How to sell to Japanese corporations

How to sell to Japanese corporations

Japan is home to some of the world’s most successful corporations, such as Canon, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Nikon, Nissan, Panasonic, Sony, Toyota, and Yamaha. Doing business with them benefits hugely from Japan’s relatively small area and excellent infrastructure; where else in the world can a sales team visit companies such as Toyota in the morning, Honda in the afternoon, and Sony in the evening of the same day? The Japanese market is a very strong market for corporate products and services and understanding Japanese corporate sales will help your company do very profitable business with Japan’s largest corporations; which in my experience is some of the most profitable business anywhere in the world.

So how does selling to Japanese companies differ from selling to companies in the US or Europe? This section describes my thoughts, based on more than two decades doing business in Japan, much of which has been corporate sales. In that time, I have traveled to most places in Japan, met with, presented to, negotiated with, and closed sales orders face-to-face at some of Japan’s largest companies, including: Canon, Fujitsu, Fuji Xerox, Hitachi, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Nikon, NTT, Panasonic, Ricoh, Seiko, Sharp, Sony, Takenaka, Toshiba, Toyota, Yamaha and others too many to mention.

Twenty-five years ago, when those infamous myths of doing business in Japan first became popular, Japanese business culture must have seemed impenetrable to foreign company executives, and the barriers to Japanese business probably seemed higher than Mount Fuji! Fortunately for overseas companies entering the Japanese market now, the protracted recession of the 1990s, 2000s and early 2010s, plus the rapid growth of communications and IT technologies in that time, dramatically changed the business climate in Japan for foreign companies entering the Japanese market. These changes have made it easier for foreign companies that understand Japan’s business culture, to successfully start business in Japan and especially to do very profitable business with major Japanese companies.

Japanese corporate sales technique may seem very old-fashioned to a US or European business person used to doing much of his or her business remotely by email and mobile phone. Both in corporate and consumer markets, the Japanese sales process reflects the personal service aspect of Japanese business culture and is very people and time intensive. The prices of most products in Japan are high compared to the US or Europe; that added margin allows Japanese companies to continue people-intensive sales activities which would be unprofitable on the slimmer margins typical elsewhere. Especially in the consumer goods market, online merchants such as Rakuten Ichiba and Amazon have risen in popularity while Japan’s many 100Yen stores dominate sales of many commodity household consumables, but Japan remains a service-oriented society and customers still pay a premium, albeit a reduced premium, for service.

Next we’ll look at how Japanese salespeople start relationships with new corporate prospects.

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