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Guide to Doing Sales in Japan

Japan is one of the largest economies in the world and it is a key market for international business. As of 2022, Japan is ranked third in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). Depending on the business location in Japan, the organization will also have easy access to other major markets in Asia such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Consumers in Japan are very open to international brands and products, making Japan a great place for foreign companies to conduct sales. This article on how to do sales in Japan is based on the Scaling Japan Podcast Sales Series and covers insights from experts in Japan.

Differences in Sales Culture

Decision-Making Process

Many foreign companies, more specifically Western companies, struggle with sales in Japan because of the differences in the decision-making process. In Japan, the decision-making power usually does not lie in the hands of a few key people. Regardless of a person’s position within a company, a decision is generally made as a collective action. This means that everyone’s opinion will be considered. While the Japanese business environment can be categorized as traditional, bosses at the top of the business hierarchy still rely on the input of their subordinates to make good decisions.

This means that when doing sales in Japan, foreign companies cannot gain approval for an idea through meetings with executives. They also need to be able to convince the stakeholders and the rest of the company who are not present. As a result, decision-making in Japan can take a longer amount of time. A trick to help speed up this process is to find a higher-up in the company who will help you sell your pitch to the rest of the organization. Although the process may seem tedious, there are many benefits that come along with it. Because the decision will have been made as a collective action, all the efforts put into planning and coordination will allow the execution of sales in Japan to be smoother and quicker.

One tip shared by Fuminori Gunji, the global alliance manager at Deel and former salesperson at Softbank Robotics, is to offer your contact person in the company to help them create the presentation or slides to better communicate the benefits of your service. This not only saves the liaison a lot of time but ensures that the person can communicate the benefits of your service effectively – they will not understand your service as well as you do, so it is your job to help them communicate it effectively. You can also offer to present it internally on their behalf or simply be there to answer questions if needed. You can listen to more of Fuminori on sales in Japan episode 13  and sales in Japan episode 17.

Implementing a B2B Sales Strategy with Fuminori Gunji

Language Barrier and Localized Materials

Nowadays, English is seen as a universal language and most basic business documents are in English but foreign companies need to take into account English proficiency in Japan. As of 2021, Japan ranks 13 out of 24 other Asian countries, putting the country in the “low proficiency” bracket. And so foreign companies should translate all their business materials into Japanese when doing sales in Japan.

The reason for the translation is even if your contact person in the Japanese corporation understands English, the other members may not and this prevents them from reading your materials and puts a lot of unnecessary work on the contact to communicate your materials. It will also greatly help foreign businesses to have a translator who understands Japanese business culture and your industry to do the translating.

A common mistake that many companies make when doing sales in Japan is to make their Japanese staff do the localization for sales and technical materials. This does not work because they are most likely not experienced at doing sales copywriting and many will just try to directly translate the materials. This is not enough as the tone and deeper meaning of the materials need to be adjusted and properly conveyed. Another mistake is using Deepl for external translations. This software is great for internal use but can make you look unprofessional when used in a B2B setting for professional materials.

For manual translations, our friends at OrangeBird have a lot of experience and a big network of translators who can help. For doing sales pamphlets, my friend Takatomo Honma is an experienced marketer and translator for sales materials. You can also use a website like Gengo to find a reliable translator.

The same also applies to websites, a common mistake that I see is companies who use the same web design and flow but translate into Japanese. The flow and format, call-to-action message, and even the hero shot copy at the top are different. One example is that it is good to have screenshots of the software when doing a website in Japanese. Another example of advice I have given to foreign companies doing market entry is to focus more on security and safety on their landing pages.

If you need help with your Japanese marketing, feel free to reach out to me – I regularly help foreign companies and served as a resident mentor at the 500 Global accelerator program in Japan.

Meeting Materials

In Western culture, business meetings mainly consist of presenters and presentations. In Japan, there are many more aspects that foreign companies need to prepare for. Neatly printed pamphlets and even company calendars will help with selling in Japan. Rather than looking at presentations, Japanese businessmen prefer to look at printed materials in front of them. Additionally, giving a gift will further help strengthen relationships with customers. To learn more about the differences in sales culture between Western companies and Japan, listen to episode 14 with Beau Becker.

