Communicating with Chinese Manufacturers: Who am I talking to?

Asianreceptionist
It’s no secret that communication with overseas manufacturers can be challenging.  Given the number of businesses and individuals routinely trying to contact Chinese manufacturers via Alibaba.com and other internet sources, many are quick to find at the very outset that communication is going to be a much slower and more difficult process than they initially thought.  Invariably, our clients come to us having already tried to contact and work with manufacturers directly, with little progress and lots of frustration.  So who are the people on the other end of the email at the factory responding to all of these initial inquiries? 

I recently came across an interesting post entitled, A Question for All Chinese Members of the Forums, on one of Alibaba.com’s forums.  Upon noticing the frequency with which Chinese members were asking basic questions, this individual posed an open question to the forum, asking these Chinese members to explain who they were, what they did, and how much training they received from their companies to do their jobs.  Their replies, the most interesting of which I’ve posted below, paint a fairly accurate picture of the lack of training these young, entry-level sales staff are typically given, and why great patience and strong communication skills on our part are necessary to get accurate information.  Don’t take it from me.  Hear it from the source:

I work in a factory. I’m twenty- three years old. It’s my first job. I
graduated from university this June. I’ve worked here for more than
four months ( I started my work this April.)

I’m the only one who sell our products to the international market.
I’m the only one who know how to write, read and speak English here.

At
first, I can’t quote myself, so everytime when I got an enquiry, I need
to let my boss tell me the unit prices. Now, I can quote myself.

I need to learn by myself most of the time.
There
are lots of professional English words I didn’t know, but no one can
tell me, I need to search a lot and learn from the Internet — That’s
why I always turn to Baidu for help now. I found it’s very useful to me!

A second response:

that’s great.
but there are too many factories here,and many many
factories have no ability to train their workers. they are only samll
factories.
and they aims are to earn money .
and i also ever
heard,the boss in many many factories only have the lower
knowledge,they can’t know what need for international trade,they also
don’t want to pay more money to train you.

always, in many many
factories,they just start do foreign trade,they have no right to export
and import,they always need help from Imp.&Exp. company.they only
have one sales for foreign trade.

when i started my first
work,the factory also only me to do foreign trade,no one can tell me
how to do.i can’t get help from any where.
i had to read more books
and check more with customers.luckily,the customers i met were very
kind,mostly they would explain to me carefully.i need to say,i learnt
much knowledge from my customers.i need thanks them. and when i started
foreign trade,i faced many many difficults.but i have come over.

now i have 1 year experience,i feel nice.
i believe i can do work much better.

And finally:

This is a good question..and relates to other issues…LIKE:
How often do "International Sales" people change jobs? I feel the turnover is high.

Let
us consder that we are talking about young, bright university graduates
whose big advantage is good knowledge of English…Not there skills in
Sales or Trade.

Those who develop and interest may move on
quickly to "bigger and better" things. Others may get frustrated since
they are not always really part of the company, but serve as contact
people with customers. So their opinions about customer relations may
not be properly respected.

This turnover can become a serious
problem as customers need ongoing contact to solve quality issues,
develop specifications, and prepare foreign language manuals, art work
etc.

This last post emphasizes the point that it’s not just a lack of training contributing to the communication difficulty, but employee retention as well.  It’s not uncommon for many young Chinese employees to bounce from job to job, making it difficult for them to truly learn how to sell a company’s products and communicate effectively with customers.  The skilled labor shortage in China is serious and retaining good employees is very difficult for many Chinese firms.  It’s a Catch 22 situation: why would a factory owner want to pay to train a new employee when he is fairly certain that employee will leave within the year anyways?