Sunday, June 5, 2011

Does Your Buyer Know You Quote That Way?

Many buyers treat offshore quoting like shopping
Buyers, importers, distributors, folks thinking about becoming importers, distributors who import, suppliers who import…whatever the classification, I’ve heard the same complaint from them whenever they come to a trade show in either Hong Kong or Mainland China.

 They come to the trade show and go in to a booth.  They get a catalogue, ask questions, or network with the supplier.  Whatever the form of communication, they are asked to leave a business card and most of the people oblige supplier.  After all, why go all the way to the fair if you are not going to build contacts?

But then once you (the buyer) hand that name card over to that supplier, many times in the two-handed gracious pass, as is customary in China, it is the same as if you took a chisel and wrote in a stone tablet to “Please sign me up and send me your emails for life.

I understand the complaint:  it is annoying.  The Chinese, sometimes in their attempt to put their best foot forward and network with a potential buyer, all they know is junk/unsolicited email.   And I don’t just mean one or two post-fair follow-ups, but it is a continual thing, for the rest of your life.  Your kids will probably receive the same emails.  The same thing happens if you sign up on one of those “sourcing portals” like Alibaba or Global Sources.

But I was thinking; what’s worse?  To receive a junk email on a semi-regular basis that you have to delete or to receive on a semi-regular basis large inquiries of multiple products, that require a lot of energy, time and manpower to quote, only to never hear a peep from the person doing the inquiring? 

Let’s be fair, it is uber annoying that the Chinese suppliers are keen to throw emails out in cyberspace, but is that any different from flinging an inquiry out in cyberspace? 

China is a highly competitive country, especially for many of the kids in export companies and factories that are just out of college or in their mid-to-late 20’s.  This is usually the age group of the people you are contacting if you source promotional products and branded merchandise from China.  Whenever this kid receives your email, he or she treats it like the Holy Grail and handles it (to the best of their ability, mind you).  They spend time quoting from the production line, contacting whatever 3rd party vendor is required, checking material prices and even adding on the shipping if the buyer requested. 

After they spend all that time putting together the quote (whether the quote is accurate is topic), many times they don’t even get a proper acknowledgment from the buyer.  Then the buyer sends the next, brand new, fresh-off-the-presses inquiry, that also requires multiple hours of work.  And in the new inquiry email, they don’t acknowledge the last inquiry that was handled, quoted and sent.  The sales kids puts energy and time back in to the new inquiry, sends it along…and the process repeats.  Multiple inquiries, zero to little feedback from the buyer. 

In the promotional products business, many of the overseas buyers’ websites tout in fancy language how they are China-sourcing equipped and how this illustrious network and infrastructure in China is set up to accurately handle your offshore order all the while, closely monitoring your quality and production.   

Let’s say the overseas buyer puts on their website how they really source from China.  Here is an example…

“You (the brand or end-user) provide us with your inquiry and specifications.  We then have a list of supplier contact details, many of whom we’ve never met or just met in passing at trade shows.  We email blast them with your specs (most of the time just copied and pasted off your original email).  We certainly don’t phone them to really discuss the job, flinging an email works just fine.  Then whoever answers the quickest and with the cheapest price is who we give your order to. “

Does that sound like a company that is expertly managing offshore production?  If you have a big name client asking you to manufacture their ad specialty products, is this how you would handle it?  Of course not….

….but that’s how it’s being handled.  

Which one is spam?  Sending the poorly worded intro email looking for some business or the large inquiry that required physical work from multiple parties that never gets acknowledged?  

How about your brands;  do they know how you are handling their business?

My friend Renaud Anjoran of Asia Quality Focus and blogger at Quality Inspection Tips calls these kinds of buyers "Hands-Off Buyers".    

What’s the solution to all of this?  Slow down and make real relationships with your suppliers.  Instead of a list of 5 to 10, have 1 to 3 strong companies you know, have met and work with continually.  Just as you spend time grooming and “courting” your buyers, in dealing with the beast that is China, it takes just as much time if not more to establish a quality supplier. 

So how to do it?  It takes time and perhaps that’s another blog (actually I’ve wrote multiple blogs on this topic)….but what will not help is treating your supplier like they are one of many, like they are a faceless name and acting like your time is more valuable than theirs. 

And I bet, just maybe, after you stop fishing for multiple supplier contacts, you’ll notice a reduction in that spam email.  Hmmmm…. 

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