The relationships that you build with your factory team play an important role in new product development success. Here are 8 ways to lay the foundation for great relationships with your factory team.
Choosing the Factory
1. Get a warm intro
Relationships are incredibly valuable in Chinese culture; whether or not you are able to get a factory interested in having a conversation with you often depends on who you know. Before reaching out to potential partners, examine your connections to see if you can find a connection or a friend-of-a-friend to help introduce you to a factory manager they know in China. Even if you reach out to a potential partner and name-drop a mutual colleague that you occasionally keep in touch with, establishing some initial connection is important to start building your credibility.
2. Meet many factory candidates in person
For each factory partner candidate, a face-to-face meeting is a must. In-person meetings, or “giving face,” is both culturally respectful and the only way to make sure that this will be a good partnership on both sides. For example, if you do not speak any Mandarin, how is your contact’s English?
When talking to factory candidates, keep tabs on the hierarchy between people you meet (the typical factory structure is a bit feudal), and trust your instincts on the potential “fit”; if you are planning on working with this factory for a build, and (hopefully) many builds to come, make sure that you like your new connections and that the feeling is mutual.
In the Factory
3. Face time is key
Engage early and often with key personnel. Before your first build starts, arrange for your team to meet with the factory team, “giving face” as a business partner. Plan for a mix of business and social meetings; this helps everyone get to know each other better, which aids communication. While you’re in the area, try to meet face-to-face with everyone you have messaged via email or WeChat so far, and continue to expand your relationships with anyone your contacts introduce you to. Building rapport in person before the back-and-forth about build scheduling, delays, issues, and other communications will make everything a lot easier.
4. Go out for social meetings
In addition to meeting to discuss the business at hand (building a great product together!), it’s extremely important to make time for social meetings as well. Lots of business in China is conducted over food and drink; you can achieve a lot in a restaurant, sometimes more than you can in a boardroom or on the factory floor. On the first day of meeting face-to-face, offer to take your key contacts out for lunch or dinner, and if you drink, offer to take them out for drinks as well. Keep this meeting more about building personal relationships than business ones, although some business talk may naturally enter into the discussion. Be open to your new partners returning the favor by offering to take you out for food and drinks, or showing you around the area. Make sure you keep space open in your schedule so you don’t have to turn down these offers. On the other hand, don’t be offended if this doesn’t happen either — they may just be really busy with work or family life!
5. Connect on WeChat
As you meet contacts at the factory, ask to connect on WeChat. In China, WeChat is an extremely popular messaging app; forming long-distance connections this way both demonstrates cultural understanding and helps you to strengthen your budding relationships. Keep in mind that typical preferred communication tools are, from most to least desired, in-person contact, phone call, WeChat, and email. While WeChat is useful, it should never be a substitute for live, personal communication.
6. Learn basic Mandarin
Even if you’re not going to become fluent anytime soon, knowing a few phrases of Mandarin will impress the workers and managers on the assembly line. It also shows a genuine interest and respect for the Chinese culture, something almost anyone can appreciate. We recommend starting off with ten phrases to get you through your China build. Ask your factory contacts to teach you more!
7. Set firm requirements and expectations
Both you and the factory want your EVT, DVT, and PVT builds to go as quickly and smoothly as possible so that you can ramp into production on time. To maintain a healthy and positive partnership, you need to be explicit with the expectations you have of the factory and the key things you need to have successful builds. Make use of the relationships you have built with key personnel to consistently discuss and affirm these expectations.
8. Keep fostering personal relationships
Maintaining relationships with your initial contacts is important after you leave China. Whether you ask how their family is doing, or want to get recommendations on new restaurants to try the next time you fly to China, keep the conversation going. When you need to return for subsequent builds, keeping up face-to-face conversations is key to nurturing a positive personal reputation. As your relationship with your factory counterparts solidifies, ask for them to introduce you to other key people in the organization. Keep in mind that you may need to form new relationships over time as people leave the factory or transition into new roles. Always stay up-to-date on the current factory hierarchy, and proactively work to build and maintain strong relationships that will help you take your product to mass production.