Being a Salesperson in Tokyo

Being a Salesperson in Tokyo

While most jobs you see for foreign people are for technology, management, and consulting positions, occasionally companies also advertise for sales people. I guess that doing sales is one of the most maligned roles around, with most people equating a sales position as being a high-pressure, low-yield job that's something to do until a better opportunity can be found.

But in actual fact, there is no better role for someone with ambition and a life career plan than sales. Consider that most senior managers in most companies are people who at some point were salespeople, rather than engineers, accountants, scientists, or bankers (although of course there are some excellent CEO's with these backgrounds as well). The reason is simple, as salespeople they not only learned how to deal with and meet the demands of deadlines, logistics, and service/product specifications, but they also had a great education in tactics, interpersonal relationships, and basically learning how people really think. In other words, by doing sales, they learn (or burn) the art of selling-by-attraction, compromise, and persuasion. These are the same skills needed by successful managers everywhere in the world.

Assuming I've convinced you that being a sales person is actually worthwhile, how do you get to be one in Tokyo? Let's start with those who do not have any experience. Maybe you're a successful sales person back in the USA or someone here in Japan who wants to switch industries. The fact is that to switch companies as a sales person and to expect a higher salary, you MUST stay in the same sector and region so that you can preserve your human network.

Of the four things that define a successful salesperson - technical knowledge, personality, sales technique, and human network - employers are most often after the human network, comprising more than 50% of their evaluation of you followed by personality, technique, then knowledge. Keep in mind that companies doing mid-career hiring for sales are usually doing so (versus hiring fresh grads) because they are in a hurry for some reason. The time it takes for you to become productive is their highest concern and you need to convince the CEO or business manager that you have the right connections to get results quickly. The more senior you are, the more true this point is.

For those with little or no experience, you have to start at the bottom and thus initial employer expectations are low. Most companies start people off with the intention of either indoctrinating them into company methods, or letting them sink or swim. In particular, service industry sales teams like the second method, while larger firms may have a proper corporate training program in place - but usually in Japanese only.

Getting in at the bottom is achieved through one method - the quality of your interview. This means that you must be physically present in Japan, in Tokyo, if your interview is there. A phone interview will yield very little response and doesn't provide you with an opportunity to project your personality and vitality to the interviewer. What an employer wants to see is that you have the magic - the energy, and smarts to both convey a personality and yet to keep quiet and listen to the interviewer when needed.

There are of course, little "stage props" you can use to improve your chances. I once had a guy who offered to fly from the States on his own dime to convince me that he was the right person. I was so impressed that by the time I met him, I was ready to make an offer. Of course, the reality was that he probably had 10 other interviews organized at the same time, but he had the ability to make me feel like he was coming for me.

Another prop is to be extremely well prepared with a case study, and ask the interviewer if they would like to see you try to pitch his/her company to them. This is risky, but it shows guts and self-motivation, and to western interviewers in particular, is likely to be well received.