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TrackMage Guide: Supplier Communication Fundamentals. Product specifications sheet

TrackMage Guide: Supplier Communication Fundamentals. Product specifications sheet
August 23, 2021
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Talking to suppliers is one of the most important steps in your dropshipping business. Now, how can you efficiently communicate with suppliers to ensure that you reach your designated goals? And get the absolute best products to sell?

Keep reading this article to get to know that. 

Basically, when you start the process of contacting providers, you want to achieve three main things. You want to signal, communicate, and learn.

Here’s a quick peek into the topic discussed later on.  You may be wondering how exactly you will achieve all of these things during your negotiation process? The answer is that you need to make the specification sheet for your product. Now of course you will learn exactly what information you can get from your supplier and how you can do it. But you need this product specification sheet before you can even start messaging your supplier. The product specifications sheet is going to help you achieve all three things. It’s going to help you signal, it’s going to help you communicate and it’s going to help you learn.

Signal

So what do you need to show your supplier?

1) You need to show them your knowledge and expertise of the product. And the best way to do this is to demonstrate to your supplier that you know the process of production. That includes things like how it is made, what materials are used, and what the challenges are. You basically show the supplier that you understand the entire process in detail. This simply puts you in a much better position in the negotiation process.

2) You want to signal that you are a worthwhile company to work with. And don’t worry, there are many ways to do that. The thing that is recommended is to behave like a big business. Keep in mind that suppliers choose from multiple customers. If you show the supplier that you’re a big company and also easy to deal with, they’re going to want to do business with you.  

Now, to behave like a big company, you should value quality over cost, to value cost over MOQ. You should communicate that you are going to perform factory audits and inspections as well. And finally, be very precise with regard to your purchase order.

Communicate

This is going to be the main point of focus for this article. The process of actual communication. 

You need to know who you are talking to when you communicate with the supplier. Will this salesman help you or make things more difficult? Language and translation are the important issues that arise. when two non-native English speakers try to communicate. Therefore, this article will go into detail about how a translator can be hired. As well as how to leverage them in your subsequent interactions with the supplier. 

There is also the question of the communication channel. Are you going to contact them by email via Alibaba? Will you call them? Are you going to add them on WeChat, WhatsApp, or Skype? You should choose the most convenient option. 

When you talk to the supplier, it is important to explain precisely what product you want to source. This brings it back to the significance of the product specification sheet. 

There’s also the question of misunderstanding. You would want to avoid making assumptions. You don’t want to use long sentences. And you want to avoid multi-part questions. Because you have to remember that most of the people you talk to are non-native English. It will then be harder for the salesman to interact with you. 

And it will be more likely that if you make assumptions in communication or if you use long sentences, you will have problems with miscommunications. So basically, one question at a time is important. Do separate your sentences into much shorter sentences. And don’t think the salesman knows what you refer to. Tell them which specific product you want to source. Do not assume that the seller knows you are a seller of Amazon, and so forth. So no hypotheses, no long sentences, no multi-part issues.

Learn

And of course, as expected you want to learn as much about the company and the products as possible. So the reason for contacting the supplier is that out of the list of ten or more suppliers, you want to find the best one. Do you want to understand what their MOQ is? How much is the cost? How long is the lead time? Do they have a product patent? How is the packaging? And how open they are to adaptations, improvements, and terms of payment?

Keep in mind that MOQ, cost, and lead time are the main criteria to look at here. And secondary criteria are the pattern, packaging, and openness. Essentially you will find those out when you go through the rest of the communication process. And you won’t get to this stage with all the suppliers. Basically, from all of the suppliers that you interact with those are the main things you want to find out: the MOQ, the cost, and the lead time.

Product Specification Sheet

Why do you need a product specification sheet?
Why do you need a product specification sheet?

For the things mentioned above. Whether that is signaling, showing your knowledge, or communicating very clearly what you want to source. You will need a good product specification sheet.

It is important when it comes to signaling because it will show that you know and understand the product. It’s important for communication because you’re going to know exactly what to talk about. As well as the important product characteristics to mention. It is important for learning because, without the product specifications sheet, you can get costs, MOQs, and lead times all over the place. Because each supplier will quote you for a different product.

