Manage episode 354079901 series 2952524
There are many non-Japanese speaking business people doing deals with Japanese companies. They may be flying in for meetings or may be based on the ground here. Even those locally based may not have sufficient fluency to conduct a sales meeting in Japanese, even though they make speak some level of Japanese language. I don’t know if I would call myself “fluent”, because I know how complex the Japanese language is and I know that often I cannot always understand everything being said in the meeting. Having said that though, I have sold multi-millions of dollars worth of goods and services to Japanese buyers, so something must be working.
The further you get out of Tokyo, the higher the degree of requirement for a Japanese business level capability. The situation is improving though, as younger people are generally better at English than their parents, regardless of where they are living in Japan. So the provinces are certainly not a wasteland of opportunity, but be prepared for more problems finding someone to be the counterparty with sufficient English to hold the meeting. The flip side is the rarity of speaking with a foreigner is attractive to a lot of regionally based business representatives. In Tokyo, talking in English to a foreigner is a bit blasé and nothing that special. In Ehime, the reaction will quite different.
The key to any sales success is your kokorogamae - your true intention. If you are fully focused on the buyer succeeding and want to be a trusted partner, one who is gripped with a burning need to foster the relationship so that there are continuous re-orders, then the counterpart will feel that. Most Japanese can read English much better than they can speak it. This presents the opportunity for you to marshal your resources and provide a clear picture of what you offer, why it is going to be a benefit to the buyer and a ton of detail on the how. If this has been translated into Japanese then excellent work. However, even if it hasn’t, getting it to the buyer ahead of time will give them a chance to familiarise themselves with your company and your solution.
In my experience, Japan has an unlimited appetite for data and information. The risk aversion current is so strong here that surrounding oneself with lot of data is like putting on your armour to protect yourself from making a mistake. So come packing heavy with data and keep giving them data throughout the interaction. Think a baroque rather than a zen like approach.
Following up in writing to clarify what was discussed is also an important tool to make sure we all understood what was decided. This is particularly important for the next action steps. When expectations are blurry and misunderstood, the trust element takes a whack, which we certainly don’t want to see happen. I have a very poor memory. In fact, as I get older it is becoming worse. A long time ago I read this little gem “The faintest ink is superior to the best memory”. I take copious notes of all meetings, so that I have a record to consult on what needs to happen next.
These go into my organiser which can then be filed by month and notes can be located to check what was decided. I wasn’t always this well prepared. I remember making a business trip back to Japan from sunny Brisbane and visiting a client in Nagoya after a year had passed. In fact, the person I had been dealing with had been rotated into another section and I met two new people. In that dense, smoke filled tiny meeting room, sitting on a super low couch, in front of a super low table and sipping my cheap, bitter, green tea, I was astonished when they brought out this very thick binder, which extensively detailed everything we had discussed previously. That was the day, I realised I needed to be better organised if I wanted to succeed in selling stuff to Japanese companies.
If possible invite the counterparty for a meal or drinks at night. This is a bit harder than it used to be, because of compliance rules, but it varies from company to company. In the good old days they would invite you with the sole purpose of enjoying great food and booze on the company’s dime. It took me a while to work out it wasn’t my charm and charisma which was generating these offers for a good time together after work. A lot of budgets for that type of entertaining have gone by the wayside, so you should invite them and pay.
The other thing to consider is working on your English ability. “What? I am a native speaker, what do I need to work on?”, you may be asking. Immediately purge your English of all idioms, especially sporting idioms. During the daytime, “play it with a straight bat” (only those from countries who know cricket, will get this meaning and now you know what it feels like to be left out of the context of the point, when idioms are being thrown around with gay abandon).
Leave your attempts at humour until the counterparty has had a sufficient amount of alcohol to get your dubious jokes. Don’t be sardonic, as an attempt to be self-depreciating or be sarcastic or be a smarty pants about anything you are discussing. Use simple terms and often frame them so the point is easy to navigate. For example, “there are three key factors which make our manufacturing process highly effective. Firstly,…”.
Also, slow down the speed of speech. I suffer from this precept because I am an enthusiastic guy and I get excited about how great our training is in both Japanese and English and I have to constantly remind myself to slow down. It is a good practice to make summaries of what has been discussed or agreed on the way through the conversation, rather than waiting to the end. You can say, “Let me just capture where we are at the moment. We have agreed to do …”. As mentioned before, put what was understood and agreed in writing and send it back to the counterparty, so that everything is kept clear.
The more Japanese you can speak and the better you can speak it, the wider the Japan world becomes for you, but it isn’t closed off, if you are not there yet. Try some of these ideas and I am sure you will find your communication and business improving substantially.