Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Japan Needs to Stop Underselling Itself

Japanese companies offer high quality, great service and a long-term win-win philosophy that puts customers first, but Japanese communication style results in them underselling themselves in the global marketplace. This blog suggests reasons why this happens, and what Japanese marketers and sales managers can do to increase their sales to overseas customers. Arguably, Japan has been underselling itself for decades, and just some simple changes to how Japanese business people explain and negotiate with overseas clients could start increasing their global market share again.

Japanese culture has some unique tendencies that make selling to global customers a challenge* (see a post about 'Cultural Traits' soon). In general, Japan has the most indirect communication style of any major economy, a discussion style that avoids confrontation, slow, team-based decision-making and flexible, relationship-oriented planning. Since these are hard to understand for global business people, even when Japanese salespeople offer better products and service than their competitors, it is folks like the Americans, Germans, Koreans or Chinese who may better match the communication style of their clients and so are more likely to clinch the sale.

Firstly, Japan loses sales opportunities because it has the most 'high context' business culture in the world - which means that much information is communicated indirectly or by unspoken understanding. At least two issues are caused by this: they don't offer exactly the right product, or they do offer the right product, but they don't explain clearly enough why it is so. 

Secondly, Japanese business people lose out to competitors by not asking 'closing' questions when they are expected, which causes two issues: the client may be planning to reject the deal due to objections which could have been discussed and fixed, or they could be ready to buy, and instead purchase the next day from a Western or Asian sales person who does quickly push and incentivize them to decide. 

Thirdly, Japanese negotiation is slowed by their team-based working style and a sense that ball-park information should be avoided because they may cause problems to the customer if found to be wrong. It can take a Japanese salesperson days or weeks to get agreements from stakeholders for a custom solution, and they are not trained how to give a quick overview of costs and benefits. Nimbler rivals can progress quickly to the next stage and complete a deal in this time.

Finally, Japanese marketing often doesn't support the needs of global clients to see clearly stated benefits for their specific needs and situations.  Sales tools such as websites, brochures and powerpoint presentations tend to bury or omit the key information a prospect needs to make a purchase decision or may not be available in English at all, causing overseas rivals to be shortlisted before Japanese. 

These are not insurmountable challenges for Japanese companies. They have already done the heavy-lifting of creating world-class products and services with top quality control which are continually improved, and they already have an unsurpassed passion to do anything to keep their promises to customers. Even when overseas competitors offer products with better features and capabilities, if they fail more often or service is expensive or poor, then it may still be best for global clients to buy Japanese. The key challenge for Japanese companies is to negotiate and explain themselves more effectively. Let's look at this in more detail.

1 comment:

  1. So true, John. I coach Japanese executives to give English speeches and presentations.

    Getting them to give a cogent and persuasive argument for their company, product or service, let alone a clear call to action, can be like pulling teeth.

    They seem to think it's the audience's job to put together the information they present and make their own decisions. They don't seem to grasp that their audience WANTS a crisp summary of their position.


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