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    有次大老板让我在HK接一个日本老头去我们在东莞的工厂。很明显这位老头是一个中间人了。他在日本那个小车间让他更易取信于客户,也更易编他的故事。),也可以说他其实也是我们东莞工厂的股东。这种说法一般不会有人要求求证。

    和一个中间商合作,真有那么不好吗?

    我上个月(2020年5月)开通了我的英语文章的blog,鼓励自己多点写英语帖。然而我发现看的人数比看中文的人少太多。所以我也会选择性地把自己的帖加上中文版,作为公号内容。其实要学好英语,真的是要多看多用的。快订阅我的blog吧。我也同月开通了我的YouTube频道「B2B showroom talk」。外贸大神,不跟外界接触,整天窝在自己的comfort zone割韭菜,非业界之福。

    Okay, let’s face the fact that more than half of the suppliers in any sourcing channel are “middle man,” and very few of them will tell you the truth. What makes it worst is that you have no way to find out the truth, no matter how your sourcing expert told you. (middle man takes many forms, we will come back to this). However, for most buyers, this is still the first few questions come out when they first meet a supplier. “Are you factory?”. Really, what are you expecting? “No I am just a middle man”? If you don’t want to look like an amateur to your supplier, stop asking this meaningless question.

    买家该面对一个现实,就是不管是在什麽渠道,都有很大机会碰到中间人。中间人当然不会告诉你「嗯,我就是那个中间人」,但买家却总爱问这种无聊问题。讲真,你究竟认为他们会怎样回答?问这样的问题,你只会被供应商觉得你是素人,外行人,too young too navie。

    At the very beginning of my career, I worked as a project holder for a manufacturer jointly owned by HK and Japanese. On one occasion, I was asked to receive a Japanese “customer” from HK and take him to our Dongguan factory. During the trip, I understood that this tiny old man is very knowledgable in the field of our business (metal processing), and he owned a small workshop in some remote site in Japan. He said that his “customer,” who is a huge and renowned brand name in Japan and worldwide, was waiting for us in our factory. I had no clue what he is talking about. By the time we arrived in my factory, my big bosses were all there together with that old man “customer.” During the “aisatsu” (socializing, opening, warm-up..many ways to explain this Japanese business manner), the old man surprised me by showing up a business card of himself, with MY COMPANY NAME AND TITLE.  

    我最初打工的一两年,在一家港日合资的工厂当项目经理。有次大老板让我在HK接一个日本老头去我们在东莞的工厂。途中有讲有笑的,我也得知眼前这个老头在这行业懂得很多,是位行业专家。他说他的客户是日系超大品牌(今天已经不那麽有名了,80,90年代却是雄霸天下),还正在我们工厂等著我们。我当时毫不知情,突然在开会之的热身环节中看到他拿出我公司的名片 — 没错,是我公司的。我们的logo,我们的公司名,跟我那张是一样的,除了名字和title。

    So it is pretty clear that this old man was a middleman. His little metal workshop in Japan makes him very likely to make up story and obtain trust from the customer of his country. Now think about this - will the end customer (the big Japanese brand) know about this? Unlikely. He can claim himself a subsidy of our group, which obviously makes sense consider that my factory is big and famous in the industry. He could also claim he is a shareholder of my company, which customer will very unlikely to ask for proof. Last but not least, he could tell the end customer that he is hired as a consultant to tackle a particular mission or to deal with an exceptional customer. All of these 3 make him carry a business card of our company possible and reasonable.  

    那我就突然明白了。很明显这位老头是一个中间人了。他在日本那个小车间让他更易取信于客户,也更易编他的故事。那麽他的客户会不会知道他只是个中间人呢?不易。老头有很多种玩法。他可以说自己被我们集团入股了(我当年在的工厂是真的挺大的。。),也可以说他其实也是我们东莞工厂的股东。这种说法一般不会有人要求求证。他也可以说自己被我们招请来当顾问,专门应对非常重要的大客户。总之,要找理由,何其容易呢。连本叔都懂,这江湖老手又怎会不懂。(笑)

    During my long experience in sourcing, I see a lot of tricks like this, and especially from the Taiwan trading company. This could be as simple as telling you, firmly and without a blink of eyes, that this is their factory (which actually just a supplier of them). The trick could also be creative as that the factory belongs to his father and is now occupied by his evil step-brother or so (I love this one). So let me tell you, audit and anything else doesn’t work.  

    在我漫长的採购生涯中见过各种不同的套路,其中台湾中间人真是行业翘楚。从最简单的死扣坚持说「这必须是我自己的工厂啊」,到更具娱乐性的「这本来是我爸的厂,现在给了那贱人的儿子管」之类的宫斗剧都有。层出不穷,叹为观止。容我直说,那些大企业的audit啥的,都有办法破。道高一尺,魔高一丈。

    You will have a good chance to work with middleman anyway, and just face it as a fact. Question is: is it really that bad to deal with a trader?  

    那既然我们根本无法完全杜绝中间人,不如我们问一个更有建设性的问题吧:中间人是否就是洪水猛兽了?

    I will write more in the next article.

    Ben

    We've been discussed the impossibility of having a promised way to find a direct manufacturer in my previous article. Now I want to state my another point: is it really so bad to work with a trader, especially for smaller size business?

    前文我已提到,买家根本没法百分百保证找到的供应商不是中间人。那既然这样,何不跳过去想另一个问题:跟中间人合作,真的有那麽不好吗?

