Chapter 8 – Business Trip Preparations

Thorough trip preparations will help make your China business trip more successful. What are thorough trip preparations then?

The most important part is booking an appointment with the supplier’s senior decision maker, whom you may not have met before because you have always worked with the factory’s sales manager. You need to know his full name, his direct e-mail address, and if possible his cell phone number.

If this person is not available during your planned trip, you should reschedule the trip itinerary to assure meeting with the right person.

Be aware that sometimes, senior decision makers intentionally make themselves unavailable for claim negotiations. Their staff may pretend that they are on an overseas business trip and you have no way of knowing if it is true or not.

Try being flexible when planning your schedule to accommodate their schedule but also be strict about insisting you will only meet with the senior decision maker and no one else.

Do not get me wrong, you may first have to talk to some senior manager to initially present your case but for the critical negotiations, the top decision maker must attend. Otherwise, there will be no resolution during your trip and anything can happen after you return home.

The main reason for your trip (which you may not have been able to plan in advance) will be negotiating with your supplier for a solution to your claim. You might be lucky and get your claim resolved without traveling to China or have a consultant do it for you. These are indeed options but it is very likely that you will need to come in person to present your case to the supplier.

Is the Power On?

Many importers do not know the Chinese Government has imposed restrictions on the use of electric power for production. In many cities, factories will not have electrical power one or two days each week. Of course, the electrical power is not completely cut off but severe penalties are imposed if the factory is caught disobeying the government’s instructions. Many factories have purchased electrical power generators to overcome the power shortages. The generators run on diesel and everyone knows how expensive this has become recently. Some factories do not want to absorb the additional cost so they stop production during the electrical shut down period. Without constant communication, you may not know about it.

Business Cards are Critical!

They are lightweight and can be used long after your visit to China so bring considerably more than you would normally think is necessary. In China, everybody expects you to give them at least one business card and if you are meeting with several people, you may handout a dozen or more at a time.

Sometimes manufacturers are reluctant to provide detailed information to somebody who “is naked” meaning “being without business cards”.

If you miscalculate and run out of them, you can use one of the print shops nearby to print them for you within a couple of hours.

The Chinese perform a small ceremony when exchanging business cards. Make sure to hand over and receive business cards in the typical Chinese way, which is with both hands.

If you are sitting around the table, it is a good idea not to put their cards in one of your suit pockets after they are handed to you. This is extremely impolite and indicates that you do not care for the person that passed you his/her business card. The proper way is to study them first (pretending to do so is OK) and place them in hierarchical order on the table in front of you.

How do you know who is the highest ranking person at the meeting? It is usually the first person introduced to you and this person is not necessarily able to speak English. It is proper to exchange business cards with that person first. In Chinese business culture, this gives him the face he deserves. This applies even if the sales manager will be the person you are in constant contact with following the visit.

It is a good practice to write a persons title on their business card if it is not preprinted on the card. Otherwise, you may find it impossible to figure out later. A person’s title printed on the business card is sometimes a little bit vague and you should ask to get it right. Also, you will not be able to distinguish whether it is a male or female name. Make a note of this for future reference. It might surprise you to learn even the Chinese will not immediately know whether the name on the business card is from a woman or a man. There are so many different areas in China with special local names that Chinese from other provinces may not be able to differentiate gender by name. Therefore, add Mr. or Mrs. on the business card to make sure that it will not be forgotten.

You should also know that a person with the name YUEN Kai Shun is not Mr. Shun but is Mr. Yuen because the family name is always the first of the traditional three Chinese names shown on any business card. However, in Hong Kong people have adjusted after a 150 years of colonial rule by England. There they mostly mention their Christian name first and then their Chinese family names, for instance Peter Kwok.

You Will Need a Digital Camera

A digital camera is one of the most important tools you will need during your visit. You will have many opportunities to shoot photos of products, production operations, and quality control operations. These will include close-up photos of details that cannot be seen in a catalogue.

During your guided tour of the factory premises many photos can be taken. Important examples include the working conditions on the conveyor belt and any special equipment you are not familiar with or that differs from other factories.

Especially during claim negotiations, suppliers may present you with new proposals or improvements that have already been implemented and you will need to photograph them as evidence to take home.

You can and should take photos of any unique new products that some of the suppliers will show to you in the mock-up stage. It may only be a mock-up but in just a few weeks the tooling will be complete and plastic injection can start. You should always be on the lookout for new products that interest your homeland customers. Feeding them this important information can lead to a big sale.

Another way a digital camera comes in handy: Chinese people love to take photos and love if photos are taken of them alone or with their customers. Also, having photos of the people you met during the factory visit helps you remember who they are and what their title is. People always like being remembered when meeting a second time.