It is hard to provide good examples of a Japanese sales pamphlet because many companies keep this information gated behind an actual meeting or you have to give your email address. I found one website that has great recruitment pamphlets and although not sales, they have a good example of Japanese design and copywriting. As mentioned earlier, safety and reliability are key for sales in Japan. This should be addressed in your sales pamphlet by focusing on proofs of concepts, existing customers and awards, and statistics on reliability and safety.

Potential deal breakers that a foreigner might not be aware of

In Japan, it is quite challenging to introduce a product that has been made overseas. Therefore, achieving “market success” in their home country should be taken into consideration to successfully do sales in Japan. This is due to several factors that may delay the introduction of a foreign product, such as limited resources caused by ongoing projects or higher priorities at home that prevent you from focusing on Japanese customers. 

Additionally, the following are other deal breakers for foreign businesses wanting to do sales in Japan

  • Competition from a group company or affiliate offering a similar product or service,
  • Depending on the product or service, Japanese customers may demand 24/7 service for things like healthcare, mobility, and other services. An inability to provide localized customer service is a deal breaker.
  • Choosing sales partners with capabilities limited to a specific market segment that may not align with the target market for the product.
  • Not having a team or resources who can make changes to products or services in accordance with local demands.

To overcome these deal breakers, a foreign business must develop a comprehensive methodology that takes into account the potential pitfalls and adapts to the unique business landscape in Japan. This may involve partnering with local companies, conducting market research, and leveraging existing relationships to gain traction in the market.

How to Sell In Japan and Approach Japanese Organizations/Clients

When reaching out to a potential client, the key is to be direct. A great way to meet new clients and potential middlemen is at business exhibitions. By meeting people face to face, you will be able to establish a stronger image when doing sales in Japan. It is also an opportunity for foreign businesses to expand their overall network in Japan. A face-to-face meeting will always be the best method but that is not always possible and so another method would be calling. Cold-calling the office and asking for specific people will help increase your chances of actually reaching them. Asking for a general department or sending an email will not be as effective as they do not make a strong impression.

A novel technique for cold-calling that has been overused but may still be effective is to send an expensive traditional emboiled envelope to the CEO, so the gatekeepers think that it is from someone important. Then you call the office a week later and ask them if the envelope was delivered and they might put you through to the CEO. It is a novel trick that was developed by Japanese salespeople.

salesmen in japan

Having Good Timing

Are you selling something that is nice to have and not an absolute must-item? For example, corporate training seminars, consulting, or 1-on-1 executive coaching. A good time to push your services is at the end of the year. Many companies finish their fiscal year in December or March and may need to use their remaining budget. You would need to confirm with them but there is a big chance you can make it a one-time payment in advance, so it is a win-win situation.

Building Trust with Japanese counterparts

Although it does take more time, you will sometimes need to meet around 4 – 5 times just to develop trust for larger deals. However, these are the hurdles you need to go through to really understand their pain points. You sometimes need to talk to various people from different divisions to understand what they really want. At the end of the day, people buy out of trust and passion and not because someone has the best supposed “technology.” Another important point is that keywords like “innovative” and “new” do not have as much impact in Japan compared to words like “24/7 support” and “reliable.”

Japanese people want to know all the details. They may ask you what may seemingly be trivial questions like “Where are you from?”, “How long have you lived in Japan?”, “What do you like about Japan?”. Talking about topics like this may seem like a waste of time but Japanese people like when foreigners like Japan. Talking about Japan is a “quick way in Japanese standards” to develop rapport with potential Japanese customers.

Should you go directly for the CEO?

Rather than going straight to the CEO directly in a bigger-sized company, a more effective approach would be to go through a department leader (bucho 部長) who can serve as your internal champion and get buy-in from the remaining decision-makers. If you go straight to the CEO, they will probably just ask you to reach out to the bucho, and in some cases, they won’t be too excited about having extra work.

