If you’ve ever tried to reach out to suppliers on Alibaba.com, you know how hard it can be to make them respond to your request for quotation.
That said, Alibaba suppliers often have good reasons for not responding to inquiries.
In this interview, Wayne Zhang explains what you can do to improve your Alibaba supplier response rate, which communication apps to use and much more.
Wayne, please tell us about yourself and how you got into sourcing
Oh my, unfortunately, I do not think this will be a type of an answer that packs in a lot of “Hollywood” like action, but just a plain simple reality. I used to work for a company that provided similar services to foreign clients from around the globe.
And, truth be told I worked there for a while, right after I graduated from University.
I studied commerce, and one of my foreign languages was English, so it seemed like a great idea at the time, and it was. My responsibilities included finding clients, going through their requests, find products at a price they requested, place an order and make sure the final shipment was sent out. So, I did everything from door to door, sort of speak.
I considered this to be a great start of my career because already back then I saw myself working in this industry for a long time because, in my opinion, it had potential.
I was right.
I learned a lot while working for my first company and it equipped me with a very valuable set of skills that eventually proved to be very advantageous in building my own business. I knew that I want to have my own company one day, so I worked hard, saved money and just went for it.
Why do you think so many importers struggle to get responses from suppliers on Alibaba.com?
You first need to understand that there is not just one problem, it is a set of problems that can be easily dealt with.
The first reason is lack of time. Considering that “sales managers” in China do not only deal with sales, but usually with the whole [production] process. They simply do not have the time to go on Alibaba every day to respond to the inquiries, however, in reality, this is a part of their job as well.
Another reason is lack of information on your inquiry. Simply put yourself in the supplier’s shoes.
You receive a message that says “I want to buy a wallet from you.” and that’s it.
Would you be likely to respond to this message or another that states approximate quantity you require, specifications, basically more details? The answer is obvious.
Next reason might seem funny to some people, but it is common – company no longer exists, so no one is checking Alibaba. Some manufacturers have too many inquiries, and they simply can’t get to yours or choose not to because they have better potential offers.
What can importers do to improve the response rate on Alibaba?
First and foremost, you need to make sure your inquiry or RFQ (Request For Quotation) is structured and has enough information in order not only to interest the supplier, but also provide them with correct [product] data.
When suppliers see that potential client invested a decent amount of work and knowledge into an RFQ, they take it more seriously.
If you have no information about the product specifications and you are just doing initial research, I suggest you do it [research product specs] through web sources first.
Use Google, find it on Amazon, Walmart, etc.
See what types are there available, what modifications. The most important part is to have some information and negotiation skills.
Further, you need to remember that any supplier is looking for long-term cooperation with good quantities. And if you are looking for that too, make sure to indicate it in your original message.
One more way to improve the response rate is to talk to suppliers online.
Time difference might be an issue for you, and I understand, but this is your business, and one needs to make a sacrifice. There is an online chat on Alibaba where you can talk to the supplier directly and ask all your questions.
Most of the manufacturers will have more than one agent listed for online chat, so if one is offline, go to the next one.
Do you have any examples of how to write an initial RFQ message?
Dear Miss Li,
We are contacting you in regards to a yoga mat that we are interested in and I came across on your website. Please be so kind as to provide a price based on the following specification.
Packaging: Mesh Bag with strap
Logo: Laser Engraving
Quantity: 500 pcs & 1,000 pcs
We require FOB USD price for 500 and 1,000 pcs. We can discuss further details over Skype or Wechat, please contact me Skype (xxx), Wechat (xxx).
We will also require a sample sent to Germany, can you please indicate how much would that cost.
We are looking for a supplier for a long-term cooperation and hope you can be it.
Best Regards, Name, Company Name
Do you think it’s wise to send product specification files with your first email, or do you think it’s better to start with a simpler introduction email?
If you have certain details, I would suggest you send them. However, let me warn you directly. In my line of work, in all the years I came across very few suppliers who will send you what you need based on your first message.
And it doesn’t matter that all the information they have to have to determine the price is there.
So, yes, you will have to resend it once or twice more, but that is just because of business etiquette, education of how to proceed with business inquiries and reading one’s emails is not fully there when it comes to Chinese suppliers.
Business for Chinese suppliers has boomed in the recent years, but it doesn’t mean the [sales and production] knowledge came directly with it. That is why a lot of people prefer to outsource the sourcing process to trading companies [rather than factories] because they are aware of all the little and big things that might go wrong and they know how to deal with it. But I got a bit off track.
Yes, send the specs to the potential supplier, send all the basic specs. If you have special requests or modifications, do not include them, leave them for later. As mentioned above, sending a more structured request will motivate your supplier to answer.
How many days should I expect to wait, before a supplier submits a quotation?
This question is not as straightforward as one might think. If you have submitted an RFQ on Alibaba you can have quotations coming in the next day and depending on your product it can be 5 to 50 quotations or responses that you will receive from the manufacturers who are interested in producing this product for you.
My personal best was 62 supplier responses to an RFQ.
If you sent a direct request to a supplier here, I would suggest waiting 1 to 2 working days. If you did not receive any information from the supplier three working days after you sent them a direct message, I would suggest you turn your gaze somewhere else.
Here is a hint for you. When you contact a particular supplier on Alibaba directly, make sure to find out as much about him as possible. The most important if they have a website listed (outside of Alibaba). I came across suppliers who these days list their WhatsApp and Wechat contact information.
So, you sent a message through Alibaba, now send it to their email you found on the website and to any other contact you have available for them.
You need to be proactive, and you need to show it to your supplier because if they will see that you try to keep up, check information and be informed they will behave accordingly.
Once contact has been established, what is the best way to stay in touch with suppliers in Mainland China?
Well, in this day and age the amount of services available to keep in touch is just enormous. And yes, you might think that the supplier is supposed to accommodate for you, as you are the client, you are the one who pays the money, but that is not always true.
As of recently a lot of Chinese suppliers started using Skype and WhatsApp for communication purposes, and I say, sure make sure you have your supplier on both Wechat and Skype.
But that is not it, we need to consider Chinese culture and mentality and know what they are using for everyday communication between themselves, and that is WeChat and QQ. Make sure you download those, register there and connect with your supplier.
Trust me and my years of experience, when your potential manufacturer or trading company cannot be reached by Skype or WhatsApp they will always be on QQ and WeChat.
Those are the apps that are being used by the Chinese population on an everyday basis, and sales managers usually use private accounts for work purposes as well.
So, to recap, for safety reasons, make sure to have contact with your supplier through WeChat, QQ, Skype, Email, WhatsApp. I suggest using QQ as the primary base app for communication.
Thank you Wayne. How can our readers learn more about you?
Qulito is a China-based sourcing service provider. You can always simply visit the website or contact me directly.
I prefer direct contact, as this is when one can truly understand the needs and the requirements that the clients has. Not only that, but the company can provide a more efficient service in this way, and the client will save that precious time.
The company’s goal is to ease the way your business works, not to make it harder. It is to take the load off your shoulders and free up your time for more important things or new ventures. Whether you are looking for a product, quality assurance, logistic solutions, order management or contract negotiations Qulito is “Your Guy” sort of speak.