Do not forget to bring a spare battery with you because you probably will not have a chance to recharge the battery while traveling between factories. You may also need another memory card if you do not already have one of those 2-5 GB cards in your digital camera. Another way is to upload your photos to your notebook computer on daily basis. In that case one memory card will probably be sufficient.

You Need a Notebook Computer

If you have a notebook computer, bring it to every meeting. If you do not have one, consider purchasing one. That purchase will be worth the money you spend for it. Your notebook provides you with the necessary information for your business negotiations, plus it allows you to show background information about your company, and the packaging concept for your products. This is all very helpful to factory management.

Of course, you can input vital information during your discussions without the need to take hand written notes. That is made easier if you have an associate along but with a bit of practice you can manage it alone. It is also so much more convenient than using a paper notebook. I have experienced and appreciate the changes that have occurred over the last few years.

  1. Before, people wrote everything on paper, the notes were then passed to their secretary for typing after returning from their business trip. Only then could the information be distributed to all the people needing it. You can imagine that it took at least 4 precious weeks from the start of your business trip until everything was completed.
  2. Some people wrote everything on paper and in the evening dictated the content into a small micro cassette recorder. Their secretary at home would then type it and distribute it to the people that needed it. You can imagine that it took 2-3 precious weeks from the start of your business trip until everything was completed. Alternatively, the micro cassettes could be sent by courier service, which saved some time.
  3. Nowadays, people type their vital information into their notebook computer and send it together with the matching photos at the end of each day to the head office. In that way, colleagues at home can interact and ask for additional information if something important was missed. Upon returning home from your business trip, everything should be ready for further processing and decision making.

I suggest a large capacity battery for your notebook computer. One that lasts up to 6 hours. If this battery type is not available for your model, bring another fully charged battery along. When you have meetings away from the hotel, you will find that there is not always an electrical socket nearby to connect to your AC adapter.

Sometimes suppliers will also pass you data on a memory stick (photos, line drawings, product descriptions, etc.) that you can immediately download to your computer.

That is especially important if it is a new development and no samples or catalogs will be available for some time.

Remember, the most up to date information it is what you want to obtain during your factory visits.

You Need a Briefcase on Wheels

If you are not into weight lifting for exercise, you had better bring a large briefcase on wheels.

It is torture trying to carry your heavy briefcase all day long (with your notebook computer, catalogs, notebooks etc.). Catalogs collected during your factory visits weigh a lot and you will be exhausted half way through the day from carrying them.

Your Company’s Catalog

If you have your own company catalogs, bring a few sets along with you for the meetings with key suppliers. You do not have to carry them all with you but have at least one set to show to your suppliers during your meetings.

From my experience, it makes a good impression and helps to cement the relationship with your supplier if you hand over one set during the most important meetings.

Remember you are your company’s ambassador and want to show your company in the best possible light.

Your Corporate Identity Artwork Concept

Creating your own corporate identity concept is very important. After spending a lot of effort on it at home, it would be a very good idea to bring it along with you to show it to the suppliers during your meetings. It enhances the impression you make and helps suppliers better understand your needs.

Don’t be surprised if the sales manager or even the company owner meets you at the airport or hotel. This is a good thing because the driver in most cases is not capable of speaking English and you can and should use the time it takes getting to the factory for some small talk with the manager. In this way you gain a first impression with whom you are dealing before the more serious negotiations start.

Try to learn the position your contact person occupies in the management hierarchy, along with who is in control of the factory, and who makes final decisions. This is important because the Chinese may want to delay decisions and will tell you that they have to wait for the decision maker who is not available. Since the whole concept of visiting the factories is to reach your final conclusion about who will be selected as your business partner in future, it is understandable that you need to talk to competent decision makers and not middle managers.

Of course, bring all documents, lab test reports, and samples that you will need for your claim settlement negotiations.

It is essential that you have all evidence with you supporting your claim against the factory. Usually the only way to negotiate an acceptable claim settlement is by convincing them that the claim is related to their negligence. Your evidence must be strong because no factory will voluntarily accept the blame without a fight, especially if it involves a large amount of money.

Samples showing the defect, or in the case of a copyright violation, the original sample from the brand name owner helps considerably to turn the case in your favor. Sometimes you may need a dozen samples just to prove your case and to demonstrate the defect in a convincing manner. In chapter 14 you will find examples supporting this theory.

It is only common sense that your whole company must support your claim and your business trip, preparing everything that can help to recover all or at least most of your expenses.

Copies of signed P/Os or any other documents proving that your supplier accepted your terms should be brought along. You can be fairly sure that your factory will have all their documents ready, which they believe can prove that they are not to blame and that the entire fault lays with your company. Even a supplier with whom you had a good relationship may completely change their attitude when you demand a large compensation payment from them.

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