Your Japanese Sales Farce

The force-fullness with which outdated “norms” are protected amazes even my pea brain.

How such highly educated, experienced and polished APAC heads of sales consistently fail at building up a Japan-area selling force is cause for pause.

You hired a “local” to do it here and they failed, wrong, YOU failed.

Let’s look at some of the farsehoods that plague overseas leaders trying to generate solid sales results here in Japan.

Intercultural Sensitivity - Complete waste of time.

Japanese nationals have: families, bills, taxes, bad hair days, broken shoe laces, dreams for their children’s future, insecurities and emotional hang ups just like everyone else. Stop going on about how different the people are here, they aren’t.

The “over” respect of culture is a key source of failure of management and a reason that many locals get fired after 16 months of goose-egging. In this case, less is more. Being too soft on people is worse than being too hard, as the end result is the same: getting fired.

Solution #1

Rather than focus on cultural excuses for missed targets, use a 3rd party vendor to sit down and INTERVIEW YOUR CUSTOMERS. That’ll clear up what “doesn’t work here” once and for all.

Language Skills - Has nothing to do with ability to communicate internally.

The best sales people in Japan, cannot speak English at all, nor do they really want to.
Which is more important, closing deals and serving JAPANESE customers or your English Skype calls?
Don’t tell me about your English version only multi-tiered vertical strategy or unique market niche, ever heard of Google-translate?

Great sales people can learn enough “internal” English to share ideas and report activities. They just need a tutor, so go get them one. In a bind during an internal presentation, they can always draw you a picture.

Solution #2

Skype text-chat with non English speaking sales staff, using Google translate and very simple sentence structure. Keep the video function turned on, smile, clap, high five, allow for body language!
The language of selling isn’t written, it’s counted, in NUMBERS.

Must be Native - Must be racism.

If you can’t handle full professional level Japanese fluency by a (gasp!) foreigner, then you clearly have horrible client management, a knuckle-dragger running the division and/or zero creativity.

Ask your clients - do you want a proactive, clear communicator who brings you desired outcomes and great products or just someone who looks like your cousin Larry? ...what century is this now?

If however, your sales team receives zero support once assigned to accounts, then I understand the problem. As your entire local sales management structure must be too busy politically aligning themselves over email and smoking, then creating loyal customers through a sales force who is cared for and protected.

Solution #3

Have real (sanitized) documents used for testing language skills, have role plays used for testing communication skills of non-native Japanese speakers. Give people a chance to show how they WORK not how they LOOK. Have fixed Japanese templates for all communication and reports (just like the newspaper companies here do), staff can just fill in nouns and verbs, done.

Don’t “blame” the customers for the need to be racist in hiring, your local leadership is lying to you. (Don’t believe me? Try Solution #1)

Must have tons of KPIs (Japanese need micro-management) - No, focus on client results, every time. (Bold)

KPIs are indicators of success, not a listing of every tasks related to closing a deal. The shorter the list, the easier to use it as a guide and the easier to report on every week. From software solutions, blood pumps, paint or rice crackers, key points can be brought down to about 5, track those.

I know, I know, a shorter list means your local Head of Sales is out of a job. Make life easier, everyone focus on client outcomes.

Solution #4

Force head of sales to: train new hires, mentor next generation leaders, network with clients (or the client’s BOSS), dominate market share through thought leadership, help build the brand or get involved in R&D service/product upgrades.

Wrangling excel sheets won’t pay the rent, reaching out to clients and learning what you’re doing wrong, and fixing it, will.

The next game changer is already upon us, the “age of the customer” is here, are you with it or are your selling farces determining your strategy?

Other posts by Jason de Luca:


Another article by one of the leaders in the field; De Luca's advice is always worth sharing.