How do we get to the decision-maker?

When it comes to sales in Japan, there are several strategies that can be used to increase the chances of success in connecting with the decision-maker of the company and promote your product/service. John Kirch mentioned in the episode about Tech Market Entry in Japan several strategies that he used to connect with the decision-maker.

One effective approach is to take advantage of personal connections through introductions made by customers, friends, or partners. Arranging senior executive visits, which can create a sense of motivation among prospective clients to introduce their own senior executives can also be an effective approach.

It’s also important to know the needs, priorities, and communication styles of the decision-maker’s subordinates. To know more about decision-makers in a Japanese company, read our article on Japanese Corporate Culture. With this information, a plan can be developed to effectively address their concerns. 

Participating in events such as conferences, panels, and roundtables frequented by senior-level executives can also be an effective way to create a network. By socializing with key decision-makers and demonstrating thought leadership, companies can increase their visibility and establish themselves as credible players in the market.

There are also individuals with large networks who can introduce you to companies for a fee – which is normally 5 – 10% of the deal size depending on whether it is just an introduction (5%) or an introduction with a follow-up support. If you pitch or present your service at a pitch contest (startup) or industry event, these types of people will find and talk with you.

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Sales shortcuts for Japan

Tip 1: To reduce the total sales process time and increase your likelihood of getting a new client, find a way directly to the department leader rather than going through the normal channels.

Method A: Research their name and position online and cold call them asking for that person. Most people ask for the department name in general and that rarely ever works.

Method B: Go to a trade fair and visit their booth and go directly to the older-looking staff rather than the younger-looking staff and introduce yourself. This will increase your chances of connecting with a decision-maker or someone who can speed up the decision-making process.

Tip 2: Exhaust your network to get an introduction to upper-level staff. For example, see if you have friends from university who are connected to someone in Japan. If this does not work, consider trying to find a connector, someone who might charge you a small referral fee, but can get you a meeting with a department leader.

How do you get Japanese companies to consider a foreign solution

John Kirch mentioned in episode 28 of the Scaling Japan Podcast, a range of effective methods that he has used in the past in doing sales in Japan and promote technology products to Japanese companies. These methods include:

  • Gaining a vast understanding of the market and determining the problems that users are facing. This knowledge allows for the targeting of end-users who are in need of solutions.
  • Leveraging relationships and doing the right introductions to key decision-makers. This involves identifying opportunities for collaboration and highlighting the value that the product can bring to the business.
  • Obtaining endorsements from respected organizations such as governments, academia, and enterprises can influence the trust of Japanese companies. 
  • Obtaining product compliance certifications such as PCI-DSS and PSE (electricity), and organizational certifications like ISO-27000 and ISO-27001 can validate the product’s reliability.
  • Making aware of the importance of competitive differentiators such as ease of use, ease of deployment, speed, language support, support services, functionality, and compliance. 
  • Receiving company and product awards can be highly effective in demonstrating the value and superiority of the product in the market.

In addition, there are innumerable other activities and initiatives that you may use in doing sales in Japan and market technology products including but not limited to:

  • An attractive Business Model
  • Being responsive to the needs of prospective clients.
  • Participation in industry events, such as Discussion Panels and Trade shows as an exhibitor and/or speaker, or just as an attendee for networking.
  • Data sheets, Videos, and Use Cases, especially Japanese clients, translated into Japanese
  • Product Demos and Evaluations 
  • Membership in Industry organizations such as the American Chamber of Commerce, Keidanren, and Tokyo Chamber of Commerce.
  • Press Releases in Japanese
  • Seminars and Roundtables (smaller groups of selected prospects)
  • Partner webpages and events
  • Social Media such as Facebook and Linkedin
  • Cold Calling 
  • Collaboration with thought leaders such as professors and journalists for having your company or product included in books, research papers, and articles.
  • Study Trips visiting overseas clients or executive seminars at leading universities
  • User Conferences (domestic and overseas)
  • Sales Incentives for the sales team and partners

Let us help you 2x-5x your business in Japan

We can help you scale your company in Japan and internationally through one on one and group coaching, online courses, and a marketing agency service.

