Communicating with suppliers can be difficult.

In fact, it’s one of the toughest problems to solve in the world of eCommerce.

To help you have the best relationship possible with your suppliers and manufacturers, we’ve put together this list of common supplier communication problems and how to handle them.


1. How many suppliers should I contact?

The more the merrier! When first starting out, contact at least 20 suppliers.

You want to contact as many as possible because you’ll be narrowing down your list based on the number of responses you receive.

Once you start getting replies, choose 3-5 to work with.

You want more than one so you don’t stress when one of them runs out of inventory or ups their prices on you. (If you’re in business long enough, these problems happen eventually. It’s just a matter of time.)

Remember the 80/20 rule: 80% will not be a good fit so find the 20% that are perfect.

2. What’s the difference between RFQ and RFP?

When asking foreign suppliers for pricing, it’s important to know the difference between an RFQ (request for quotation) and an RFP (request for proposal). There’s also an RFI (request for information).

An RFQ is used when you know precisely what you need, and you are only asking for the price.

On the other hand, RFPs are used when you are unsure what you need, and you want the supplier to help you to find a solution as well as pointing out costs.

RFIs are merely used when you need more information about a product, such as it’s weight, cost, stock number, or other info.

Furthermore, RFx can be used when discussing requests in general, where x can be replaced with I, Q, or P.

3. Should I send RFQ immediately or should I introduce my company first?

First impressions mean everything when making contact with suppliers. You want to come across as serious, professional, and easy to deal with.

Which means…

Introduce yourself! Give a short introduction of your company and a description of your market and product.

Keep the introduction short. As we discussed in our article about dealing with Chinese suppliers, long or complicated messages don’t get good answers (if any at all).

After your introduction, you can include the RFQ in the same email.

Allow up to 24 hours for a response. Be patient with the process because you there could be a lot of go back and forth after sending the supplier your initial RFQ.

4. How long should I wait for a response? Is more than a day a bad sign?

For lack of a better answer… it depends.

Responsive suppliers will usually reply within 24 hours or sooner, depending on holidays, weekend, their workload, and interest in you and your company.

Expect at least a third of them not to reply. They may simply not be interested in your proposal (too small of an order, wrong market).

Suppliers receive quite a few emails quote requests from buyers that aren’t really promising, so…