Manage episode 374962378 series 2952524
Usually in Japan, we meet more than one buyer. In Western meetings, it is more likely to be a one-on-one situation. Sometimes the buyer boss will bring others to the meeting and they are there to represent their functions and report back what has taken place. The danger is we just focus on the boss and ignore their henchmen. These hangers-on have important roles to play in the decision-making process about the purchase, so it very unwise to ignore them and spend all of your time just addressing the boss, assuming there is only one decision-maker present.
In bigger meetings, it becomes much harder to gauge who is who. It is not unheard of in Japan, for the most senior person to say very little during the meeting and they may even look like they are sleeping. The other tangent we can go off on, is focusing on the English speaker, imagining that they are a key decision-maker. In large companies, that is rarely the case. They are just considered a technician by their colleagues and they may have very little influence on the buying decision.
In larger meetings, it is always good to work the entire room and try and engage with everyone. If you are using an interpreter, this should make no difference. Address each person on a one-on-one basis in English and let the interrupter catch up with what you have been saying. It doesn’t matter about the time lag, if the interpreting is being done consecutively. The fact that you are looking at and speaking directly to that person will have the desired effect.
Most Japanese businesspeople understand a lot more English than they let on as well and for various reasons may choose to not speak in English, when in fact they can do it well. You might be asking why is that? Part of it is hierarchy and roles for the meeting. Usually, one of the better English speakers will be tasked with being the interlocutor for the buyer. The others are there to hear what is going on, as they represent their Divisions or Sections, but are not required to speak. They also may choose to use the interpreter when they get into some questions because that lag gives them a lot more thinking time.
Another reason is they either are a bit shy about their own proficiency and don’t want to embarrass themselves or the opposite. If they are very good, they don’t want to show everyone else up and embarrass others who are not so good, particularly if the latter are the more senior people. You often discover at the end of the meeting, as you are heading for the elevators, that many of them have perfect English. This is always a bit of a shock, because you were humming along thinking they couldn’t understand what was going on in English.
We know that there will be a consensus reached about the purchase and so every section has a part in the final decision and that is why we have to work the entire room. We don’t ignore the boss, but the leader is expecting others to do the due diligence and then make a recommendation, which by the time it gets to the inner circle at the top, it has been agreed upon across all affected areas and will become a fait accompli.
In smaller meeting, say three people, it is easy for us to concentrate on the most senior person, but again that is a mistake. The boss has brought these other people with them for a reason and they need to be included as well. Even the most junior person needs to be included, because often they are given the grunt to work to evaluate the offer. These more junior people will often ask the questions, because they know they will have to come up some type of report on the matter. We need to draw them into the discussion and find out what angles they are most interested in and then try and connect with them along those lines. Usually after the meeting, we will communicate with these people rather than the boss.
They have a reporting function, so it is very important to follow up with them and find out what type of information they need and then proceed to give it to them. They are often in more command of the details than the boss as well, so they are good source of information and a good destination for our information. They can become a strong internal champion in this process and we should work toward that outcome. They can also give us good guidance on what we present and how to present it, because they know their internal systems perfectly, which for us will mainly remain a mystery for the most part. Bosses can be moved around to a new post, but these more junior people tend to stay in one place longer and they can be a valuable ally across time. In a few years, they may in fact become the boss and we have built up a strong connection with them, where the trust has gradually been cemented.
When dealing with multiple buyers in a sales call, treat everyone as a decision-maker, because they are. Don’t ignore the boss of course, but don’t cosy up to the boss and ignore the others either. That will be a mistake and the whole room will recognise you are clueless about how things work in Japan. Not a great start for a salesperson here.