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What factors play a big role in the buying decision

There are many key factors that significantly impact the buying decisions of a Japanese company in doing sales in Japan, with product suitability, budget, urgency, brand, and value-add being the primary ones. However, other important considerations include the relationships between individuals, markets, and organizations, trust, the perception of risk, regulatory compliance, support services in Japanese, product localization, ease of deployment and use, business models, and network and data security.

Sales Frameworks

As Mari Ono states in episode 18 of the Scaling Japan Podcast, frameworks are important to have especially in sales in Japan. They are used to help guide businesses and provide more clarity when it comes to communication. 

Additionally, a Sales Framework or a Sales Methodology as mentioned by Evan Burkosky in Episode 37 of the Scaling Japan Podcast helps you to determine what the steps are and presents you with steps to develop a sales structure. As he mentioned, you can visualize it as a road map to where a successful deal is likely to start and end and then how to replicate the same process to get a successful deal.

In the context of sales in Japan, there are a variety of frameworks that are used to guide businesses on how to sell in Japan. A popular framework is the consultative selling approach or account-based sales. It focuses on establishing a strong relationship with the client and understanding their needs before showing a solution. The goal is to establish trust and build a long-term relationship with the prospective client.

Another framework is the solution-selling approach. It focuses on recognizing the client’s pain points and presenting a solution that addresses the challenges they’re facing in doing sales in Japan. This approach involves a more solution-focused pitch and may be more appropriate for businesses that have a strong technical or product focus.

Finally, there is the Challenger Sale approach, which involves challenging the client’s assumptions and showing a new way of looking at their business. This approach is most appropriate for startups. This is also mentioned in Evan’s podcast episode and will be discussed further below.

There is no framework that fits all and business owners need to decide what is best for their companies. These days, it is also common for businesses to use hybrid models to guide their sales in Japan. The key is to use a framework that works best for your business and doing sales in Japan. We will go over a more in-depth section on the sales frameworks below.

saleswoman japan

Route Sales

In episode 15, Mari Ono explains that route sales is about having an out-of-the-box product/service and finding the right customers to sell to. Your product/service will already be built and there is no need to further tweak the design. The focus will be reaching out to as many potential clients as possible. A great route sales example is One Coin English. Just from the company name, customers can easily understand what services the company is offering. “One Coin” shows that the service is quick and affordable and “English” shows that it’s an academic program.

During route sales, having a good elevator pitch will help you go a long way. To approach different clients you will have to use different pitches. You must word your sales pitches in a way that caters to their individual needs. When pitching in Japan, it is especially important to have credibility so that companies will trust you. To do this, you can talk about what your business has already accomplished thus far and what you bring to the table.

Understanding Route vs Account Sales with Mari Ono

Account Sales

For account sales, it is all about having a rough product/service design that you can personalize for each of your different clients. The key is to understand your customer and the challenges that they are facing, that way you will be able to create a customized solution to sell. It can take several meetings to fully map out what your client is looking for. Because of this, the account sales cycle is longer than the route sales cycle.

As account sales is centered around the customer, salespeople need to know how to build a strong relationship with them. Not only do they need to know the future goals of their customer, but they also need to know what decisions have been made in the past. There needs to be involved investigation into which direction the client wants to take. The next sections of this article will provide a more in-depth explanation of the qualities of great salespeople, how they form strong relationships with clients, and how to effectively do sales in Japan.

Deal Qualification Framework

A deal qualification framework is an important element of your overall sales methodology. While the sales methodology encompasses the entire sales process from looking for prospective clients to closing the deal, a deal qualification framework presents a specific status on where you are in the sales journey and what steps are needed to move forward towards closing the deal. 

The main purpose of this framework is to help the team understand what needs to be done to ensure successful deal closure. With a deal qualification framework in place, it will help the team determine the likelihood of closing a deal and allocate resources to establish optimal results. It allows the sales team to present the status of the deal to the higher-ups similar to below:

  • “This is where I think the deal is right now.” 
  • “I think it’s on track and I think we need x number of days or weeks or months to close the deal.”
  • “These are the steps that we have to overcome and then we can complete it, and I predict that it will close and we can book the revenue on this date.”

