Many a times, Babel School of Languages, accompanies some clients in their meetings with Japanese customers to facilitate communication. During the meetings, we noticed that the Japanese business partners were very courteous and seemed rather interested in their products, but that it was extremely difficult to form a business relationship immediately, something that is far easier to do in many other cultures.

Patience, the ultimate business virtue:

Unless you’re dealing with a high-level executive from a particularly charismatic international company or the managing director of a family business, you won’t be able to sign a sales contract at the end of your first meeting in Japan. Most probably not even in the second nor the third. In fact, just to get a first meeting organized could take quite a while.

In Japan, everything requires reflection. You have to collect and analyze the data then obtain an initial consensus and submit the situation to the higher management. The latter must then be convinced of the validity of the idea, because very often, the responsibility of the entire project falls on the shoulders of one person. Hence, no decision is taken without considerable forethought.

Some clients who we have helped in the past, were frustrated because they felt that the long waiting period for an answer could only mean that the Japanese were too polite to say no! However, in many cases, the Japanese client had continued to research the feasibility of the project and was busy providing information to other divisions within the company, a procedure which was repeated several times over, over many months.

Silence can therefore also be a good sign. It could mean that the Japanese client had taken the offer seriously. The good news is that once consensus is reached, action is taken immediately and the file moves forward very quickly, as all groups involved within the organization are already in the know and are ready to implement it.

Nothing too risky:

Many Japanese firms are quite cautious and evaluate the risks involved in projects seriously. They prefer to start with small steps and get a feel of the market. Once they are sure of a strong demand for the product or the service, the investments are increased. Hence, previous experience in the domain in a particular market is a great asset to win over a Japanese client, as is the case perhaps, with any other. Japan has a view of risks and returns that differs from that of many other markets. While in many cases, a Japanese client receives little incentive to succeed in the operation, when he fails, his failure will be resounding and often synonymous with humiliation and even punishment. The most effective way to climb the ladder in many large Japanese companies is to never fail; this is why some middle managers generally prefer to stick with the status quo and are very reluctant to take new paths.

Consumer is King and God:

In Japanese business culture, the customer is not just a king, he is a God. If the customers of the Japanese client to whom you are supplying like the product but are unable to purchase it regularly due to supply disruptions or worse, quality failures, the consequences are fatal for the Japanese company. The Japanese have a certain level of expectation for high-quality products, including appearance and packaging, even if the latter is scrapped after delivery no matter what. So, even a small deviation from quality standards could destroy a carefully cultivated relationship.

Prepare for the first meeting:

For starters, if the Japanese agree to meet with you, that means they you have piqued their interest. Perhaps, there is a problem that they are facing and your offer might be a solution. They hence expect you to be able to highlight flaws and weaknesses in their situation or product and present yourself as a remedy. You have to make sure you have a good case to convince the Japanese to buy your product or service rather than that of their current supplier or someone else. You must also prove to them that this decision does not involve risks (or that it helps to limit them). You need to have arguments that are well researched and supported by data, success stories, etc. In case your product or service targets Japan, it is essential to know the industry trends in Japan, your customer, your competition, your customer’s current supplier, their prices, products and services and what you do better than them. Market research is a crucial step. The more you have data to present, the faster it is easier to align the various divisions and sub-divisions that will evaluate your project in the Japanese organization.

The Personal Touch:

Many Japanese clients prefer to do business with those that they have met in person. While quality of your product is paramount, but so are you. Personal reliability and efficiency are critical evaluation parameters. Visiting the Japanese counterpart several times does show them your determination and commitment. Having a local office or partner who can act as a point of contact in Japan is therefore a great asset when entering into a new business relationship. In Japan, the sales process has to be personalized and it can take a lot of time and manpower.

Following up on the meeting:

After your first meeting, it would be a great idea to write to the Japanese client summarizing the meeting, re-explaining your proposal and answering any questions they may have and, if necessary, keeping them informed until an agreement is reached. This approach is similar to that used for other countries, but the Japanese language can be a barrier. When dealing with a Japanese company, seek the assistance of someone with a keen knowledge of Japanese culture and language. This way, you won’t miss an opportunity by giving up too quickly, and you won’t spend your entire travel budget on potential that never existed.

If you are keen to start business in Japan or with Japanese companies, learning Japanese would be a great way to start. Write to us on our contact form to start learning Japanese online today!

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