The first 6 seconds decides all
It has always been astonishing to me how hopeless salespeople are in Japan. Over the last 20 years, I have been through thousands of job interviews with salespeople. We teach sales for our clients and so we see a very broad gamut of salespeople. We also buy services and products and so are actively on the receiving end of the sales process. Well actually that is a blatant exaggeration. There are almost no salespeople operating in japan using a sales process. But there are millions of them just winging it (badly).
On The Job Training (OJT) is the main training pedagogical system in Japan for training the new salesperson. This works well if your boss has a clue and knows about selling. Sadly, there are few sales leaders like that populating the Japan horizon. So what you get is hand-me-down "techniques" that are ineffective and then these techniques are poorly executed in the hands of the newbies.
We like to buy, but few of us want to be sold. We like to do business with people we like and trust. We will do business with people we don’t like and very, very rarely with people we don’t trust. Neither is our preference though. The million dollar question is, "what makes YOU likeable and trustworthy?’
Building rapport in the first meeting with a prospective client is a critical make or break for establishing likeability or trust. When you think about it, this is just the same as in a job interview. In both cases we enter an unfamiliar environment and greet strangers who are brimming over with doubt, uncertainty and skepticism. If a sales person can’t handle a job interview and build rapport straight away, then it is unlikely they are doing much better out in the field.
So what do we need to do? Strangely, we need to pay attention to our posture! Huh? Standing up straight communicates confidence. Also, bowing from a half leaning posture, especially while still on the move, we look weak and unconvincing. So walk in standing straight and tall, stop and then bow or shake hands depending on the circumstances.
If there is a handshake involved then, at least when dealing with foreigners, drop the dead fish (weak strength) grasp or the double hander (gripping the forearm with the other hand). The latter, is the classic insincere politician double hand grip. Some Japanese have become overly Westernized, in that they apply a bone crusher grip when shaking hands. Teach your Japanese team how to shake hands properly. Too weak or too strong are unforced errors which impinge on building that all important first impression.
By the way, we have a maximum of 6 seconds to get that first impression correct, so every second counts. When you first see the client, make eye contact. Don’t burn a hole in the recipient’s head, but hold eye contact at the start for around 6 seconds and SMILE. This conveys consideration, reliability, confidence – all attributes we are looking for in our business partners. We combine this with the greeting, the usual pleasantries – "Thank you for seeing me", "Thank you for your time today". Now, what comes next is very important.
We segue into establishing rapport through initial light conversation. Japan has some fairly unremarkable evergreens in this regard – usually talking about the weather or about the distance you have travelled to get here, etc etc. Don’t go for these bromides. Try and differentiate yourself with something that is not anticipatory and standard.
Also be careful about commenting on a prominent feature of the lobby, office or the meeting room. I was in a brand new office the other day and they have a really impressive moss wall in the lobby. I will guarantee that my hosts have heard obvious comments about the moss wall from every visitor who has preceded me. "Wow, what an impressive moss wall" or "Wow, that is a spectacular entry feature". Boring!
Teach your salespeople to say something unexpected, intelligent and memorable. In this example, "Have you found that team motivation has lifted since you moved to this impressive new office?", "Have you found your brand equity with your client’s has improved since moving here?". This get’s the focus off you the salesperson and on to the client and their business. For example, if you are a training company like us, you definitely want to know how the team motivation is going, as you may have a solution for them.
The very first seconds of meeting someone are vital to building the right start to the business relationship. Simple errors in posture, greetings and conversation can be our undoing. Let’s get the basics right and make sure we totally own that first impression.