With that in mind, let’s go into the product specification sheet much deeper.

1. Competitor’s Products

You are starting from your competitor’s products when you first do your product research, right? You use some kind of software, you browse Amazon. Or you use some kind of another strategy to select the products you want. You evaluate those products using certain formulas or criteria. Then you decide for one reason or another that a particular product is a good opportunity to sell.

But it’s very likely that you’re not really sure at this stage.  So perhaps you decided on leather shoes as a product. By looking at the top Amazon sellers, leather shoes looked like a good Amazon launch product. However, you may not know how to manufacture shoes. Perhaps, you don’t even know what differentiates one of your competitors from another.

Of course, as you begin to read the reviews, you begin to read the bullet points. That should be your point of departure. You will understand more about how the product is made, the purpose of the product, which variations or models, or options are available. And when you read the reviews, you can see which features are extremely important to customers. Which features should be called core features that are shared by all-leather shoes. Some other features are simply nice to have, some are just additional features, some are differentiating features. All of these things you can find out just by looking at the Amazon listings and reading the reviews.

2. How are the products manufactured?

You could search Google and read about the product if there is for example a Wikipedia entry.  YouTube is also an excellent source of information. There are videos explaining how the product is produced. Perhaps you could even find some videos that show details from an actual factory. If you prefer to go into greater detail about the production process, there are also some books you could read. Or you could hire experts, usually engineers that will explain the production process to you.

This is an important step that should not be overlooked. You want to understand how the products are made. This knowledge is crucial to create a product specification sheet.

3. Options Pros and Cons

Now you comprehend how to manufacture your desired product. It is time to start weighing out the different options of production.

You should ask yourself this question. What are all available options? And then have all the information you need to compare and choose the best option to continue with. 

You might have the option of using one leather type or another leather and one manufacturing process or another. And each option will definitely have its advantages and disadvantages. Every option is more or less expensive. So you have to figure out which option is the one you want to take. That way you will be two steps ahead of the game before you even start the actual process of sourcing your products.

And once you know exactly what features, elements, components, and materials you want to proceed with, you can construct a product specification sheet. You are then going to use this product spec sheet to contact suppliers to initiate a dialog with them. And that will show these factories and trade companies that you take your business seriously. That way they will see that you know what you’re talking about. And in return, you’re going to get far more precise quotes and prices.

4. Product Specification Sheet

The product specification sheet should provide clarity, specificity, and accuracy when communicating prices. The product spec sheet is essential to the process of negotiating the price. What is the purpose of negotiating the price down successfully if the specs change? And not for the better? 

Saying to your supplier that you want a product of high quality is not specific. Now, remember that you are not looking for the best price. You are looking for the highest quality and it’s important to tell that to the supplier.

Thus, the product specification sheet is a form of communication. It tells the supplier in a generally accepted format what product you are actually intending to source. 

Imagine that your business is in the process of price negotiation. Now, you have talked your suppliers into lowering the price from $5 to $4. That is a significant price difference!  You as a dropshipper might think that your amazing negotiation skills have brought you a 20% price change. But what might have happened in reality?

Your supplier decided to lower the quality. Where can they remove some quality or, cost one of the processes to offer the product for $4 rather than $5? And you can’t complain later on because you got exactly what you asked for: the lowest price possible.

That’s why it is important to figure out the specs if you want any quality.

And, of course, even down the road, the product spec sheet is going to be a great time saver. You will be conducting inspections and comparing samples in the future. Then the product specifications sheet will ensure a stable quality of the products between orders.

Here is an important note. You should put the specification sheet together before contacting suppliers. As you learn more about options and costs, you can change the specs along the way. But you want to get the sheet done before you start communicating. 

Without a basic spec sheet, you should never contact suppliers. 

This intermediary step between finding your products and talking to suppliers can initially appear to be an enormous task. Why is it important to make one before you contact suppliers?

Because gaps in your specs will often be filled with crap if the specification sheet is not specific and comprehensive enough. So let’s say that you tell your supplier that you don’t want a specification sheet to be compiled. However, some of the features you are looking for are still mentioned.

