Socializing with Clients
An acquaintance asked me several weeks ago about the unspoken rules for socializing with clients. As a female, she was particularly concerned about whether her eagerness to close a deal might be misconstrued as something else. Hmmm, interesting topic...
Let's start with male-to-male socializing.
It is often said that the biggest deals in Japan get done on the golf course. While I'm no golfer myself, it's certainly true that some of my colleagues have indeed won huge deals on the golf course. I had one friend who used to head out to the club at least once a week when working on a major deal. He reckoned that by spending 4 hours or more with a client he got to know the client better than the competition, and was able to slowly work on them - versus dealing under the pressure of one-hour office meetings. My sense is, though, that to be really successful in golf course selling, you need either of the two players to be fluent in both Japanese and your own language, so as to take advantage of the intimacy.
But one place where intimacy will happen regardless of how good your language skills are, is in a bar. I'm not big on bar-hopping, especially since I don't smoke and I'm the world's worst Karaoke singer. However, if you have a major client, you don't get to call the shots. The irony is that while as a foreigner you may not enjoy smoky, tawdry bars, a high-level client asking you to go drinking makes you the envy of all the other vendors - most of whom would die for the same chance.
Remember your good luck, forget the discomfort (you can always have a shower later) and the night will soon fly by. Remember, too, your role - you're a foreigner and you're different. So be yourself and share with your drinking companion some of your values, thoughts, and life. The objective is to get close and establish a window of understanding between you. I have found that there is nothing a traditional Japanese bucho likes more than a "wet" and personal relationship - especially if you have something interesting to tell. My strategy is to talk about my family and what it's like living back home.
The thing is: if he finds it interesting enough, you'll probably get orders on the strength of his interest, and thus will begin a cycle of repeat sessions that eventually grow into friendship. I had a client like this, who smoked like a chimney - which I hated - but after he stopped being a client, we kept meeting, because the bonds had been formed and we both enjoyed it. Nowadays, I ask him to smoke away from my face!
If you're socializing with the opposite sex, however, an "intimate" and "personal" relationship with your customer is probably the last bond you want to have with them. As a woman it is difficult to know how to deal with a drunk client, who suddenly turns amorous. Be too stand-offish and they could create a scene - which they will remember with embarrassment the following day and stop doing business with you so that it can be forgotten. On the other hand, just how close do you want to get?
My advice to all women socializing with a client is simple: ALWAYS take a male chaperone from the company with you. With three of you there, you can still enjoy yourself and get to know the client, but there is always another male nearby incase a polite but firm exit is required.
The second golden rule is: NEVER drink too much, and help your Client to slow down as well. Although sexual interest can be an early conversation driver, if you are able to curb the level of alcohol intake and encourage the companion to talk about himself, his family, and his experiences, you may in fact earn his long-lived respect. The objective is to get put on a pedestal of sorts, so that meeting you becomes an intellectual exercise and not a sexual one - in other words, a proper friendship.
And why don't you let your client get drunk? Simply because drink is regarded by many as an excuse to do the inexcusable, and then to later claim they were under the influence and thus not responsible for their actions. So don't let him go there in the first place.
If you are considering a career in the recruiting industry, you can drop Terrie Lloyd an email for more advice at email@example.com. You can also see his weekly newsletter, called Terrie's Take, at www.terrie.com.