What are some of the common deal qualification frameworks? One of the most common deal qualification frameworks in Japan is BANT. BANT stands for Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline. This model has been around for over 25 years and was originally developed at IBM. It assists sales teams to know if a prospective client has the budget, authority, and need for their product or service, as well as a clear timeline for closing the deal. By using this framework, salespeople have a clear understanding of where a deal stands and what steps are needed to move forward. 

According to veteran sales leader Evan Burkosky in the episode about Sales Framework in Japan, although BANT is a good framework to use, product-to-service is not simple most of the time as there are more and more stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Both just by default in Japan with the need for that dingy show process, it’s always going to be more complex.

How to sell in Japan using Relationship-based Sales Methodology

It is true that building a trustworthy relationship with your prospective clients is a way to go in hopes of doing business with them in the long run, however, the traditional pressure-based sales strategy that relies on the customer’s blind trust is no longer effective in today’s Japan business landscape. Consumers and prospective clients like to know details of the product or service that’s being offered to them and it is important for them to be knowledgeable enough so that they will be convinced to avail of what is on the table. So, companies are focusing on educating their customers and establishing relationships through extensive communication and addressing their pain points. This is important in doing sales in Japan. Digital marketing in Japan is also a vital element in boosting your sales. Our comprehensive guide is your key to success, whether you’re an experienced marketer or new to the Japanese market.

Guide to Digital Marketing in Japan

So, a relationship-based sales approach alone is not enough. Without a well-comprehensive and detailed sales methodology and a working deal qualification framework, businesses may face unexpected setbacks that can be detrimental to the business. A solid framework is needed to guide the entire sales in Japan process and provide predictability and a clear understanding of the status of the deal for both the seller and the buyer. By incorporating a robust sales process and a deal qualification framework, businesses can effectively balance the need for a relationship-driven sales approach while maintaining a clear and structured sales process.

Challenger Sale Methodology

The relationship-based approach to sales was often deemed ineffective as it lacked a structured process. Instead, the Challenger model emerged as a more efficient and reliable methodology. In this model, salespeople are being proactive by asking targeted questions and predicting potential hurdles that may arise along the way. By identifying the challenges early on, salespeople are able to provide solutions and guide prospective clients through the buying journey more effectively and efficiently. This approach emphasizes the significance of being an insightful and helpful resource for clients, rather than solely relying on a pre-existing relationship. 

Deals are getting more and more complex all the time. It often stems from the fact that software and other tools are becoming more user-friendly and being used by more people, which means that a single product or service may be used by different departments and individuals within a company. So, stakeholder alignment is critical to the success of any deal especially in doing sales in Japan. For instance, a consulting service that a business is interested to purchase. It is very likely that multiple stakeholders, including co-founders, investors, and staff members, will need to approve the decision. Therefore, it is important to make sure that everyone is hopped on with the deal and knows the value it brings to the business. By doing so, businesses can increase their chances of success and avoid any potential hurdles along the way.

Because it fits with the group consensus-based decision-making culture of Japanese industry, the Challenger Sale concept is helpful in doing sales in Japan. The Challenger Sale model takes into account the fact that in Japan it is typical for various stakeholders to participate in the decision-making process by proactively seeking out and addressing concerns from all stakeholders early in the process.

Additionally, the Challenger model works for Japan because Japanese companies often get new knowledge about market changes and new technologies from sales vendors, and that matches the model and provides insights to potential customers.

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The following are two popular sales frameworks for doing B2B corporate sales. They equally apply to doing sales in Japan and finding an internal champion is crucial for sales.

MEDDIC is an acronym that stands for Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, and Champion

MEDPICC: Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Paper process, Implications of pain, Competitions, and Champion.