The problem is that any feature you did not specify is just now up to the supplier. Let’s say that you mention a couple of specifications to manufacture a leather shoe. First, you want this leather type, then that range of sizes and with this kind of material for the sole.

And some businesses might think that is enough. But here so many things are missing. What thickness do you want the leather to be? What about the type of grain, the pattern, what kind of finishes, what sort of dye, what kind of stitching do you want? And if all these details are not specified, the supplier has to choose what to do with them. And in particular, this kind of negotiation, which is relatively aggressive. If you do not produce these specifications, your supplier will fill the gaps with the cheapest option to offer you what you want.

pic3_Don’t Forget
Don’t forget that you are the person to show what you want. Don’t wait for the supplier to offer you options to choose from
Don’t forget that you are the person to show what you want. Don’t wait for the supplier to offer you options to choose from

Talking to your supplier should not be like going to a shop. You know that when you go to a shop, you have certain options that the seller presents you with. You then choose the best one. You don’t go to a shop and customize something.

On the other hand, there is no menu when dealing with a supplier. Even if you might be tempted to simply go and ask: All right, then what options are there? What type of leather can I use? And they could actually offer you some options only from their catalog, depending on the producer you are dealing with. But if you have a major supplier and want to make full use of that relationship, you want to know exactly what you want.

And that will demonstrate a much higher level of professionalism. You want to appear like a big company, remember? Where you, as the buyer, are the one who presents the data, and the seller returns with feedback. A big supplier can offer you alternatives. And they will give you feedback, but it is more important that you show the seller the specs than what you want. Not like the normal shopping experience, in which the seller is the one that presents the options for you.

Typical shopping and B2B shopping are quite different. Without a product specification sheet, your lack of experience will show what you are lacking. Because experienced sellers are going to the supplier with a product specification sheet. 

And just as you can choose from tens of suppliers, the suppliers, and big factories can prefer to ignore you if they think they need to hold your hand too much. This is not true of Alibaba suppliers as they handle Amazon sellers with lower-end suppliers. This applies in particular to those suppliers that you find in trade shows or online.

But if you contact a large factory with renowned customers, they will be able to say that they can avoid or ignore you altogether. Because they know you may not know much about the industry. And you would present them with more problems than benefits. How do they know that? Lack of the specifications sheet.

Bear in mind that these large suppliers have many customers to choose from. So how you present yourself is important. And it is important from this point of view to have your product specification sheet.

A vast majority of Amazon sellers skip production research during the sourcing process. Most Amazon sellers find some type of software to identify exactly what sells well on Amazon. Then select the product and then directly contact Alibaba suppliers. Then they find a supplier who seems to produce this product and contact them immediately. 

But they forget that there’s the production research step in the middle. Where you want to understand how the product is made and what your options are. 

Therefore, gain clarity about what you want to achieve very accurately. And build a product specification sheet. Even though it may be very rough, you feel it isn’t the right format or it isn’t complete. But be clear and specific in the product you are looking for.

So what does a specification sheet contain?

What a specification sheet contains depends on you.
What a specification sheet contains depends on you.

There is no general template the supplier will expect. So you can format stuff how you like. 

Keep reading the article to find a quick template for you. And you can start building your own product specification sheet from this template. But, the reality is that every section of the feature you know will be different from product to product. A leather bag will have completely different things from a whiteboard. And different things that you need to specify and talk about.

What common issues in a product specification sheet you may want to address? 

1) You may want to include CAD files, PCBA files, a list of components, or PCB files. 

You will definitely know if you need to include any of these technical files. This is usually the case when you need to build a custom component or have an electronic component. 

And if you don’t know what those mean, for the product you are sourcing don’t need them. You probably have the files ready if you are sourcing an electronic product or something in a custom mode. You would so like to attach them to the product specifications sheet.

2) Next, you want some kind of product description in the template.  

It may be organized like a table, but you can also include a paragraph explaining the purpose of the goods. These kinds of questions should be answered in that part of the specs sheet: what is the product? For whom is this meant? What’s the market goal? And what’s its real purpose? What is it supposed to do?

3) You may have components next. 

