Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

In Sales When to Start Selling?

It always astonishes me that many salespeople have very little sense of proper timing to start selling their product or service.  In the sales call, they are in a rush to get down to business.  Japan has mastered the idea of building some rapport before starting the sales conversation.  Small talk predominates at the commencement of the meeting and then smoothly glides into the main discussion.  Western business people are all "time is money" focused and want to "get straight down to business".  They consider that preamble to be a waste of their valuable time.
Japan has a preference for the long term view and business partnerships.  The "devil" they know is much preferred to the "angel" they don't, which is why, usually, the same suppliers get called back every year.  New leaders, new staff in decision making positions can eject you from the sales supply conveyor belt but that is usually because they have their own preferred supplier "devil" they know from past dealings.
Everywhere in the world I believe people like to do business with people they like.  We may be forced to do business with people we don't like, from time to time, but all things considered we all still like to do business with people we like.  That early component of the rapport building stage of the sales conversation about the weather, where is your office, how long have you been in Japan etc., is designed to see if you are someone who is likeable.  
Trust is the other biggie and the first meeting is mainly geared to determine if the buyer can trust you and your firm in that order.  By listening and observing how we behave, the buyer is trying to get a fix on our degrees of reliability.  This factor is more important in Japan because of all the tight interlocking relationships in play here.  There are many more layers of distribution in Japan, so an error or a problem in any part of the food chain, can have adverse impacts down the line.  The last thing a buyer wants is an unhappy buyer of their own products or services down the line of distribution, because of something we did or didn't do.
Believing we are saving time by cutting to the chase, getting down to business immediately is actually wasting your time in Japan.  It is a waste because the whole sales process is probably de-railing the possibility of a sale at the very start.
Another observation I would make is that even those who observe the sales niceties in Japan, get straight into their "pitch" immediately after the small talk is finished.  This is a big mistake.  The loquacious salesperson is the thing of legend.  Talk, talk, talk is the idea, somehow overpowering the buyer's resistance with our onslaught of logic and data.
The fail point here is the degree of relevancy.  Your assembled data, powers of persuasion, inarguable logic and passionate delivery are only relevant if the discussion is on point.  The trick is to actually distill what is on point?  A cagey buyer who doesn't give much away, but demands much in terms of information, is a nightmare.  The Japanese capacity for obscurantism, vagarity, opaqueness, combined with the circuitous nature of the Japanese language is unmatched for being indirect.  
You can be sitting there, listening carefully and have no clear idea where the buyer needs are located.  If you don't ask any questions and just plough right in with your "pitch", then buyer needs are unlikely to surface.  If the buyer is unwilling to share their needs with a total stranger, in the first meeting, then all the "pitch" is going to result in, is some drinking of the ubiquitous cheap, bitter green tea and that is about all.
Relevancy means getting a good match between what we have and what they want.  The way to understand that is to not "pitch", but to ask well designed questions and listen very, very carefully to the answers.  This sounds like the simplest thing in the world to me, but so many salespeople fail to do this.
They are so keen to "tell", they confuse this with how to "sell".  The solution we have to offer should be held back until we reach a point in the conversation where we determine we have what they need.  To get to that point requires the client to do most of the talking.  Again fast talking salesmen trying to overpower the Japanese buyer are going to fail miserably.  If the client needs the item in pink, why are we talking about blue.  If we don't have it in pink, why are we talking at all?
In Japan, for whatever reason, the cadence of a meeting is small talk, then the business discussion, a possibility of a proposal, if there is interest and more small talk on the way to the elevators, wrapped up in a hour bracket.  We can sometime go longer, but only if the interest and time schedule permits, but usually the hour is the calibration.
The wise salesperson realizes the likelihood of a sale from a first meeting is relatively low in Japan, so they know they are playing a long game here and are therefore not frantic about getting an immediate result.  Getting permission to come back with our proposal is a big win in Japan.  If the client wants what we cannot supply, then nice to meet you and sayonara, is the order of the day.  Powerful personalities trying to shove the square peg into the round hole get nowhere here in Japan.  Don't try to overpower the client and make them buy. Get out of there and go find another client who can buy.  Hanging around trying to force the business is the waste of time, not the small talk itself before the main business discussion.
When presenting your solution, hold back any materials or samples or examples until you understand whether they want pink or blue.  If possible hide these materials on the chair next to you, so they are out of sight.  Only show the client what is relevant, based on what you heard they need. Whipping out your glossy brochure or slick sample, or snappy PowerPoint might get you excited, but we are here to get the client excited.  The only way to do that is provide them with what they need.
Take your time,  concentrate on building rapport and trust.  Use the time available in the meeting to let the client do most of the talking and get them speaking about their business, the current market conditions, the relevant timing, their preferences, their frustrations, their experience and their biases.
When we know these things, then we have something to talk about, but not before.
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