5 TIPS ON MEETING YOUR CHINESE SUPPLIERS FOR THE FIRST TIME
As a buyer, it’s vital to build and develop a strong relationship with your Chinese supplier. It can be a daunting prospect meeting your supplier face-to-face for the first time.
For those of you that are coming to China and meeting your suppliers for the first time, we want to get you prepared. Between networking and attending trade-shows, you should set some time away for meeting your supplier.
The main reason to meet your supplier in person is to build “guanxi“. Guanxi is the personal relationship which is the foundation for business in China.
By spending time with your supplier, you build trust. That trust will help you build a solid foundation for the business going forward.
We’ve come up with a list of the top 5 tips to prepare when making your first visit to China.
- Build a Relationship Outside of Business
It’s not all business when it comes to meeting your supplier. It’s common practice during lunch or dinner not to discuss anything business related. If you are going to talk business then do so after the main course has been enjoyed.
Ask them about their family, hobbies, and customs. A common philosophy in Chinese business is to “first make friends, then make business”.
The more energy and time you devote to building a strong friendship with your supplier, the better off you’ll be when it comes to talking business.
We recommend coming out to China at least once a year and doing a leisure activity with them.
Pro tip: Pull them aside for a one-on-one. If you want to form a bond on an individual basis，its best to get them alone. In private, people are better to be able to provide you with more personal information.
They would never speak their mind with others are around. So its best to lean the conversation towards a private meeting to dig deeper.
It may seem unnecessary, but investing in your supplier relationship will pay off in the long run.
- Create an Itinerary
A successful trip starts with preparation. Having a plan in place that isn’t jam packed with the right mix between work and play. When visiting suppliers, we recommend you limit yourself to two visits a day.
Here are some things to bring to make your itinerary more effective:
1) Contact information. Bring the names and phone numbers of all your suppliers. Also, include friends or business partners that you plan to visit.
2) Addresses and contact information in both English and Chinese. You don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you can’t find your way back to the hotel or restaurant. Having it in Chinese will be a lifesaver as you can get help from a local who can’t speak English.
3) Travel and meeting details. Knowing who, what, and where you need to be for all your meetings. This will keep you on schedule so you can maximize your trip.
- Bring Gifts
Here are some gift-giving tips:
Don’t go over the top. Choose a gift that reflects the relationship you have with your supplier. Pick gifts that are meaningful especially those from your home country. Food is a good option, particularly specialty snacks from where you are from.
Don’t wrap your gifts from home before arriving in China as customs may unwrap it. Have your gift wrapped in red paper as its considered the lucky color.
Insist they take the gift. Chinese usually don’t accept a gift when it is first presented. They will politely refuse two or three times to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting something too quickly is considered greedy and aggressive.
- Be Prepared to Eat and Drink
When visiting suppliers, the management team will almost always invite you out. This can be either lunch and/or dinner, depending on the time or length of your visit.
It’s recommended that you accept their invitation to attend. And, if you are keen to, also drink with them. Relationships are often built over drinks. There is no better way to build comfort and have fun with your supplier.
Don’t worry about settling the bill. They’ll handle it. Even if you offer to pay they won’t let you so after they refuse your first offer, thank them and leave it at that. You offering not to pay isn’t offensive as they know you’ve come a long way to spend quality time with them.
Pro tip: If you plan to visit your supplier for more than a day. Don’t feel obligated to go to lunch and dinner with them every time. Pick one night dedicated to dining and entertaining.
And if you’re not feeling up to it, let them know beforehand you have something else to do.
- Come Prepared (Notes, Documents, Specs)
The more prepared you are, the less confusion there will be. You will only spend a couple of hours with someone you may not see for another year or potentially longer. So, a forgotten document or sample can cause headaches down the road.
Come ready with your product specifications, Quality Control (QC) checklists and any other necessary documents. Ensure you have both scanned and hard copies. If you have come to your supplier for quality issues or modifications, come prepared with photos and documentation.
It’s good to have a clear agenda in place and sending it to your supplier a couple of days beforehand. This will give them time to prepare as well to increase the efficiency of the meeting.