So here you want to add any components you expect to source independently from one another. So everything that the factory does not produce itself. But what it needs to get from another factory. For example, imagine that you are looking to get a leather bag. You don’t expect your supplier to make the zippers for the bag from scratch, right? Rather, you want them to get the zippers from elsewhere. 

Let us assume that you want to make a high-quality bag. And you want your zippers not to be the Chinese no brand generic zipper. You want them made by the best zipper producer in the country.If you want high-quality materials you should indicate that. The bottom line is that if you ever need any kind of specifications, mention them on the product specification sheet.

You may mention the brand and specify the material from which it is manufactured. But here is when you want to mention these components, which you anticipate the company will not produce itself. You should be precise when you are explaining those components, materials, and brands to your supplier. Anything you wish to define and have unique features of the component you should talk about.

4) You’ve got designs next.

If you want to make a bag and you want some kind of print on it, you need to do two things. Provide the graphics files in the model. And you want to describe the method that you prefer. Do you want to stamp the leather design? Or is it to be like a silkscreen? If you want it to be burnt in the leather, you want to specify how the pattern is applied. As well as how many colors are applied if there are colors.

5) Talking about colors next.

You want to specify colors no matter what product you are sourcing, even if it is a steel product. And you want to be very particular. So you don’t want to mention color, like “purple”. Keep in mind that there are hundreds of purple shades. You want to provide the precise color Pantone number you wish to use to this effect.

If you can afford it, you can go to Amazon and get a set of Pantone kits. This is a company with standards and products that help you to choose colors. And you may go to Amazon and get this kit to assist you to choose colors. And why is it essential to buy a kit and not use a website? That is because the colors on your computer will appear quite different. They will look different from how they look when printed on paper. And when printed on paper, they will look more like in real life.

6) Next, information about all types of coatings, treatments, and finishes.

For example, if you have a wood product, certain treatments are performed on wood, including coatings and finishes. But you might also have it for a plastic product or for a metal product. Anything that goes over the raw material, or over the color applied, is about coatings, treatments, and finishes. You want to specify which ones you prefer.

You would next want to state whether your supplier has any sort of certifications you need.

And if you are not sure, then you will add them later. But for now, you may ask the manufacturer whether or not they have any certifications. And if they do which ones. The companies have some environmental or safety certificates.

Don’t forget that for materials, you want to give exact specifications. You might spend the most amount of time on this part. The specs are of course going to vary from material to material. You can google search whichever one you are interested in. For example, for leather there is https://mahileather.com/blogs/news/glossary-of-leather.

You should check out how materials look like on actual products as well.
You should check out how materials look like on actual products as well.

And as you choose between different types of leather, you should definitely try and do as much research as possible on durability, strength, stretching abilities and so on of the leather types to use. For example, a cowhide versus a sheep hide would have different strong and weak aspects. So you should spend your time and check out each of the options that you like. Then decide for your exact case, which leather type is the best.

You should check out different materials and learn of the pros and cons of each type.
You should check out different materials and learn of the pros and cons of each type.

To give another example, you can always go to Wikipedia because it is one of the easiest accessible resources on the planet. Let’s say that you are interested in plastic because you want to manufacture plastic toys. Then you can visit a Wikipedia page for that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic. You just want to take your time to understand different types of plastic. And that way you can understand when you talk to a supplier.

After reading the different articles, you will be much more equipped with different types of plastics. You will know the difference between polyolefins plastics, styrene-derived polymers, and plasticized PVC, which are all widely used in toy manufacture. So what seems like a quick read on Google or Wikipedia or just a quick watch of a  YouTube video is really important. And once you understand these things, your communication with suppliers will go much deeper. 

Besides, it is simply exciting to do the research. You will have a huge competitive advantage and appear different from your competitors. When you know your product from start to finish. That way you also do not have to rely so much on the supplier. So there are many, many benefits to understanding how your product is made.

7) The next section of the product specification sheet after materials is dimensions and weight, this should be relatively easy to complete.

If you have specific dimensions like for example, for a leather bag, you do want to specify a certain size. But then for weight, you might not be sure how much it would weigh. So you can leave that blank, to begin with. And maybe the supplier can help you understand the material that they’re using, how much the bag would weigh if it had those dimensions, and you wanted to use that type of material.

