A lot of people who emailed me to ask questions about importing from China mentioned this problem:
"I've contacted loads of Chinese suppliers... but they never get back to me. How do I get a response from them?"
First of all, you need to make sure you've allowed enough time for them to get back to you. If you've emailed and a week has gone past, try faxing or phoning. Or try emailing again, copying your original enquiry. However, I think the main reason people don't get the response they want is that they don't begin the communications in the right way.
This is the wrong way to write to a Chinese supplier:
yo i am intrested to import from yall -- plz gimme the full price list and btw do you have iPods??? and wot about free samplez?!?
OK, maybe a bit exaggerated example, but can you see how in their pile of daily emails, the Chinese supplier might not take this kind of email seriously? Let's look at some other failed first enquiries:
To whom it may concern, Our company is one of the top businesses listed on the Brazilian stock exchange. With over $3bn in assets and 50 years' history importing from all over the world, our customers love us because... ... ...
[... blah blah blah]
[ ++ 5 pages of company information + brochure attachments] ...
We look forward to your reply.
Mr Boss Big Shot
CEO, President, Demigod Egos-R-Us plc
That email is going to get junked, not because it lacks credibility but because:
It is boring
It is too long for an average Chinese person to read
It doesn't actually ask a question, so how can we reply?
Can you guess why this next person never got an answer?
I've seen your company clothing and shoes catalogue and I think you people at ChinaTextile can help me.
I need to find a supplier for car tyres and also for baby toys. I know both of these are made in China, and you guys are in China, so you must be able to help me right?
In case you think that's exaggerated, I've answered emails we've received at Chinavasion Wholesale Electronics from people asking to supply them with steel nails, rice, insurance, knives, and sex toys.
And how about this next one - have you ever perhaps sent an email a little like this?
I have seen your website with special gadgets and I need you to supply me with a product according to the following specifications.
The product needs to be as follows:
- GPS locator
- Lightweight but made of metal
- Have solar power
- Have a full colour screen which can be hit with a hammer and won't break
- Optionally have a full waterproof body
- Can be mounted on any normal sniper rifle
Please get back to me immediately with a proforma invoice quoting prices for 50,000 pcs, 100,000 pcs, and 1 million pcs and full information about how fast you can ship this to me CIF Antarctica.
Mr Leet Importer
What are the problems here?
Not asking about an actual product
Immediately demanding prices for a non-specific quote
Asking about huge quantity orders right from the start
The China supplier may not even bother replying to your emails if there isn't a straightforward quick answer they can give!
How to write a good first enquiry email.
OK, enough cricitism for today! Here is my positive advice about your first enquiry email:
Write a descriptive subject line.
Good: "Price Enquiry - TTC-1459 Accumulator - James Brent, UK Electricals Inc"
Don't write "URGENT", "important", or "reply asap" in the subject line because everyone thinks their own emails are the most important and for the person receiving it, it's just annoying.
Write a full, mainly formal email beginning "Dear ..." (to a person's name if you know it) and an ending "Best regards" with a footer including your contact details.
Use a spell checker, and write with normal capitalisation. And do you think it looks nice to write a question like this??!!????
Tell them where you found out about their company, and state their company name so your email doesn't look like a bulk mailing.
BRIEFLY introduce your company and what your position is.
Use the email to establish communication instead of demanding information.
If you ask about products, refer to actual products and not general categories, and I don't think you need to talk about price quotations in the first email. Even if you are just price comparing, start the enquiry email conversation with a different question.
Don't demand references such as company certificates from the beginning.
Don't ask them a huge list of complex questions about taxes, shipping, warranties, terms and conditions etc. That can wait for later.
You can apply these same ideas to phone calls - introduce yourself, ask simple questions that can be answered, and focus on building a communication, not on demanding details.
Here is the type of good email I think Chinese suppliers would happily reply to - you can change the details and use it as a template for your own sourcing enquiries:
[subject:] Enquiry regarding earphones from Roger Peres, Mexico Sounds Ltd.
Dear Ms Li,
I found the details of your company "ChinaSonic" in the trade magazine "Earphone Sources".
My company is Mexico Sounds Ltd, based in Mexico City, and my position is Purchasing Manager.
I am interested in finding new high quality earphones and headphones, and I think your company looks like an excellent possible supplier.
Please could you let me know if you can export earphone products to Mexico? If so, please can you send me a catalogue of your products or a price list?
I have seen a picture of your bud-type earphones, model [E-40b] and products similar to these would be interesting to us.
I will be very interested to speak with you more about buying from ChinaSonic. If you would like to telephone me at the number below, or email me, I will be glad to talk with you.
I look forward to your reply.
Mexico Sounds Ltd
You have to be realistic about how much information your supplier can give you and how excellent their customer service is going to be.
Remember, you're not dealing with a retail shop - it's probably a factory or a wholesaler, so they probably haven't got the staff or the expertise to deal with "live" customer service.
Don't expect toll-free helplines!
Don't expect voicemail.
Don't expect the people to remember who you are if you just phone up and say "it's Bob here" or email without signing your name and company footer.
Don't expect instant answers to your emails.
Don't expect the Chinese supplier to know much about the import taxes or licences for your country. After all, do you know the Chinese laws and tariffs for a Chinese person importing from your country? Didn't think so!
Don't expect a distributor or wholesaler to know all the details about their products. They will be able to find out, but the "English speaking office assistant" on the phone very likely isn't a technician, so go easy on them.
If the company has already sent you a product specification or price list, don't expect them to be able to provide lots more photos, manuals, or technical specifications. The quickest way for you would probably be to buy a sample.
If you get a price list early on, these prices might change later (higher).
If you get prices quoted and you are a brand new customer, don't expect to be able to bargain these down right away. Especially if you are only buying a smaller quantity.
If you're a new buyer you may sometimes feel that you're not getting full attention from your supplier. Don't worry, Chinese business people take some time to get to know people.
Chinese customer service is not bad at all, but you can't expect to be in the VIP client circle straight away. As you become better known to your contact people and your relationship as a buyer has more time and trust, you will find that your customer service from the Chinese supplier improves.
A long-term relationship with a supplier is a very valuable thing to have, because you will get better prices, and the new, best products, before everyone else. It's worth investing the time and patience.