How To Keep Your Supplier Motivated

Michael MicheliniBlog, Business, Ecommerce1 Comment

Is Motivation Key?

You have decided to source from China, you selected your product, checked all the samples, signed a PI and of course transferred 30% down payment for your order. It seems that everything is set and your life should get easier now, right? I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are very, extremely wrong!

First, let me say that suppliers in China are all very unique, but they do have a lot of things in common. One major thing that I would like to mention is the oversupply of orders that they receive. Do not get me wrong there are exceptions to every rule of course, but in this case, we need to take a quick look at Chinese economy and how massive it became in the past decade or so.

China GDP annual growth rate in the years 1989 to 2015 was on average 9.74% (Trading Economics, 2017). China opened up to the world and became one big factory with massive and cheap labour supply. Sourcing from China is still advantageous in today’s world. So believe me when I tell you that I personally communicated with the factories that said: “We don’t want your order, too small, we have many customers.” Or something in the lines of “We can accept new orders only in 6 month’s because right now we have too many orders”.

So, what I am getting at is that a lot of suppliers in China are spoiled for choice. Even when the economic crisis hit the globe in 2008 Chinese economy did slow down a bit and yes a lot of factories closed down, but the ones that kept working just got more orders in, because the number of competition for them has actually decreased.

Due to the above circumstances, it proves hard to keep your suppliers motivated at times. Is motivation key? Yes, it is key to having a stable mutually profitable cooperation between yourself and your supplier. By motivating your supplier with conscious or subconscious factors, you are trying to stimulate them to achieve the best results and isn’t that exactly what you need? Yes, you need the best possible product, with the best quality, at the lowest price, produced as fast as possible.

What Is Your Supplier’s Motivation?

To understand how to encourage your supplier’s motivation you first need to understand what motivates them in the first place. You need to understand if they are in it for the long run if they are trying to build and develop their business or do they behave like teenagers who are unstable and jump from one thing to another. Of course, your choice should go towards more stable suppliers because they will have the motivation to build a long-term relationship with you, cooperate and compromise when necessary.

Whereas “teenage supplier” will “dump” you as soon as the things start getting hard. To differentiate between the two, it is best to go and visit the factory, meet everyone face to face and see how things are run. If you can’t go to China, then try to have video conference calls, see how fast they respond to your emails and how they react to your requests.

Please do keep in mind the language barrier, a lot of Chinese sales reps speak English, but it doesn’t mean they have a good command of it. So if you hear something that in the Western world would enrage you, do yourself a favour and make sure that this is what the Chinese supplier actually meant, because 95% of the time, it won’t be.

Lead By Example

You need to make sure that you are hands on at all times. If you have any knowledge to share with your supplier, do it. If you have advice, suggestions, corrections make sure to pass it along to them. If it is a sensible company, they will listen and might even take your advice.

Education is never useless; just make sure not to do it in a pushy way, but a friendly way. Do not say things like “I have been working in this industry for 20 years, so you better listen to me!” because, in reality, this phrase will piss off any normal person. You will face resistance, especially from younger generations, not because they think they are smarter but because they do not have any work experience (or maybe very little) and they simply do not realize that good CS is part of their job.

Lead by example means that you also have the responsibility to learn from your supplier. Ask questions about production lines, process, etc. If you show them how interested and involved you are and how much time you are spending on it, they will come to an understanding that you are in it for a long run and they will be motivated to do a better job for you.

Always Be Available

The time difference is something that if not managed right can be a huge demotivator. If your supplier can’t get a hold of you and confirm small things he will not be motivated in the future to do that either because he knows that is somewhat useless. So my suggestion is: be available at all times.

If you are running your own business you know it is a 24/7/365 job, so don’t complain. Do not only communicate through email, for more efficiency you can use Chinese messengers WeChat and QQ. If a time difference is hard for you to handle, hire a Chinese VA (virtual assistant) who can work only 2-3 hours/day communicating with your supplier while you are asleep (they are very affordable and can be found on a lot of sites).

Stay the course

Your supplier’s motivation depends on your own actions. If you will change your requests all the time, for example, related to product specifications this will discourage your supplier. Consistency is the key.

Make sure all your product specifications, packaging and other related things are worked out prior to placing the order, I would even say prior to asking for a quotation. Stay the course that you have originally worked out for yourself, organize and be diligent. This will go a long way for both you and your supplier.

Be Clear And Repeat

Zig Ziglar – “Repetition is the mother of all learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.”
It is quite simple to make sure that your supplier understands what you need. In Chinese culture, it is common to say “yes” when you do not understand something. This comes historically from the teachings of Confucius in regards to losing face (In a modified form). Be very clear with your instructions, send them over email and discuss them over Skype.

Remember to motivate your supplier you need to make sure he/she feels comfortable talking to you. Be friendly, behave on the same level and ask if they have any questions if they understand everything.

Try not to ask “yes” or “no” questions. Ask questions that will test the knowledge and information that they received from you.

Make sure to show them how much you appreciate them repeating all the things over and over again, and give some sort of verbal reward such as “great job”, “wow your memory is amazing”, “I really appreciate you taking the time to go through this with me again, you are doing a very good job!”

Forth Full Teamwork

Chinese society is not an individualistic one, but more communal. So you need to become a part of your supplier’s community. I do not mean a move to China and play mahjong with them. I mean interact, make sure to tell them that you are on their side, you understand the troubles and you are a part of their team and that all of you are in this together.

Teamwork motivates most of the people to perform a better job. Encourage them to ask you questions, to teach you, to be more than just a supplier, to be a guanxi or a friend. This can motivate your supplier a long way.

Stay A Pro As You Are

There will be moments when the level of your anger towards your supplier will be extremely intense. This is where you need to take a deep breath and take a step back. Going “crazy” on your supplier will, of course, give an opposite effect of the motivation.

Just think to yourself, even when you are doing something wrong, and somebody starts screaming at you, that will not make you more motivated, it will make you feel angry and maybe a little vindictive.

But if you did something wrong and a person calmly tries to explain what is wrong, how to fix it and the consequences if this will happen again, that will give you more encouragement. Remember China has a different culture, behaviour and business acumen. What is clear and logical to you can be unacceptable to your supplier. So stay calm.

Motivate and take action

Is motivation key? Yes and no. When working with your Chinese supplier, there are many factors that should be taken into consideration in order to make your cooperation successful. However, motivation is an important part of this. To achieve it you need to bring out the best in yourself. Your best personality of a mentor, your personality of a friend, personality of an organised and dedicated to work person, your personality of yoga or meditation instructor that will make sure to keep you calm.

Above suggestions can be very useful to you and your business. I know it because I have been using them for years. I do really hope that you can spread the word and share them with the business community and your friends in order for all of us to have more success in our business.

This is a guest post by Kevin Lee, Vice president of Asianconn

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