8) And finally, towards the end of the product specification sheet, you want to have the testing requirements. 

And here it depends very much on the product, how you want to test it. Is it something that needs to carry a certain low? This is something that needs to be strong under stress? Does it need to be compatible with other types of items?

9) And then you have inspection requirements

They specify what are going to be the critical errors, main major errors, and minor errors. And basically, to specify exactly what the inspector will analyze, what is acceptable and what isn’t. In short, you as a customer are specifying what is the exact process the inspector will go through when analyzing the product.

Finally

I would say that it’s important I already mentioned, you don’t just understand how the product is made. But check out all other resources. For example, check the Alibaba specs on similar products. So go on Alibaba, even if you don’t intend to find your suppliers there. And just check out all the products being listed and scroll down and in the details of each listing. Then you may find some specs that can help you understand what the options are out there. 

Let us look at an example from Alibaba. You start by looking at the materials and here you can see that they use PU which is short for polyurethane. Then you can look at features like accessories and inside the material. You can see what type of materials are used for each part of the leather bag.

You can search for similar products on Alibaba and look at the materials used
You can search for similar products on Alibaba and look at the materials used 

A good trick is to ask the companies for spec sheets

Let’s say you are doing your supplier research and you decide that this supplier is no longer of interest to you. But you can pretend you are. (I know that’s not the way your mom taught you but ow well this is the world of business) Now you can ask them for their product specification sheet to see a template used by an actual company. Use that templates as guidelines for your own final version that you will use to communicate with your actual supplier later down the road.

To sum up: there are two stages to the process of making a specifications sheet

  1. The first stage and the most important and difficult one is to understand how the product is made. You should therefore conduct a search on Google and YouTube. You can even buy competitors’ products and take them apart to understand how they’re made. As an alternative to that, you can hire help in the form of engineers.
  2. And once you understand how the product is made. You then want to go a step further and you want to understand all the options. You want to assess this type of material, versus this one. Or this type of manufacturing method versus this one. And then you want to compare all these options. Look at the pros and the cons. Keep in mind that you can hire help for it too. An engineer can help you with that if you don’t want to do the research process on your own.  
  3. Then also you want to assess costs. and that’s what you’re asking from the suppliers when you ask for an MOQ and for the cost and for the lead time. You want to create a table where you compare all these options. The table should contain the pros, the cons, the cost, the MOQs, and the lead times. And you want to choose one option to proceed with.

And that’s what you’re going to create the spec sheet for. So with that, it’s time for a quick demo. I’m going to show you a YouTube video that I promised, and after that, I’m going to show you the template that I created for you. 

Let’s look at the template that was created. And remember again, that this is just an example again. For this particular example, there was a Google search for “Materials for A handbag”. Then this article was found: https://sewguide.com/bag-material-list/#1_bag_fabric to keep in mind all the materials for making a handbag. Therefore, it would be possible to make any kind of search for your type of product. And then using this template you would be able to create a product spec sheet according to your own needs.

You can check out this sample of a product specifications sheet. Make sure to include as much detail as possible and good luck with your communication process with suppliers.

Part NumberSee items numbers below:
Product NameCowhide Leather Handbag
Product CategoryApparel & Accessories, Handbags
MaterialsPU leather, aluminum zippers, 
InterfacingShape-Flex
Bag HandleWebbing
ZipperAluminum
Swivel Snap HooksStainless steel
Bag bottoms & feetAluminum
Inner LiningYes
Product Characteristics
Handbags should be sturdy, and they should be able to safeguard anything you put in them. Handbags will not break because of the resilience of leather. Every bag is extremely robust. These bags should last for many years without the need for replacement.
Many different colors of and shades bags are available. There are many shades of color. Other colors, such as brown, red, green, blue, white, and orange, are also available. 
These leather purses are less likely to get contaminated than fabric ones. Additionally, they are waterproof. The bag will maintain its form even under exposure to moisture. It’s also simple to clean.
Handbags with space to carry smaller items, including phones, wallets, and electronic gadgets. There should be an inner lining to support its weight.
Applications
Ideal for use in the everyday busy life of fashionable city women
Quality Control
Each bag will get inspected during the initial sampling and the final picking process.