifications again and pay for the costs of rebuilding your product and getting it reshipped. It's inefficient, costly, and your business may suffer.

To help prevent this from happening, check out these three essential tips to communicate with suppliers in China! These tips are lessons I have learned myself while working with suppliers overseas. 

1) Write in short paragraphs

Remember that the Chinese salesperson on the other end of your email does not speak native English. If you write in long paragraphs, this could confuse them and lead to multiple problems.

The Chinese are particularly focused and direct, and they do not have the patience for an extended essay form. That kind of writing is not found to be prevalent in their business culture.

In fact, the chance of the supplier reading your message at all becomes slimmer than a skinny latte.

Let's say they do read the extra-long paragraph. The supplier is probably only going to respond to one or two parts of your ten-part message. The way the Chinese are trained to read in school is one section and one block at a time. The essay style is foreign to them.

Long paragraphs are also a waste of your time. There are only a couple things you need to find out about your supplier before you decide whether invest any more time with them or not. Asking if they can send you a sample is irrelevant at this point. First of all, ask if they can they build the product for you.

Photo by MChe Lee

2) Use basic English

Chinese nationals do not grow up speaking English, so it will take them longer to read your message. This means they're prone to overlook details and misinterpret something if you do not make it crystal clear. Also, don't use contractions.

Just as you serve your customer by making the sale as convenient and easy as possible for them, you should strive to do the same with your supplier. You should treat every interaction you have with every person along your journey as you would a brand new customer.

Bad example:

I know all these things are important, and you want them answered. But if you want to be effective and want the product built the way you need it, take the time to break it down and simplify it to the things that matter the most. That is: Can they actually build it for me?

Good example:

Notice in the good example how:

  • I wrote in simple English. Your supplier's native tongue is not English, so make it as easy for them to read as possible. Otherwise, you'll waste time going back and forth, having to re-explain yourself, or they simply won't answer the question they don't understand.
  • I did not do an elaborate introduction. No "I'm a multi-million dollar company" and "I have over 200 employees". Chinese suppliers are not impressed by these. And if you're new at this, they don't care. Keep it simple and clear.
Pro tip! Chinese sales representatives for suppliers understand typical supplier and shipping lingo like MOQ, specs, trade assurance, DDP, freight forwarding, trading companies, etc. All of this is familiar to them, so don't worry about simplifying those.

In your early days of negotiating with suppliers, you are probably going to struggle to understand all the jargon involved. Knowing all of these will give off the impression you know more than you do which will increase their trust and help you negotiate better. For a free tool breaking down the most common terms used in shipping when talking with suppliers, click here.

This will increase the supplier's respect for you, build your credibility, and give you more negotiating power.

3) Focus on what the supplier values

It's human nature to focus on what we want. If I'm hungry, then I want food. But I have to pay for the food (or grow it) first. Think about that on a big scale for your business.

Rule numero uno in all negotiation is to focus on what is valuable to the other party first. Then it's much easier to get what you want as well. The final deal needs to make sense to both sides.

Chinese suppliers value two things above anything else: friendship and long term business. Friendship often results in long term business.

Consider this: you're a supplier. Everyday you get a hundred people asking for samples and cost and MOQs (minimum order quantities). You know that the majority of them won't even buy. Others will buy once and vanish. But a few are actually good business people who know the market and will order multiple times.

That's the sort of person your supplier wants to talk to. If you put yourself forward as that person from day one, you will get better prices.

Photo by Joey Huang
Pro-tip: When you negotiate, ask twice. When you're on Alibaba or 1688, ask them, "How much would it be for 5000?" Even if you can only afford 1000. The fact that you asked for a higher quantity increases your credibility and their trust in you. They may say 30 cents off per item at the 5000 quantity. Work backwards to 1000.
(Exception: the Yiwu market. They all know each other and expect to keep the price at a certain level. They sometimes take offense if you ask for a lower price more than once.)

They value long term business relationships because the cost of acquiring and learning the needs of a new customer is much more time consuming than working with the same customer for years. Business with an old customer is much less risky than business with a new customer.

Chinese suppliers value friendship because a strong friendships between vendor and customer is a healthy business practice in Chinese culture. Funny thing, they may start calling you "Dear", especially the women suppliers, and "Friend" even if it's the first time they've talked to you. Why? They're speaking in terms valuable to them. Call them "friend" back.

Let's look again at my example message to a Chinese supplier:

See what I emphasize?

Friendship is not a cover for their business. The Chinese actually enjoy the friendship. People in China work incredibly long hours (it's considered admirable to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week) in many circles in China. And that's for non-entrepreneurs!

Asking them how their day is going is probably a hundred times more important to them than you. When you do this, you're investing in the relationship.

How to Communicate with Chinese Suppliers

Couldn't we stand to learn a thing or two from that style of doing business?

Finding the right supplier is a critical part of this process, and we take our members every step of the way from how to establish your business, find your product, build your brand, and how to launch and grow from there. Don't let communication be a barrier to your passive income freedom.

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Seth Kniep

Married a pearl. Fathered 4 miracles. Fired his boss. Turned a single dime into $104,857. Today, a self-made millionaire, Seth and his team of 8 badass coaches teach entrepreneurs how to build passive income on Amazon.

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