Making sales to Japanese companies is never easy, and now it's harder than ever. But there is an old Japanese business saying about how a good salesperson will go visit with a client at least 10 times and get to know them before trying to get down to business (出来る営業は、まず客になりそうな客に10回通う。 その間、決して営業の話はしない。仲良くなったところで初めてビジネスの話をする。) These days you might get served a stalking warrant if you hound a client ten times, however, there is no doubt that persistence works.
I usually tell my sales staff that the bigger the deal, the more it depends on the individual salesperson to close it (versus just price or performance). As I mentioned in a previous article, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs gives us one view into how to sell - which is selling by personal association. However, in Japan there is another view to consider, which is that of Japanese business culture and its expectations. Although not unique to Japan, domestic companies definitely prefer to do business with people they know and trust, so this almost automatically means a certain set of behaviors and related time scales to achieve a proper sales flow. The following are some of those behaviors:
1. Japanese senior business managers have been through a lot of personal challenges to get where they are, so they don't like easy-come, easy-go types. Show that you have courage and tenacity in all your dealings. Verbally share with you're your setbacks and challenges, seek advice, and let the client know that you're suffering appropriately in order to get their business – but don't whine. They want to know that you're made of the real stuff and that you're worth supporting.
2. Part of the Test is to see just how much perseverance you have to sell your product. Do you get annoyed when those fresh-out-of-college photocopier sales guys come knocking at your door for months in a row, even after you've said "no"? Well, they're being toughened up Japanese style, so as to not let rejection deter them, and to work themselves into a situation where the potential client starts to get to know them then break down and feel sorry for them. Eventually they will receive some business and a relationship is born.
3. Since persistence means you will be spending a lot of time with your clients, be sure that they are big enough to warrant your investment. Either the company itself should be big, or they should have access to someone related to them who is big. I find that smaller company clients are generally sensitive to their lack of size, and will usually tell me (as I steer the conversation) who their backers and/or supporters are.
4. In a new business, it is very important to get the very first deal with a prestigious client, so in being persistent, choose a client of this type to focus on. Well known clients give future customers more confidence – so even if you have to sweat for the sale, stick with it because there can be very tangible results…
5. Successful selling is a numbers game. While being persistent, look after your multiple relationships in a "portfolio" approach. This means that you should be very disciplined in getting out to meet as many potential customers early in the piece, using a winnowing approach to identify a group of prospects that you think will mature into business in the next 1-2 years. This would typically mean several hundred initial contacts (at least 50 approaches per month). Then, after about 3 months of winnowing, you should have 20-30 maturing relationships per salesperson for high-end or hard-to-sell products and services and possibly up to 50 relationships for naturally attractive produces/services.
6. If your potential client is honorable in the old fashioned (good) way, then they will understand the concept of give and take. Thus, if you need something to push them over the finish line in a sale, instead of offering a discount try giving them something else of value. I often find that an introduction to a potential new client for their own business will do the trick. The good thing is that since you're out and about so much, surely you've met someone who'd be interested in their products or services.