Non Teaching Jobs

Jobs in China for Foreigners: ODM/OEM International Sales Rep

March 7, 2017

This post is the second in a series of posts about non-teaching jobs in China for foreigners.

Here is the first post, about technical editing.

Today’s post covers ODM/OEM international sales rep jobs. Specifically:

  • What is an ODM/OEM international sales rep?
  • Job requirements
  • Can a recent college graduate get this kind of job?
  • How to find a job an ODM/OEM international sales rep job
  • Salary and cost of living
  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Demand for international sales jobs
  • Growth opportunities

What Is an ODM/OEM International Sales Rep?

ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) and OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) are similar types of companies, in this case factories in China. Factories can be both ODM and OEM at the same time.

An ODM is a factory that designs and builds a product per another company’s specifications. For example Wal-Mart might want to sell their own headphones. They can have their headphone designers work with a Chinese headphones factory to produce the headphones per Wal-Mart’s designs.

An OEM is a factory that designs and builds their own products and then sells them to another company for distribution. For example Old Wang’s Bike Factory in Ningbo might make bikes that Wal-Mart then buys and markets under their own brand, Wal-Bike.

An ODM/OEM international sales rep for a Chinese factory is someone that helps Chinese factories sell their products to foreign customers (Wal-Mart, Target, Starbucks, etc.).

Job Requirements

The requirements for this type of job vary depending on the size of the company and how much business they are currently doing overseas, but in general in order to get this type of work you need to have in-country experience with the Chinese culture, language, and people. You will most likely already need to have worked in China at a job such as teaching English.

The most important thing you will need is an understanding of doing business in China. You need to know the Chinese culture well. You need to know things like the holidays and gift giving practices.

If you are not the kind of person who understands how businesses in general operate (like I was in college), you need to read some good books on business like The 4-Hour Workweek. This will give you a good framework to work with as you think about how to target the Chinese OEMs and ODMs you want to work for.

Lastly, an understanding of the products a factory produces, an interest in those types of products, and experience with sales will also help a lot.

Can a Recent College Graduate Get This Type of Job?

Yes, but as I mentioned above, your ability to find this type of job depends on the size of the company. More on this in the next section.

The other important part I haven’t mentioned yet is your ability to sell yourself and your skills to the company. After your on-the-ground experience with the Chinese culture and the language, this is the next most important part.

How to Find an ODM/OEM International Sales Rep Job

If you don’t have much sales experience but have in-country work experience and Chinese skills, the company you are targeting is small (a few hundred employees), and has started selling to international companies, you have a chance at finding a job with them.

John Murray, a young American ODM/OEM international sales rep for several Chinese factories, found his first sales rep job after teaching English in Chongqing for a few years. He was originally asked to do some voiceover work for a Chinese factory. The company knew he was looking for non-teaching work and they eventually gave him a job in international sales. He was the company’s first foreign employee.

If a factory is very big, such as Foxconn (the company that manufactures Apple computers), then you will likely need considerable sales experience, and in this example, intimate knowledge of computer manufacturing.

Instead of applying to jobs on job boards, you need to network with Chinese factories and people in your China network in order to find this type of work. For best chances target smaller factories that are doing business with overseas companies.

You can search for these types of companies on LinkedIn by targeting factories in China sorted by size, and then take a look at their website to see which overseas companies they are already working with. You can also find the contact information for these companies on their websites. Read more about how to use LinkedIn to find these companies and then get in touch with them via email here.

Note that foreign companies want to work with “healthy” suppliers. These are the types of companies you want to work for. Find out sales volumes to current major companies they are working with, quality control protocols, types of machinery, sales volumes, and how many employees they have. Google searches show what types of international certifications are typical for a given industry.

Salary and Cost of Living

According to John, the base salary in 2015 in Chongqing at a small Chinese company with their first foreign sales employee, was about 14,000 RMB or $2,000. In an inland city like Chongqing $1,000 is more than enough to live comfortably.

In order to make more money, you will need to be experienced in making sales, and do some real work. When you make sales, you make money from commissions.

This is not a good job choice if you’re unwilling to put in the work.

A sales professional in China has the potential to earn six figures, much more than teaching English (though I have heard of foreign English teachers in China who make six figures, again they are entrepreneurial and don’t find a job that pays this much, they create it through hard work and entrepreneurship).

Job Duties and Responsibilities

As you hopefully understand by now, this job involves contacting and interacting with companies abroad in order to bring in more business for your Chinese company. If the factory you work for sells lightbulbs, you might target companies like Wal-Mart and Menards.

In order to make sales you need to understand the product you are selling and what goes along with that (ISO standards, UL certification, etc.). Be able to answer a potential client’s technical questions. Preparation is critical.

In addition to emailing, calling, and showing potential clients around your factory in China, you may also spend some time translating documents, marketing, and doing public relations work.

Demand for International Sales Jobs for Foreigners in China

As China is developing its own brands more and more, they need people who can sell their brand abroad.

Growth Opportunities

As you make connections with international customers and rattle off some Mandarin while out wining and dining with them, you will be seen as the “China guy/gal”. Once this happens, these customers may ask you to help them source (find) similar products on the side. You can help them find new factories in China and these factories in turn will ask you to help them make international sales.

This is precisely what John has done and now has his own sourcing company, JCM International.

Like most foreigners in China, you probably don’t plan to stay in China forever and will need to develop skill sets that are valuable to employers back home.

Having business and sales experience in a country like China is very valuable and lots of the biggest companies in the US (Target, Wal-Mart, 3M, etc.) are in need of such talent.

If you speak Mandarin and your home country’s native language then you can easily talk with both companies from your country and Chinese factories. You have very valuable assets, you just need to find jobs that will make use of them.

If you have any questions about ODM/OEM international sales rep jobs in China, leave them in the comment section below and we will reply!


Samuel Pfitzner
Dec. 26, 2023, 12:49 p.m.

Hi, I would like to learn more about opportunities in a sales role in China.

Hendrik Bester
Jan. 8, 2024, 10:48 p.m.

Good Day, I would like to learn more about opportunities and roles in sales in China. I have experience in sales. Especially with industrial equipment

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