How Japanese salespeople succeed
- The salesperson finds prospect companies, often by walking the streets in his or her assigned territory, or receives sales leads from his or her manager.
- When possible, the salesperson tries to get an introduction to someone working at the prospect company, preferably from one of his or her employer’s existing customers.
- If the salesperson cannot get an introduction to the prospect, he or she will visit the prospect’s office, ask for the name of the person responsible for purchasing, and leave a business card with the receptionist for the manager.
- Japanese salespeople do not cold-call. To cold-call is probably the most fatal mistake any Japanese can make.
- Even in this age of professional social media such as LinkedIn, Japanese salespeople do not send InMails or similar unsolicited mail to a prospect’s executives or managers. Doing so would probably close the door for a significant period.
- After two or three such visits over several weeks, the salesperson asks if its possible to meet the buyer in person. If successful, the salesperson exchanges business cards with the manager, makes a few polite inquiries, bows, and leaves.
- After another two or three such visits over several more weeks to reinforce his or her dedication and commitment to the prospect, the buyer might ask the salesperson to present his or her product portfolio to the buyer’s team.
- If the salesperson represents a smaller company than the prospect company, then at this stage he or she may take his or her manager, senior manager, and even his or her President, to meet with the buyer and the buyer’s team.
- If the salesperson represents a large Japanese company and the prospect company is also large, then the salesperson might take several senior managers to meet with the buyer and a team of his or her senior managers.
- By this time, possibly three or four months after the salesperson’s first visit, the buyer might ask for a quotation for a small first ‘gesture’ order.
- If the first order completes satisfactorily, the salesperson starts a regular pattern of visits; giving Japan’s traditional summer and winter gifts, sending nengajou (New Years cards), and gradually building the depth and value of the relationship over several years
The above sales-cycle is very generic; Japanese salespeople sometimes get to meet with the buyer, and even receive a first order, after just two or three attempts to meet, but often it’s a game of patience to earn trust and that all important first sale. Next time you’re in a Japanese city, look around and you’ll see Japanese salespeople walking the streets, entering a company’s reception (maybe the lobby of your company’s Japanese subsidiary), asking the receptionist if the person responsible for buying XYZ product or service is available, leaving a business card, then going on to the next company after having noted in his or her diary to revisit that company next week.
So at least in corporate B2B sales, and despite the radical evolution of communications technology over the past three decades, Japanese business culture has not changed much since the 1980s, when doing business in Japan was very profitable but painstakingly slow by Western, especially US, standards. Today’s Japanese executives and senior managers have smartphones and many have social media accounts and are more directly accessible than ever before, but Japanese salespeople still do most of their sales in the same way their fathers did in the 1980s; face to face meetings. Mobile phones make telephone contact more immediate, texts enable immediate communication, personal messaging and social media enable immediate communication, but successful Japanese salespeople generally restrict the use of their business telephone and SMS to confirm orders, to get and give delivery status updates, and most importantly to make that appointment for the next face to face meeting.
Next we’ll look at how Japan’s traditional lifetime employment affects long-term buyer-seller relationships and customer loyalty.