It’s important to note that the MEDDIC and MEDPICC approaches are not necessarily a sequential process, but rather a convenient and efficient way to organize the needed steps. By identifying and addressing potential challenges, you can increase the success of closing the deal. Additionally, utilizing a sales framework such as MEDDIC and MEDPICC can help to streamline the sales process, making it more efficient and effective. This can lead to increased revenue and improved customer satisfaction, both critical factors for long-term success in any business especially in doing sales in Japan.

Why it’s made potentially more effective than BANT, even though it’s well-known and popular in Japan for modern SaaS? As Evan Burkosky mentioned in his episode about Sales Framework in Japan, simply put that the BANT framework is not really mapped to Japan’s complete stakeholder alignment. You could maybe argue that in BANT – budget, authority, needs, and timeline, the authority is mapping out who the stakeholders are, but it’s quite an oversimplification. 

So, with the MEDDIC/MEDPICC framework, you’re really looking into the details and the metrics — the KPIs, actual pain points, problems you are trying to solve, decision process, criteria for decision-making, decision-makers, and all of the stakeholders. So it’s a more detailed framework for making sure that you’ve got complete team alignment across the board to make sure that there are no hidden pitfalls. And once you’ve mapped out exactly what’s important across all these different stakeholders, then you can clear all potential unnecessary processes.

In terms of MEDDIC/MEDPICC, what deal size would really justify implementing such an intensive but very useful deal qualification framework? Evan explains that in general, the line for being able to afford an outbound sales team is if the product or service sells for a minimum of $3,000 annually. If it’s not above that value, It’s probably better to make it as self-service as possible and focus more on the marketing, and customers are able to self-educate. So, the interaction with the clients is at the very bottom of the funnel when they’ve already educated themselves as much as possible, and they’re ready to pull the trigger and purchase. But if it’s at that sweet spot say $5,000 per year and up, whether per project or per an individual unit sale, it’s a good idea to hire a team which will definitely bump up your success in doing sales in Japan.

Characteristics of a Good Salesperson

The road to a successful sales pitch begins with a good salesperson. Some important characteristics of someone who is good for sales in Japan are as follows.

shaking hands sales in japan

Thick Skin

Rejection is something that everyone will face at least once in their lifetime. For salespeople, it can be especially discouraging to hear the word “no” over and over again during the initial sales phase. During this time it is important to have thick skin and use the negative experience as a learning opportunity. Rather than taking rejection personally, take it as a suggestion to improve your pitch. In some cases, you will be rejected almost 95% of the time, but the value of the 5% makes it worth the effort and time to persevere through constant rejection to achieve breakthrough sales in Japan.

Humor

A good sense of humor goes a long way. Salespeople with a sense of humor display a certain level of humbleness, making them more coachable. Tying back to having thick skin, and a good sense of humor will make it easier for salespeople to bounce back from rejection, especially in doing sales in Japan.

Understanding economic trends will show potential clients that you are prepared for anything that may come their way in the future. A solid understanding of macroeconomic trends is essential as they are undeniable facts. Salespeople need to understand news from a historical perspective rather than just following it as it is especially important in doing sales in Japan. Many times the people you are selling to do not have the time to read the newspaper or to inquire into the general flow of the economy, so in some cases they are reliant on salespeople to inform them of important trends.

Storytelling

Storytelling builds on the understanding of economic trends. A salesperson needs to sell a vision that clients will say “yes” to. After saying “yes” to the vision being sold, they will be more likely to say “yes” to the product/service that will help them achieve it. Stories are also entertaining and easier to follow, further making them more memorable than just cold hard facts. This applies in the West but also to sales in Japan.

Good Listener

Listening to a customer will help salespeople become aware of things that they may have otherwise missed. It will also help salespeople adjust their pitch to better suit the desires of their clients. It is also important to look out for any keywords/phrases that the clients mention so they can be incorporated back into the pitch. By doing this, the experience of doing sales in Japan will feel more personalized.

How to sell in Japan and form a strong business relationship

In doing sales in Japan, relationships are at the center of successful businesses. Many consumers prefer brands that they trust and so it is important to build up a good relationship with customers. Customer loyalty is a big part of sales in Japan, especially with the older generation. People want brands that they are comfortable with and that listen to their needs. To Japanese businesses, long-term relationships are highly valued.