    Almost everyone wants to work directly with factory, from multinational giant to small trader, for a common reason: cut the middle man. It became a common strategy and argument for B2C to advertise their advantage over their branded competitors ever since the very beginning of it. Being a middleman seems to be the last thing you want to admit in a business relationship. But think about this: Would you like to skip Apple and buy the same "iPhone" from Foxconn(if it was possible)? Probably not. Why? Isn't Apple just a middle man? What is different?

    在B2B中人人都想跟工厂买,人人都想杜绝一切中间人。B2C企业也常常都以「拒绝中间人」作为招徕。然而,要是我问你一句:乔帮主的Apple是不是中间人?假设真的可以,那你会不会跳过苹果直接跟富士康买手机?大多数人都不个吧。

    By definition of the theory of "M2C" (Manufacturer to consumer), everything between a consumer and a factory is considered middleman and evil - they just speculating for a chance to sell you at a higher price. So Apple seems to fit well in this definition as they don't manufacture the iPhone for sure. But pretty obvious Apple IS NOT just a middleman. They innovate and market the product, invest in technology and so on. The cost involves all these could possibly (and very likely) be even higher than the traditional product material+labour+overhead cost. Apple adds a lot of unique value to the iPhone you got, which is far more than just some metal and electronic circuits board. Value-adding is the key to justify a "middleman."

    我也有一段时间非常看好M2C(工厂直销),这概念一点都不新了。然而互联网兴起二十多年后的今天,仍看不到这概念如何发光发亮取代传统渠道。M2C的理念应为中间人都是不必要的(原文中我用evil是为了搞笑。。),因为中间人一般是投机份子,想尽办法把产品卖得更贵给你,「骗」你的钱。Apple不事生产,按这定义来说也是中间人了吧?然而很明显并不是。苹果(与任何一家「产品公司」一样)投资在技术,产品创新,营销品牌等等。这些成本很可能就比手机硬件本身要高不少了。事实上,一家公司是否只是一个「中间人」,纯粹是看他有没有为整件事情增值。

    If we go to the classic 4P marketing theory, it is pretty clear that the 3rd P, "Position" or sales channeling is part of the value. There are costs and values to let customers aware of the existent and the value of the product. That's what sales guys do. In our familiar trading business, they are hired to close the deal by fitting in the product to your needs. Is the factory sales guy a middleman? No, probably no one would consider it. However, as sales guy get their commission from a deal which is taken from the profit of either or both sides of the deal, why don't you consider him/her be "unnecessary"?  You would appreciate a sales guy's hard work, his knowledge to the subject matter and his professional to solve a problem for you, and you perfectly accept that the better he serves you, the more his company should reward him for his excellent work.  

    回看那经典的营销4P理论,第三个P「渠道」,本身就是有价值的事了。差不多每家公司都有业务员,他们做的不正就是这事吗?作为买方,你会认为那位为您服务的业务员是「中间人」吗?你不会的。他明明是拿著工厂的名片有木有?(要是你没看我上一篇,会可能就真信了)但是啊,你想一想,业务员靠什麽吃饭的?提成啊!那提成是那裡来的?不就是本来属于你和工厂的利润吗?明明就是个中间人,怎麽你这次又不觉得呢?(笑)

    And the story goes on. Now the sales guy is doing so well that he decided to start his business and work as an independent trader. Everything remains the same to the customer, but he is becoming a real middleman now. He doesn't have a commission from his boss anymore. Instead, he has profited from the price difference between factory and customer. Will you, as a customer, start to feel uncomfortable, even if he offers the same price for the same product and probably even better service? I leave this question to my reader. :)

    好了,继续把故事说完。这位出色的业务员,工资不高野心不小,准备跟老板说单干了。老板眼看也阻不了人家发财了就说好好好您要咋样都行,要不咱们合作呗?不用告诉客户啦免得人家误会(这些说词,本叔随便想出100套)那麽大家觉得客户能发现吗?我认为不太容易。好了要是客户真的英明神武居然发现了,那麽问题来了:他会觉得不舒服吗?I leave this to my reader。

    Yes, middlemen take many forms, and not all of them are harmful. Back to the case of my previous article, the old Japanese man did actually contribute to the success of the project. He understood the requirement of the end customer deeply, gave his advice, pay attention to every minor detail, and promoted the relationship of both sides. We can survive without him, of course. However, having him in the middle saves us a lot of energy and risk. The same applies to the end customer, who had minimal experience working with a supplier from China. He demonstrated his value to us and earned our respect, and of course, profit too. 

    中间人的形式有很多,但不是所有中间人都是无用的。回到第一篇的那位日本老头儿。他不止懂行,还懂客,简直是懂王。当然,没有他我们可能也会做成那生意,但有他在中间,双方的风险和信任成本确是减低了。这样的人,难道没有value吗?

    What is the take-away of the story? Middleman is good? No, that not what I mean. Rather I would conclude that, instead of questioning whether your supplier is a middleman or not, questions his/her value. What he does, how he gets rewarded, his skill and contribution, and so on. As a sourcing professional, I could live with a middleman, but make sure he work hard enough to earn his place. Keeping a good middleman is a smarter choice than having an incapable sourcing staff. 

    所以,本叔想说什麽?中间人都是好人吗?不,绝对不是。我只想说,买家不该怀疑对方是否中间人,反而该问对他有没为整件事带来价值。我当採购时,在单独跟业务员一起时,都爱打听一下他们公司的提成多少之类的问题,目的就是想知道”how he/she get rewarded”。其实回想一下,我宁愿要一个好的中间人,也不要一个废的採购员(老板要的是好的採购员!)。花点中间钱,可能比招个吃白饭的员工更划算。

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