If you’re making relatively small orders with a supplier, the chances are that you will eventually be passed onto a sales rep rather than dealing with the owner (owners typically deal with only their largest clients personally). When this happens, it helps to be aware of the type of relationship you will be getting into with the sales rep.

There is a very good likelihood that your sales rep will be a young, recent graduate with decent knowledge of English. In fact, most Chinese suppliers seek out sales reps with only one criteria: knowledge of English. Now think about that. Can you imagine a sales person for Microsoft that has no knowledge of computers or software? Probably not. But for Chinese suppliers, there is a very good chance that their sales reps will have almost no knowledge about your industry and/or products.

Dave and his Supplier Sales Reps

I hadn’t yet turned 30 yet I was the most senior member at this group!

Decent proficiency in English also means that your sales rep will likely be very young and likely a new graduate.  This means they have very little experience and likely very few technical skills (people with experience, technical skills, and English proficiency are highly coveted and it’s rare they will be a sales rep for relatively small orders). They will probably know very little about the manufacturing process, quality control, Western business practices, and overall, their business acumen will be low.

The consequence is that just like you wouldn’t hire a recent graduate and immediately make them President of your company, you do not want to place unlimited faith in this sales rep regarding your order. Do not assume that they know that all of your products need to have the country of origin marked on them or that having your order of Halloween costumes arrive before October 31 is critical. You must be even more detail oriented with your sales rep.

The positive consequence of having a young, recent graduate assigned to your order is that your wish is generally their every command. For example, if you want photos of the inner packaging of every product before it ships, your sales rep will arrange to have this done. Or if you want your PO converted into an Excel document, they likely will be happy to do this. There’s a lot of advantages to working with the owner directly, but often an overwhelmed owner will ‘forget’ certain special requests. If working with the owner directly, there is also the danger of him or her working with only their largest and most profitable customers and cutting you off. A young sales rep rarely has the mandate to lose clients.

By understanding the background of your sales rep better you can be aware of their limitations but at the same time take advantage of the benefits they can offer you.