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How to Solve Common Communication Problems with Suppliers

Communicating with suppliers can be difficult.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest problems to solve in the world of eCommerce.

To help you have the best relationship possible with your suppliers and manufacturers, we’ve put together this list of common supplier communication problems and how to handle them.


1. How many suppliers should I contact?

The more the merrier! When first starting out, contact at least 20 suppliers.

You want to contact as many as possible because you’ll be narrowing down your list based on the number of responses you receive.

Once you start getting replies, choose 3-5 to work with.

You want more than one so you don’t stress when one of them runs out of inventory or ups their prices on you. (If you’re in business long enough, these problems happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time.)

Remember the 80/20 rule: 80% will not be a good fit so find the 20% that are perfect.  

Also Read: AliExpress Alternatives: SaleHoo vs. AliExpress

2. What’s the difference between RFQ and RFP?

When asking foreign suppliers for pricing, it’s important to know the difference between an RFQ (request for quotation) and an RFP (request for proposal). There’s also an RFI (request for information).

An RFQ is used when you know precisely what you need, and you are only asking for the price.

On the other hand, RFPs are used when you are unsure what you need, and you want the supplier to help you to find a solution as well as pointing out costs.

RFIs are merely used when you need more information about a product, such as it’s weight, cost, stock number, or other info.

Furthermore, RFx can be used when discussing requests in general, where x can be replaced with I, Q, or P.  

3. Should I send RFQ immediately or should I introduce my company first?

First impressions mean everything when making contact with suppliers. You want to come across as serious, professional, and easy to deal with.

Which means...

Introduce yourself! Give a short introduction of your company and a description of your market and product.

Keep the introduction short. As we discussed in our article about dealing with Chinese suppliers, long or complicated messages don’t get good answers (if any at all).

After your introduction, you can include the RFQ in the same email.

Allow up to 24 hours for a response. Be patient with the process because you there could be a lot of go back and forth after sending the supplier your initial RFQ.

4. How long should I wait for a response? Is more than a day a bad sign?

For lack of a better answer… it depends.

Responsive suppliers will usually reply within 24 hours or sooner, depending on holidays, weekend, their workload, and interest in you and your company.  

Expect at least a third of them not to reply. They may simply not be interested in your proposal (too small of an order, wrong market).

Suppliers receive quite a few emails quote requests from buyers that aren’t really promising, so it’s not unheard of for a supplier to ignore your request.  

To combat this, keep your emails clear and concise. Spare all the personal details when making an initial contact; get right to the point. Typically, one or two paragraphs is more than enough.

5. For private labelling: Should I get a supplier’s assistance in picking the product from their product catalog? Or should I pick the product and still send my RFQ?

When it comes to private labelling, it’s best to have a product in mind before contacting the supplier.

Although many suppliers are flexible and may offer you assistance with picking a product, it can be costly.

Instead, send the RFQ, then ask if the supplier has your product or a similar product ready for production.

If the supplier doesn’t have a similar product available, be prepared to reverse engineer your design, and this can be time-consuming.

6. Since the product is fairly generic, how much time should I expect between the first contact and ordering my first sample?

Again, this depends on the communication between you and your supplier.

It depends on the number of questions that arise as well as negotiations of quality standards, pricing, payment terms, sample pricing, etc.  

If it’s not a complex product and depending if they have samples in stock, allow two to three weeks.  

However, it could take up to several months of back and forth before getting hammering the details.

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7. I heard there are a lot of scammers in foreign trade. Which payment gateway is the safest?

Paypal is the most used and trusted payment gateway, but you should still have a backup payment method.

A bank line of credit or escrow service are other trusted methods that will provide a layer of protection if something goes wrong with the supplier.

Be wary of using credit cards or wire transfers, since these methods aren’t protected. Western Union is another common payment solution that isn’t protected.

Keep in mind that, while they aren’t protected, you can still use them once you’ve established trust with your suppliers. In fact, for larger orders, many suppliers won’t accept anything else.

8. How do I check a foreign supplier’s legitimacy?

This is a really common concern. Fraud is real, and it happens every day.

While there are a lot of ways to determine the legitimacy of a supplier, the quickest way to is to make direct contact with the company. Just give them a call.

If they don’t have a phone number or no one answers when you call, that’s a red flag.

Additionally, ask the supplier for a list of references. Three references should be enough to know if the company is legit.

When requesting a list of references, you want to ask for the company name, address, contact name, telephone number, and Skype ID.

The best and easiest way to avoid fraud is to simply use SaleHoo’s supplier directory. We vet every supplier to ensure only real, high-quality suppliers get on our list.

9. How do I know that my products will not be defective once I receive them?

Always request a sample before production!!

If a supplier says they can’t accommodate your single order, they’re probably running a scam.

Once you’ve given the supplier permission to proceed, request photos of the production process. This allows you to spot problems early on so that you can fix them.

When you get the product, inspect it for quality. Use it like your customer would, and be a little rough on it. If it holds up, you’re probably OK.

10. How do I avoid delays before mass production?

The only real answer is to keep in touch with the supplier...

Simply ask them if everything is going well and if they’re able to stay on schedule.

This not only gives you an idea of when your product will be complete and delivered but also lets the supplier know that you’re aware of everything going on with production.

I hope these answers to common communication problems with suppliers helps you run a better business. Now it’s off to you:

What questions do you have about communicating better with suppliers? Let us know in the comments below!


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Comments (3)

  Already a member? Login to comment
Kabiru Kamilu on 7:16 2 Sep
I found your site encouraging to really start the biz.thank you
mariluz Rojas on 0:04 27 Sep
Excelente guía, aunque yo por ahora solo pretendo hacer DS, tiene información muy valiosa que atesorare para lo sucesivo. .
Christel Broederlow on 15:13 5 Dec
Great advise for a newbie, thank you for sharing.


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