How to Effectively Contact Suppliers on Alibaba
Finding a good supplier is just the very start of the equation when it comes to launching a product on Amazon. Following on from our guide on how to find potential suppliers on Alibaba, the next step is to contact each of them so you can determine which of them can actually get the job done.
Reaching out to suppliers is not as simple as sending an email and asking for information though. To strike a deal with the best supplier you can find, it requires a strategy and a good sense of what you’re actually looking for.
Before you start sending out those RFQ’s, it’s essential to know who you’re dealing with and how you will approach them so you won’t waste your time firing out blanks.
Table of Contents
Understanding Chinese Culture
The most important thing to remember when contacting Chinese suppliers is to never assume that each and every one of them will be willing to work with you.
Think of contacting suppliers as a dating game where winners are determined as soon as a perfect match is found. Just because you’re interested in the supplier doesn’t mean they’d be interested in you as well. It’s all about a mutually beneficial relationship working for both parties involved.
Like dating, sending an initial email is all about first impressions; you have to write a good one to get the supplier’s attention, enough for them to respond to your email. We’ll get more into this in the next section.
Another important thing you need to consider is that not all Chinese people are fluent in English, so try to be more straightforward and use simple language when asking questions or requesting for information.
Avoid using huge blocks of paragraphs; try to phrase your email so that it’s easy to read, breaking things down one sentence at a time and making it more reader-friendly with plenty of spacing so it daunting to look at. Remember what we said earlier, it’s all about first impressions.
Chinese people aren’t difficult to deal with. In fact, they’re probably easier to transact with compared to other nationalities, but you have to make things easy for them.
You also need to keep in mind that you are reaching out to them not just to get the lowest price, but to establish a long-term relationship. This initial email is crucial because this is where the whole process of building a relationship begins.
Reaching Out to Suppliers
Once you’re done researching the product you want and filtering out the suppliers you think will fulfil your requirements, the next step is to contact each of them to determine if they are indeed capable of providing your needs.
The most common way of doing this will be via a personal email using your favorite email client, or via Alibaba’s platform itself.
As mentioned earlier, sending a generic email will not be enough if you want to make a good first impression. Before we dive further into the contents of the email inquiry you’re about to send, there are a number of things you need to take note of to ensure that you’ll get a reply back.
Bear in mind, these suppliers likely receive dozens of similar inquiries from other Amazon sellers like you and they’re very picky when it comes to the people they decide to do business with.
They’re not dying to build a long-term partnership with anyone and everyone that reaches out, which is why you really have to stand out and come across as a “good catch” that they too can benefit from.
So, how do you look attractive in the eyes of these suppliers?
1. Know Your Products
Believe it or not, Chinese suppliers can smell whether or not you’re just in it for the lowest prices and aren’t serious about placing an order from a mile off . When reaching out, you have to know what you’re looking for and what your product is all about. This will come across in the kind of information and questions your email will contain.
These suppliers have been around for many years and they’ve dealt with a lot of people in their lifetime to know which one is after doing legitimate business and which one is just there to fish for the lowest price, or not commit.
The questions you ask must be sensible and relevant to your needs so before you reach out, make sure you do the proper research in terms of the kind of materials used, how much they normally weigh etc.
2. Be Clear and Concise
The language barrier and how well you can deal with it plays a huge factor when it comes to negotiating with suppliers, primarily because they are non-native English speakers. You have to make things easier and direct-to-the-point if you want to get an immediate response.
- It goes without saying that when you’re requesting for information, be polite and considerate in your approach. You have to keep in mind that you are speaking with someone who may have different business practices compared to what you’ve been used to.
- Avoid using slang words and abbreviations because your email will most likely be translated and those kind of words don’t translate well. Use “do not” instead of “don’t” or “would not” instead of “wouldn’t” whenever you can.
- Write somewhere around elementary level, not to insult their intelligence or command of the English language but more for avoiding any miscommunication.
- Avoid asking too many questions at once. You’ll want to give them the opportunity to address your concerns one-by-one so don’t bombard them with too many questions at a time. Start with 3 or 5 at most.
- Write numbers as numbers instead of words i.e. instead of writing the word “one”, use “1” instead. Remember, the less you have to translate, the better.
- Use bullet points over paragraphs whenever you can. It will help them read and understand better.
- Use images whenever you can. The goal is to make things easy for them and if they have to read through paragraphs of descriptions about your product, that’s the complete opposite. If there are concepts that can be best described by pictures, use pictures. The less you have to explain, the better.
3. Take Note of the Countries They Deal with
Another important consideration you have to look at when it comes to dealing with suppliers is how far their reach is. Do they export to countries within the United States and Europe or are they only exporting within Asian countries?
If they do export to the United States and Europe where regulations are considered more stringent, that’s probably a good thing.
You’ll want to deal with suppliers who have experience and legitimacy, especially if you’re looking to build a long-term business relationship with them.
By this time, you should already have filtered several candidates that you’ll be reaching out to, so it would be a great idea to start with a template that can be sent to each of the suppliers on the list.
Below are some key questions that can help you get your feet off the ground but just like we said earlier, try to minimize your questions to five at most.
Don’t attempt to include all of these within your first email, but you’ll want to ask them at some point.
- How is your company doing financially?
- What is your shipping address?
- What are your contact details?
- What is your minimum order quantity (MOQs)?
- What other colors do the products come in?
- What is your preferred payment method?
- What is the price per unit (PPU) for the product?
- Do you have references?
- What is your production time and how soon can you start creating my product?
