How to Solve Common Communication Problems with Suppliers

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Communicating with suppliers can be difficult, to say the least.

Especially if you’re dropshipping from manufacturers in Asia who don’t speak the best English.

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.


How to contact suppliers and get a response

Have you ever tried to get in touch with your supplier only to be ignored for days on end?

Before calling your supplier out (and potentially harming your relationship with them), ask yourself…

“Do I have the right contact information?”

If you find that you misspelled their email, or dialed the wrong extension, take the blame!

If, however, you do have the correct contact information, you may ask yourself…

“Why are they not answering my emails? What do I need to do to get their attention?”

While we at SaleHoo believe your supplier should be answering any/all questions you may have when it comes to your business, there will be times when an email slips through the cracks.

What you should be asking is…

“How can I make sure my email is seen and answered in a timely manner from now on?”

The answer could be as simple as changing up your subject line! If you have something bland like “Quick question”, consider changing it to “Super quick question about X”.

This will make your supplier realize that you have a question pertaining to something they sell/offer, which they’ll be more open to answer (if they want to keep your business, that is!).

While we’re on the subject of emails, be sure to keep your emails short and sweet. A lot of suppliers are not located in the US and sometimes speak little English.

A good email template to follow would be something like:

“Hi, {Supplier’s Name}!

I hope you’re having a great week!

I wanted to ask you a question about X…

[Give brief description of what’s going on.]

Thank you!
Talk soon,

If, after you’ve sent a short email with a strong subject line and your supplier still hasn’t answered, send them a follow-up email saying…

“Hi, {Supplier’s Name}!

Just following up to make sure you got received my question.

Talk soon,

If your supplier still doesn’t answer after this, and you’ve tried countless times to reach out to them, it may be time to find a new supplier.

Luckily, the SaleHoo Directory is filled with reputable suppliers for you to pick from!

How to convince suppliers to do business with you

Picture this: You met a kickass supplier that you’d love to work with. You’re almost positive that you have them wrapped around your finger…

...when you hear them say “I’m not sure if this is a right fit for me.”

Crap! Now what? You could always look for the next best supplier, sure!

Or, you could prove yourself worthy and get the supplier you deserve.

How? I’m glad you asked! As long as you follow these next few steps, you’ll either blow your potential suppliers away or realize they don’t deserve you (kidding, of course).

  1. Get in touch with the person who will ultimately make the decision. Whether it’s the supplier directly or their assistant.
  2. Set up a time/date for a Skype call. Or, if you live near your potential supplier, ask if there’s a chance you can meet up.
  3. Regardless of how you’ll be meeting with your supplier, be sure to tidy up your website. If you eCommerce store looks a bit messy and unorganized, suppliers may see that as you not caring about your business. Not a good sign!
  4. Be ready to show current/past success. That said, however, don’t be afraid to leave out the nitty-gritty details about your struggles and how you overcame them. Your supplier needs to know that you know what you’re doing.
  5. Show how committed you are to your eCommerce business. Brag about it, talk about your amazing employees, talk about any and everything you can that you have to show off to really wow them.
  6. If they still say they have to think about it, be sure to follow up with them in the next 2-3 days. They may have just needed to talk to their team before bringing you on!

Don’t wait too long for someone to answer you, though. You can find another supplier in a heartbeat with the SaleHoo directory!

Different ways to communicate with suppliers

In this day and age, emails and phone calls aren’t the only way to get in touch with your supplier!

There are tons of social media platforms you could use, such as:

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Skype

If you wanted to, you and your supplier could say “Goodbye!” to emails and phone calls and still have a great communication system.

Not to mention, you’re able to talk to our wholesale suppliers through the SaleHoo directory whenever you’d like!

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!

10 Questions to consider asking suppliers when first contacting 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: How to evaluate and choose kickass suppliers for your business

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.

Also Check: What is ePacket Delivery

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.

Also read: How to find and verify Chinese suppliers

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.

And now you known how to solve communication problems with suppliers!

Over to you - Share your first time approaching a supplier! What obstacle did you have to overcome? Maybe your answer can help someone else have better communication with their suppliers.


About the author
George Drennan

George is a writer specializing in eCommerce and marketing. With his expert knowledge, he has created lots of content for SaleHoo, and has over 10 years of hands-on experience working on campaigns and strategy for leading brands. With a data-driven approach, he empowers companies to stand out, drive targeted web traffic, and generate sales.

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  • Kabiru Kamilu 2nd of September
    I found your site encouraging to really start the biz.thank you
  • mariluz Rojas 27th of September
    Excelente guía, aunque yo por ahora solo pretendo hacer DS, tiene información muy valiosa que atesorare para lo sucesivo. .
  • Christel Broederlow 5th of December
    Great advise for a newbie, thank you for sharing.
  • Judy Tapia 30th of July
    Excellent and detailed advise for a newbie. Thank you for sharing.