6 stages of customer sales

Appearance

First impressions are important regardless of which country you are conducting sales in. In doing sales in Japan, having a good appearance is also crucial. It can be difficult when dealing with older clients, young salespeople can present themselves as more mature and trustworthy through the way they dress. Attention to detail, such as a nice business card holder or smart-looking bag, will also make a big difference. By putting in the effort, salespeople will demonstrate that they have respect for their clients.

Meetings

While in Western companies business meetings are usually seen as boring tasks that employees try to rush through, Japanese companies view business meetings as an opportunity to form relationships. A meeting in Japan is an experience in itself. There is a friendly reception staff who guide you to private meeting rooms, pleasant refreshments, and a warm send-off to round everything off.

During meetings, do not dive straight into serious business discussions. Start off with more general topics to get to know each other. Ask about current projects, and internal politics, even trivial questions will do. Spending even 15 minutes on getting to know each other is common and not considered a waste of time, especially because Japanese businesses consider partnerships as long-term relationships, and getting to know and like the person is a key component to establishing trust. The next 20 minutes can focus on understanding their problem and the last 20 minutes can focus on your solution.

Meeting outside the usual office environment is another good technique when doing sales in Japan. A meeting at a restaurant will help alleviate pressure by creating a level playing field. It is also more enjoyable to listen and learn about each other over delicious food. In these cases, planning where you sit beforehand can help make a big difference. Try to position yourself in a way that will allow you to have a better opportunity to speak to key people.

Politeness

Knowing when to be overly polite vs not too polite is a skill that foreign companies need to learn for doing sales in Japan. In Japanese culture, politeness is highly valued. Many people already know about the bowing culture in Japan but there are other actions, like walking a client to the station after a meeting, that can make a good impression. These gestures may seem fake and unnecessary, but they are absolutely essential to form good business relationships.

Meanwhile, being too polite can backfire. In Japanese, there is a word called “keigo,” which stands for polite speech. Although polite speech is commonly used when talking to higher-ups and businessmen, it can create a distance between a salesperson and their client. The casual speech will help create a friendlier tone for business discussions and help in doing sales in Japan. Japanese corporate culture and Japanese business etiquette play a big role in sales in Japan.

Selling to the government

Selling to the government in Japan can be a highly lucrative endeavor, given the country’s robust economy and the increasing globalization of its markets. However, breaking into this sector requires a deep understanding of the Japanese business culture and meticulous attention to detail in your proposals. In this section, we will explore some of the key strategies for approaching government projects as tackled in our three-part podcast series:

Selling To The Japanese Government with Ruth Marie Jarman

Part 2: Selling to the Government in Japan with Ruth Jarman

Part 3: Selling to the Government in Japan with Ruth Jarman

Understanding the opportunity

Japan’s economy is one of the largest in the world, making it an attractive market for businesses both within and outside the country. Government projects in Japan present significant opportunities for growth and profitability, but they also come with unique challenges. Many individuals and businesses struggle to understand why their ideas are not accepted or why initiatives fail to move forward, despite apparent needs.

Effective proposal writing

One of the essential steps in selling to the government in Japan is mastering the art of proposal writing. Japanese business culture places great importance on clear and structured communication. A well-structured proposal not only showcases your idea but also demonstrates your commitment to working harmoniously with Japanese counterparts.