- Do you offer samples, and if you do, how much?
- What are your payment terms? (Do they require upfront payment or do they accept instalments?)
- Are you authorized to ship to my country?
- Are you a gold supplier? (No harm in double-checking even if it’s already indicated)
Again, do not include all of these questions in your first email. Just choose three to five from the list and if you get a reply back, that’s the time you can add the rest of these in your follow-up.
Here’s what a sample email might look like:
Subject: RFQ Yoga Mat
My name is Josh from Hustle and Health Solutions. We are currently looking to purchase high-quality yoga mats for the US market. See attached photos of the kind we are looking for.
These will primarily be sold online since we are an online company. We estimate between 2,500 to 3,500 pcs annual purchase volume after a trial order of 100 pieces and samples evaluation.
Size – 70cm x 26cm
Textured, Non-Slip surface
Durable foam; latex-free with phthalate-free inks
Extra Thick, Extra Wide
Do you manufacture these types of yoga mats? If so, please share the following:
1) Actual photo and specifications
2) What is your lead time for samples and trial order?
3) Do you offer samples? If so, how much?
4) Are you authorized to ship to the US?
5) Do you have any references we can check?
Looking forward to hearing from you.
All the best!
Hustle and Health Solutions
What to Do if They Don’t Respond?
Realistically speaking, not all of the 20 suppliers you have shortlisted will reply back. There are some who will totally ignore you, intentionally or not.
Either they’re busy (they’re exporting products all over the world after all), on vacation, or in some cases, already out of business (it happens).
If you don’t receive a reply at first, send them an email follow-up. Give yourself a limit as to the amount of follow-ups you will send, but if after three follow-ups you still haven’t received a reply, it’s time to move on. It’s not going to be worth it to work with someone who’s not willing to give you the attention you need.
You will be able sense from the initial response which suppliers have the potential to become a long-term business partner and which one’s don’t. Looking past any grammatical errors (which will most likely occur), the way they answer your questions says it all.
A perfect reply is one where all your questions have been addressed and answered in an easy to read manner. This says a lot about the supplier because it means they took the time to address all your concerns and actually made sure that they addressed them clearly. They may have someone on staff that is fluent in English, which helps a lot.
The fact that they took time to do all this means that they are responsible and professional to deal with. If you’re looking for the perfect long-term business partner, suppliers who respond this way should be a primary candidate.
There are also those who will answer all your questions but the sentences may be poorly written or contain bad spelling or grammar. If you encounter suppliers like these, try to be considerate because they deal with a lot of people every day.
The fact that they took the time to respond should be good enough as long as they’ve addressed all of your concerns and you have understood each other. This doesn’t mean you have to settle though. You still want to deal with someone who not only answers your questions but also takes time making sure their sentences and spelling are clear and understandable.
Lastly, there are those who will simply send you a template response that’s no different from an auto-reply. The email is more of an acknowledgment of your initial email rather than addressing your questions (which it won’t).
You can’t work with people who don’t even take the time to understand your needs so if you do encounter one like this, move on. There are better suppliers out there who deserve your partnership.
If you’re going to start working with someone for the long haul, do it with someone that has the courtesy and professionalism to be there when you need them and these early days will give you a good idea of how they will act in the future.
After exchanging a couple of emails with a potential supplier, you should now have an idea of their prices, modes of payment and MOQ’s, so the next phase will be about negotiating.
The first thing you need to keep in mind when it comes to negotiation is that it always has to be within reason. You have to remember that working with suppliers is supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship and not a one-sided one.
You need to make profit but so do your suppliers, so always try to negotiate within reason so they won’t get turned off and dis-continue working with you.
Remember too that there are other aspects of the production process you can negotiate beyond the price. Minimum Order Quantity (MOQs) are most certainly negotiable. So are materials, quality and colors, to name a few. As long as it’s within reason, you should be good to go.
Filtering the Good Suppliers from the Bad
You’ve now reached the point when you have to make a decision as to which supplier to pick and move forward. Suffice to say, this is a critical decision because this will be for the long-term. Filtering out the good from the bad is very important.
Price – It goes without saying that the biggest part of this supplier search is fulfilling your desire for the best price. Do take note, however, that the lowest price isn’t always the best one. It has to go hand in hand with the quality of products you’ll get from the supplier, so when it comes to price, you’ve got to look for the lowest one but with the best quality.
Communication and Availability – You want to work with a supplier who’s always available to render support or answer your questions given the time differential. You want someone you can readily speak with on Skype should there be urgent concerns from your end but just as important, you need someone who will openly contact you to ask for your inputs when needed.
Payment Terms – When it comes to payment terms, it is still your preference that should take precedence. Is the supplier willing to accept payment in instalment terms? Are they okay for you to pay a small amount upfront and pay the remaining balance once you receive the products? Ensure that they accepted a safe payment method and platform such as Alibaba.
You should avoid paying via Western Union, Bitcoin or other off-platform payment methods that are uninsured or irreversible if there is an issue.
MOQ – We all have our ideal Minimum Order Quantity but not all suppliers would be willing to cater to them. If there’s ever a supplier who is willing to provide you with your ideal MOQ, pick them.
Hopefully this guide has given you some things to think about before blindly contacting potential suppliers on Alibaba or elsewhere. You need to make your first impression count. Feel free to use our template email above as an example of a good first message to send, and take into account the questions we suggest asking and everything else to consider since the recipient of your message likely won’t be a native English speaker. Once you’ve successfully exchanged messages with some suitable candidates, it’s time to request samples.