7 Strategies to Effectively Communicate with a Manufacturer

As an entrepreneur or product designer, there is a lot at stake when working with a manufacturer.  

It’s not unusual to have the following questions on your mind when working with a manufacturer you don’t know of or have not worked with in the past.

  • Will the product meet the design or quality specs?
  • Will the manufacturer deliver on time?
  • Will you stay on track with your project finances?

These questions become even more important when working with long distance manufacturers as quality standards, understanding of design requirements, and general cultural expectations can vary significantly.

In this article, I’ll share with you 7 strategies that will allow you to effectively communicate with any manufacturer.

Treat your manufacturer as your partner

There is no denying that when you decide to hire a manufacturer, the buck stops with you. Since you’re paying the manufacturer for his services, there may be a temptation to act like a boss and bit a more demanding or controlling.

If you speak in a negative tone, act smart with your manufacturer, or withhold important information,  you won’t get the best outcome. The manufacturer will not be motivated to give you his very best.

This can be problematic because a manufacturer can be a great asset to you and your business. For example, he can identify design flaws based on his experience working on other projects.

By treating your manufacturer as a partner, you’ll have access to key business intelligence, his unique insights and most importantly his trust.

When in doubt, follow-up

Even the simplest of all projects can have some gray areas that could use some additional clarification.

For example, at one of your weekly meetings, you discuss a change in the product specification with your manufacturer. It may be one of the many things you discussed with your manufacturer. It’s possible that the manufacturer may have missed making note of the change. In such cases, it’s best to follow-up with detailed meeting minutes so all the important decisions and action items are clearly captured.

As a rule of thumb, important phone conversations should be followed up in writing via email. This helps bring clarity to both you and the manufacturer.

Share appropriate information

Sharing too much or too little information can result in unanticipated issues with your manufacturer.

Let’s assume you own a fine jewelry business that makes one-of-a-kind engagement rings. You explain to your manufacturer that you want the rings to be made of gold.

The manufacturer ships the rings to you and you’re shocked to see them all made of “yellow gold” and you wanted them in “white gold”. Since information about the gold color was not specified, the manufacturer defaulted to “yellow gold.”

As you can see through this example, not sharing appropriate information with your manufacturer, can lead to expensive problems.

Co-develop a project timeline

You’ve already spent hours finalizing your product design and you can’t wait to launch your product. You want to scale as quickly as possible and get your product out in the market. But all of this is contingent upon whether the manufacturer can deliver the finished goods on time.

You have a choice of giving a timeline to your manufacturer without really understanding his process or you can choose to co-develop a timeline with him.

Co-developing a project timeline creates a greater sense of ownership with your manufacturer. He will feel included in the timeline creation process and won’t feel like you’re imposing unrealistic dates on him or his team.

Set milestone payments and pay on time

You and your manufacturer have agreed upon the total amount for the project and set-up a contract documenting your agreement.

However, if you decide to change your business strategy due unforeseen reasons and need to stop the project, you want to pay your manufacturer for the work he’s done. This is where a milestone based payment schedule comes handy.

For example, the manufacturer gets a payment once the contract is signed, a second payment once the prototype is finalized, and the balanced amount once the project is completed.

It’s very important that you pay your manufacturer on time as it will help build trust and positive working relationship. And don’t forget, just like you need money to pay your bills, the manufacturer needs to be paid on time so he can pay his bills.

Don’t make destructive comments

According to Marshall Goldsmith, the author of the best-selling book “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There,” destructive comments are sarcastic remarks we say daily with or without intention. These remarks do nothing good but inflict pain.

For example, if you’re working with a manufacturer and he makes a suggestion that doesn’t make any sense to you. You may be tempted to reply back, “That wasn’t very bright.” But the truth of the matter is that such comments don’t help anyone.

If you’re someone who believes in being transparent with your manufacturer (which you should be), the question you should ask yourself is, “Is my comment worth it?” Your comment may be true, but if it’s not worth it, then don’t say it.

Your manufacturer, even the friendliest of all, won’t appreciate your destructive comments.

Listen carefully

When you fail to listen, you’re sending a negative message to the other person such as “I don’t care about you”.

During the course of the project, manufacturers share important information about product development challenges, budget impact, timelines and more. They may even need your approval in the different project phases such a prototype and sample product runs.

If you don’t pay attention or keep interrupting the conversation, you’ll leave the manufacturer frustrated. He’ll think you don’t care about what he has to say.

Give your full attention and avoid multitasking when meeting with your manufacturer.

Conclusion

As an entrepreneur or business owner, it is ultimately your responsibility to own communication with your manufacturer. If there are hiccups (which there will be), you need to lead your manufacturing team and help them be successful.

Which strategy are you planning to implement for your next project? Let me know in the comments section below.

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