Communication in Business - China

Follow these 3 tips to navigate the rough seas of communication with suppliers in China.
Seth Kniep
November 15, 2019
Build your Amazon product
Communication is an essential part of any business operation, whether you are dealing with local entities or, as is the case with me and many others on Amazon, dealing with business overseas. I am talking about communicating with suppliers, specifically in China. The potential for miscommunication is a hard reality, and your business could be directly affected by it.

You have found a good supplier on Alibaba, a process that was quite involved on its own. Now you are ready to communicate, or maybe you have already started communicating, but the emails you are getting back are not very clear and don't really address your issues. You sit there, scratching your head and asking yourself, "what is going on?" You know how to write a clear, detailed, and professional email. What we have here is a failure to communicate! The problem isn't that you don't know how to write an email; you don't know how to write an email to somebody in China.

Say your product is a specific kind of cotton glove, and the type of glove you want manufactured does not have covering around the fingers, just around the hand itself. You know the kind I am talking about. The one you always see the cool hobos wear in movies.

Photo by Dan Gold

Now, if you are writing an email to your supplier, and you write a long paragraph going through all of this irrelevant information about the product you want manufactured, without actual specifications, and other necessary details they need to know. There is an excellent chance that your product is not going to come out the way you would like. Then you will have to go back to your supplier and try to re-communicate again and later pay for the costs of rebuilding your product getting reshipped. It's inefficient, it's costly, and your business may suffer. 

To help prevent this from happening, I have composed three brief but essential tips to communicate with suppliers in China! These tips are lessons I have learned myself while working with suppliers overseas, and they have proven beneficial for getting the product that I want, according to my specifications. 

Tip #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 create multiple problems. 

The chance of the supplier reading your message at all becomes slimmer than a skinny latte. 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 human along the path of your journey as you would a brand new customer. Try to make things easy for them, negotiate value, be persuasive, and, ultimately, turn this opportunity into money in your bank account!

Let's say they do read the mile-long paragraph. This representative is a particularly patient reader. The supplier is probably only going to respond to one or two parts of your 10 part message. The way the Chinese are trained to read in school in one section and one block at a time. They 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. 

Following that, 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 if they are even worth spending the time to continue speaking with them. For example, asking if they can send you a sample is irrelevant at this point. First, you need to find out if they can build the differentiated product you need.

Photo by Kon Karampelas

Tip #2: Use basic English:

Chinese nationals did not grow up speaking English, so this means it will take them longer to read your message, they will overlook details, and they are highly likely to misinterpret something if you do not make it crystal clear. Here are two examples of exactly what I mean.

Bad example:

Hello Cynthia! I am the founder of a US-based company specializing in aromatic experiences for smell-sensitive Americans working in the white-collar industry. 
I would love to see if you can create the model I am proposing, following the specs I included in the attachment with this message. 
Also, are you a trading company, and do you sell on Amazon? 
I'd also like to know your production capacity as our market share increases over the next 12 months. 
One more question: can you send me samples as soon as you are able? 
Thank you so much, Cynthia! 

Sincerely, 

Lucy

Good example:

Hello Cynthia!
I own a US company that sells aromatic oils and accessories. 
I am looking for a manufacturer who can create an aromatic oil holder.
I am looking for a manufacture to build a strong friendship with for long term business relationship. 
I would love to see if you can create the model I need. 
Please, the specs in the image I attached to this email. 
I would appreciate your prompt response.

We are looking for a good business relationship with a manufacturer! 

Sincerely, 
Lucy

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 will 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. Chinese suppliers are not impressed by these. Keep it simple and clear.

Pro tip:
Chinese sales representatives for suppliers understand typical supplier and shipping lingo like MOQ, specs, trade assurance, DDP, production samples, trading companies, etc. In fact, in your early days of negotiating with suppliers, you are probably going to struggle to understand all the jargon involved. Don't worry; we go over all of this for our members.

The supplier's respect for you will increase, building your credibility, and give you more negotiating power.

Tip #3: Focus on what the supplier values

Rule #1 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. Chinese suppliers value friendship because a strong friendships between vendor and customer is a healthy business practice in Chinese culture. They will often address you as "friend."

They value long term business relationship 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. New customers are unpredictable and often flighty, resulting in wasted time for the Chinese supplier, going back and forth in a conversation with a customer who ends up not buying.
So how do you do this? In your communication with the supplier, mention "friendship" and "long term business relationship." Weave it in naturally and let them know that you value both of these highly.
Look again at my example message to a Chinese supplier:

Hello Cynthia! I own a US company that sells aromatic oils and accessories. 
I am looking for a manufacturer who can create an aromatic oil holder.
I am looking for a manufacture to build a strong friendship with for long term business relationship.
I would love to see if you can create the model I need. 
Please, see the specs in the image I attached to this email. 
I would appreciate your prompt response. 

We are looking for a good business relationship with a manufacturer! 

Sincerely, 
Lucy

Notice that I focused on what they value. I stated two qualities they value highly: 1) long term business relationship and 2) friendship. These two qualities go a long way in Chinese business culture, so leverage them!

Don't be surprised if you get responses referring to you as "dear" or "friend," while these names of endearment might seem strange and awkward to us in the west, but to the Chinese, they are standard. The reality is, if you are willing to do business with them in a long term relationship, then you are, by extension, their friend. Concepts like friendship, loyalty, long term, integrity, it all mixes in their culture of business. 

Photo by Joey Huang

Couldn't we stand to learn a thing or two from that style of doing business? How many of us here in the west have worked with corporate entities that we would categorize as soulless? The best business relationships form like friendships. They are people you want to stick with you. That's why I encourage you to be cautious about who you allow to do business with you. Finding the right supplier is a critical part of this process, and our members have access to all the tools and strategies for finding good people to do business with. Please consider journeying with us on this path of relationship and margin building. 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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