How to create an effective proposal in Japan

  1. Clearly define the goal: Start by specifying the goal of your project. Whether it’s attracting a specific number of customers or achieving a particular revenue target, make it clear and measurable.
  2. State the objective: Next, explain why you are pursuing this goal. In Japan, it’s crucial to articulate the objective behind your project’s goal. For instance, if you aim to attract 10,000 non-Japanese people to a town, your objective might be to stimulate the local economy by ensuring they spend a minimum of 50,000 Yen per person.
  3. Present the current situation: Provide an objective assessment of the current situation. In this section, avoid mixing in problems caused by the situation. Stick to describing the existing state of affairs without judgment.
  4. Identify the problems: After presenting the current situation, clearly outline the problems resulting from it. This separation helps your Japanese counterparts understand the issue and builds a strong case for your proposal.
  5. Propose solutions: Lay out your proposed solutions to address the identified problems. Be concise and specific about how your approach will tackle the issues.
  6. Express your willingness to collaborate: End your proposal by expressing your eagerness to work with the client. Show that you are open to feedback and collaboration.
  7. Engage in dialogue: If you have the opportunity for a personal presentation, use it to ask questions and engage in a constructive dialogue. This shows your commitment to a cooperative approach.
  8. Deliver exactly as promised: Deliver precisely as promised in government projects to maintain integrity, prevent penalties, and ensure future opportunities.

Why partnering can be advantageous

While some businesses may aim to directly respond to government requests for proposals (RFPs), it’s worth considering an alternative approach. Unless you are a major corporation or have a long record of success any big Japanese government contract will not go to you. You need to become a sub-contractor to the company receiving work from the government. Acting as a subcontractor or partner to an entity that wins the government bid can often be more lucrative and less challenging, especially for smaller companies. This approach allows you to build a reputation and credibility over time while benefiting from established relationships. To enhance your understanding of business networking in Japan, refer to our Guide to Business Networking in Japan.

Guide to Business Networking in Japan

How to get a government contract

Government contracts in Japan are very strict about adhering to the terms and conditions specified in the contract. So, in summary, the timeline for government projects and RFPs can be quite extensive and involves several key phases. Please note that the timelines are just an estimation and can vary between prefecture and project type.

  1. Proposal Preparation (Some month between December to March): Once the RFP is released, you collaborate with the subcontractor to prepare a proposal that aligns with the government’s requirements and your capabilities. The proposal may cover various aspects of the project, depending on your role within the subcontractor’s team.
  1. Proposal Submission and Evaluation (January to April): The subcontractor submits the proposal to the government. The government evaluates all proposals and selects the winning subcontractor(s). Notifications of the award are typically sent out around March or April.
  1. Contractual Phase (April to June): After winning the contract, the subcontractor enters into a contract with the government, specifying the terms and conditions of the project. It’s essential to ensure that the contract aligns with your proposal and capabilities.
  1. Planning and Coordination (July to August): Subcontractors begin planning the project execution, coordinating with other subcontractors, and determining the scope of work. This period is critical for setting up the project’s framework.
  1. Active Project Execution (September to January): The main execution phase occurs during these months, where you deliver on the promises made in the contract. Subcontractors work closely with the government and may start reporting on the project’s progress.

Please note in some cases this would happen in April, for example, ALT English teachers in Japan work in government schools from April.

  1. Reporting and Assessment (February to March): Subcontractors are required to provide detailed reports on the project’s outcomes and achievements. The government assesses whether the project was successfully completed according to the contract.
  1. Project Conclusion (April): The cycle starts anew as governments begin planning for the next fiscal year’s projects, and the process may repeat.

Throughout this process, attention to detail, adherence to contract terms, and successful project execution are paramount to maintaining a good reputation and ensuring future opportunities in government projects in Japan.

Sales jobs in Japan

Numerous industries, including technology, banking, manufacturing, and retail, offer sales jobs in Japan. Sales representatives, account managers, sales directors, and business development managers are just a few of the well-preferred sales roles in Japan. It is also important to be knowledgeable in doing sales in Japan to easily ace the interviews.

people walking down stairs

Researching businesses in your target industry and contacting their human resources department or sales team might be useful for finding sales jobs in Japan. Meeting potential employers and learning about job opportunities can also be accomplished by networking through professional groups or by visiting industry events.

Where to find Sales jobs in Japan

There are several ways to find sales jobs in Japan. There is a comprehensive article about sales jobs in Japan and where to find them that you can read if you’re looking to enter into the sales industry in Japan.

Additional Resources

For more information on doing sales in Japan and how to sell in Japan, be sure to check out these amazing resources:

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