China Buying Agent – The one thing they don't tell you.

Read time: 3 minutes.
In this post I am going to talk about one of the most important parts of your China buying agent responsibilities, is the one thing they never talk about.
Different companies use different ways working with their China buying agent.
If you are new to working with buying agents or not sure whether you should work with one, the following content may help:
Agents – Is this for me?
3 most common business models of agents in China


Agents at the age of Skype and Google translate

I know that to some of you this may sound questionable, but as someone who understands the value of being able to arrive at the manufacturing site at a day notice and being able to speak with people at all levels in the factories, I am amazed again and again by how far people manage to get using Skype and Google translate. I hear people telling me they negotiate entire deals and have dinners and play golf with their mandarin only speaking suppliers.
I am sure these stories are all true. Still, all these stories have one thing in common: The amount of time invested is just too big for the return. In many cases, these stories involve big amounts of money spent on frequent traveling to China, as they take care of quality and solve big and small problems on their own.
It’s all OK if you have the time and enjoy the traveling. But this is not a strategy that will allow you to scale your business.
Why is that? Because if your business model works, and you are making money, or at least on the path to making money, then the most scarce resource you have, even scarcer than money, is your and your people’s time.
The only way to deal with that is to be more efficient. To do more with less. To achieve more goals in less time, and the only way to do this is having the right people with the right skill set in the right place.


You can’t do everything and be everywhere

And much more than this – you can’t have two opposite personalities and come from multiple cultures.
People have different personalities. Those personalities are a part of their strengths and weaknesses.
Either you are very systematic, or you are very good at thinking out of the box.
Either you are very detail oriented and naturally organized or you have the ability to understand the big picture having only a few pieces of the puzzle.
In very much the same way, you cannot understand a culture if you didn’t immerse yourself in it, and in a lifetime, there are only so many cultures you can immerse yourself in. If you don’t understand a culture, then you don’t really understand people who come from that culture.


When you don’t have the required skills in-house

Not having people with the right skills in your team, is like working with pen, paper, and no computers, while never having seen anybody use technology.
However, unlike computers, bringing onboard people, represent many risks. Hiring the right people can propel you to new heights. Hiring the wrong people can pull you down like rocks, to the bottom of a lake.
The fear of loss of what you have is greater than the fear of loss of what you could profit. This is why people continue using pen and paper. This is part of the reason they continue using the skill sets available within the organization.
But the truth is that a dollar is a dollar. No matter if you lost it by making an investment without a return or by not seizing an opportunity to make a profit.


So what does all this have to do with China buying agents?

Handling yourself according to codes of behaviors that are right for the culture you work in propels you forward. It makes people around you feel comfortable and relaxed. It helps you gain their cooperation and gives you access to their resources.
When you don’t understand a culture, things don’t make sense, it seems people say one thing and do another, it is frustrating and eventually has a negative impact on the amount of trust both parties have for each other. Even an elephant in a China store doesn’t understand what’s wrong, before something breaks.
One of the most important China buying agents responsibilities is being a cultural interpreter. If you choose well, your agent has the skills required to read between the lines, understand what they want to say, rather than what they are saying and make sure messages are understood both by you and your supplier in the right cultural context. They tell you what your supplier wants to tell you in a way that makes sense, in a way that what they say, what they do and the reality around you all create one clear picture.
As I said in the beginning of this article, this is the most important thing they do and they don’t talk about it. Why? It is very difficult to sell a solution to a problem you cannot see. If you asked 100 people who work in China, what is your biggest challenge? How many of them will say “find a good supplier?” and how many of them will say “Bridging cultural and language gaps”?
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Got questions? Want to share your experience? Contact us! We’d love to talk to you about your projects in China.

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