Spend Matters: Live From China (Fourth Dispatch)

Trade Show Ironies: What It Takes To Capture the Attention of Western Companies

I've spent the past few days wandering the halls of the International Sourcing Fair in Shanghai with MFG.com. One of perhaps hundreds -- or maybe even thousands -- of such "buyer/supplier match making" events that take place in China every year, the ISF brings Western buyers and China IPOs together with local suppliers in what could best be described as "lost in speed dating translation". The English skills of most of the suppliers vying for a minute or two of time to introduce themselves and hand-out their poorly translated four-color glossy brochures left quite a bit to be desired. But it was still possible to communicate in most cases.

However, the irony of this type of affair is that the investment that the majority of the suppliers make to attend is completely lost given what US and Western Europe buyers are really looking for. While most of the suppliers immediately come out and position themselves as delivering "lower prices" few actually know how to stand out in the crowd. From our perspective -- and from those other sourcing professionals around us -- suppliers that were successful did a few things to really differentiate themselves (the measure of which was not getting their freshly printed brochures tossed in the garbage before the conference was over).

First, it goes without saying that those suppliers who brought an export or sales manager with even marginally acceptable English skills -- less than 20%, we'd say – stood out from the rest. An English speaking vocabulary of 2000 words is more than acceptable.

Second, those suppliers who immediately talked about export reference customers -- ideally a company's competitors -- stood out from the rest. If a supplier has significant experience on the global export front, it says something not only about the part / item quality expectations of Western procurement organizations, but also the "soft" factors that go into global sourcing as well. These include logistics experience, on-time delivery and information sharing (e.g., sending frequent digital photos of the production process, packing, etc.)

Third, suppliers that can present industry and quality certifications from a credible Western certifying authority immediately stand out from the crowd. In other words, don't just tell us that you have an ISO or TS certification, but rather the certification or inspection process was carried out by a globally recognized source.

In a supplier speed-dating environment like the ISF, the buyer/supplier match rate is bound to be low. It's a numbers game. But suppliers can do a number of what we would consider obvious things in the West to stand out from their peers. Still, few do. That's why those who come prepared to appeal to a Western sourcing professional's requirements almost immediately stand-out from their peers.

This post is part of the Spend Matters / MFG.com China Sourcing series. Aptium Global's Lisa Reisman contributed to this blog entry.

Jason Busch

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