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  • Writer's pictureBen Chu

3 simple but strategic questions to ask when visiting suppliers showroom

There are few processes before a supplier visit: first, you need to be clear what you need to buy (demand definition), then you find your supplier on google, Alibaba, or other platforms like or HKTDC (the one who hold the trade fair in Wanchai Hong kong). You start contacting some of them and asking for a quotation (the sourcing process), then after several rounds of discussion, you got a feeling of who you are going to work with. Then you do some basic due diligence to make sure they are not a scam, and you want to conduct a simple business audit before you do anything serious. You might want to travel to China and visit them in person (which is not always too easy), or you want to conduct an online interview with them, just as I do in my B2B showroom talk. Frankly, I never understand how some buyers could ever dare to place an order without knowing a bit more than the information suppliers provided on B2B platform. Truth is that some platform did more background check to the factory, but still, nothing can replace a face to face discussion before making a decision. Being in HK I have the advantage to be able to physically visit most suppliers by just a short traveling, and that probably explains why I never really face any scam or so. However, anti-scamming is just a beginning. A visit means more than just to know they are not fake.

I always believe that asking right questions is the key to understand virtually anything. Most suppliers don’t lie. They just won’t tell you everything unless you ask the right question to trigger it. Being able to ask and listen defines you a good or a great buyer. Now the question is, what is the question?

1. What is your business?

This open question lead to several possibilities, and this is a perfectly good starting point to let them tell you what they think they are doing. Say, you meet a supplier on Alibaba , and you naturally believe they are a supplier of something. Asking this question might unlock them to tell you that they also supply other products that are impossible to make in the same factory. This way, you know they are just a trader of everything. My point here is, no matter how obvious it is, just let them tell you their story. You may find that gap of different understanding could always be interesting and could possibly lead you to another discussion that enables you a better negotiation position.

2. Who is your customer?

For a smaller business like local importer, distributor or wholesaler, it is always important to be sure your supplier care enough your business; especially when you are asking something out fo their regular offer. If a supplier used to work with very big brand of typical HVLM (High volume low mix) demand, they would obviously have less interest and attention to smaller order with variety (you won’t blame it if you have ever run a manufacturing business, of which efficiency is virtually everything). Ask this question let them tell you their kind of experience and make no mistake for mismatching.

3. What is your best price?

This one is my favorite. Many buyers ask this question, but not all of them are happy with their answers. Instead of doubting supplier give you a real bottom-line, I’d instead ask another question - who do you think you are to enjoy their best offer? What makes you so sexy and irresistible that the supplier would love to give you the real best price they could offer? If you find it hard to understand, put yourself into their shoes when you are asked “what is your target price?”. Right, you have a target price, but would you like to give a random supplier your real target price?

Still, this is a question worth asking. You can ignore all the number your supplier claim as their “final price” or “bottom price”, but pay attention to all their argument by asking “how”. Instead of asking, “why is this your bottom price so high?”, you can try “how could we bring it down to $XX?”. Pay attention to their explanation, their difficulty and their argument. Let it be the basis of your next round of negotiation.

There is a lot of examples how I do a showroom interview with suppliers online and I put everything on my youtube channel B2B showroom talk. This is initially a training program for my students and followers on how to deal with buyer. However, I find it more than just a training as I start to see some real value on how a buyer could have obtained information from my interview. So if you are a buyer and interested to know how I do this, be my guest.

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