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The Sales Japan Series

Dr. Greg Story

The vast majority of salespeople are just pitching the features of their solutions and doing it the hard way. They are throwing mud up against the wall and hoping it will stick. Hope by the way is not much of a strategy. They do it this way because they are untrained. Even if their company won't invest in training for them, this podcast provides hundreds of episodes with information, insights and techniques all based on solid real world experience selling in Japan. Trying to work it out by yourself is possible but why take the slow and difficult route to sales success? Tap into the structure, methodologies, tips and techniques needed to be successful in sales in Japan. In addition to the podcast the best selling book Japan Sales Mastery and its Japanese translation Za Eigyo are also available as well.


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In Part One, we looked at the difficulties the modern communication platforms throw up because of the limitations of the technology, in particular, the poor audio quality. Now we move forward to how we ask the questions and what we should ask. Our client has various needs and we have to uncover them and the way to do that is ask questions. This would seem the most obvious thing in the world. Yet there are legions of the great unwashed, hapless salespeople wandering around, spending all of their time pitching to clients. There are in tell mode to sell, as opposed to using questions to sell.

The client has some top of mind needs that revolve around them achieving the outcomes they desire. We need to understand what results the client is looking for. In the classic example, clients don’t buy drills. They buy results - holes. They want to hit targets, gain market share, increase revenues, manage costs, improve their systems, etc.

There will be some buying criteria involved. Budget is often what we think of here. We want to know how much budget they have and then we can cut our cloth to match. We should never forget that time and quality are also going to be key components here as well. We need to find out more on these fronts. A client assured me they had no budget for our training. Digging in, I found they did have budget if we spread the payment over two financial years. It wasn’t money, it was time, in this case.

Practical details need to be found. These are often the spec components of design, shape, colour, size, weight, durability, etc. Do we actually have what they need or not? If we don’t, then stop trying to slam the square peg into the round hole baby and move on. Find that client whose needs profile better matches what we do best.

Although we are dealing with company representatives, they also have personal needs. What is their WHY? It could be to keep their boss happy, to rise through the ranks, to get a big bonus, to snag a promotion, to be appreciated, etc. We need to know that, because if we can frame our solution in terms of their WHY, then that is a very powerful differentiator from our rivals.

We go through question phases to uncover these pieces of information. We can start by getting them focused on the gap between where they are now and where they need to be. We can ask, “where would you like to be in six to twelve months from now?”. The focus here is on outcomes. To gauge the gap, our next question will be, “given those goals, where are you today?”. Now we can find out if there is an opening here for us or not.

I had been chasing a buyer for seven straight years with no results. It was a highly profitable business. The President wouldn’t even agree to meet with me and then he suddenly retired. I thought “bingo” – time to try again with the new guy. While I was sitting there in the meeting going through this discovery process, the most unpleasant idea occurred to me. “He thinks they can close the gap between where they are now and where they want to be by themselves through their internal resources”. I call that an extremely bad meeting. There was no way into that company for me, because I didn’t have a solution they needed.

Trust me, I tried to make that gap between where they are now and where they want be seem like the Grand Canyon. Ultimately I failed to do that and so no deal and sayonara. What we are trying to do in this step is flesh out the negative implications for the company, if they don’t buy our solution. Company representatives often mistakenly think that taking no action has no cost. That is not true. There are the opportunity costs associated with no action. Markets move, business is fluid, nothing stays the same. They are also not operating in a vacuum, where their competitors are in some form of cryogenic suspended animation.

Once we know where they are today and where they want to be, we need to understand what is the change they need to make to close the gap. If they think they can make that change by themselves, it is curtains for us. If we are able to find a reason to supply the change methodology they need, then we need to go for gold. We need to find out that invididual’s personal WHY.

This is very difficult with Japanese buyers. Even at the conceptual level, this is not something they easily grasp. When your career progression is based on age and stage, unrelated to the outcomes you produce and you get a set bonus the same as everyone else, the personal payoff is bit opaque. In Japan it will usually be personal recognition by their team or their peers, as someone doing their job well. So we need to ask things like, “If we can achieve the outcomes you have mentioned, how will that make your team members feel?”, “If this works, will your team appreciate the results it brings, making their job easier?”, “If this is a success, will your colleagues be appreciative?”.

In Part Three, we will ex...


09/15/20 • 14 min

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Salespeople’s bad habits just migrate right across to the online world. If you were just pitching your product before, hoping to snag a deal, you will be doing the same thing when staring at the client on screen. It didn't work well then and it doesn’t improve in the new environment. For the more professional salespeople, who actually understand sales and the key role that questioning skills play, the game has changed. We have to change the way we do things too.

One of the biggest problems associated with asking questions is getting the answer. In the meeting room location, we have perfect audio quality. Okay, we will get clients who are hard to follow, because their own communication skills are so poor, but at least we can hear them. All of these modern virtual meeting platforms have poor audio, so just catching the answer can be a struggle. This is particularly so, if you are dealing in foreign languages. When they speak English or when I speak Japanese, we have to both expect that there is another level of complexity associated with actually hearing what is being said.

The virtual world is nirvana for multi-taskers. Don’t become one of them when speaking with the client. Watch the buyer like a hawk, wear a head set, remove all distractions, shift forward in your seat, lean in toward the client on screen.

It is tough to discern it on screen, but check their body language for incongruent messages. This is when they are saying one thing, but doing another thing that negates what they are saying. Tatemae statements or superficial truths are a classic example of this incongruency.

The other tricky part with the audio is if two people speak at the same time, no one can hear clearly what is being said. Salespeople are rabid interrupters and jumper-inners. They talk over the top of the client when something the buyer said, sparks a thought in their minds. The Japanese language has the verb at the end, so we have to wait until the speaker tells us whether this is present, past or future tense, positive or negative. That helps when speaking in Japanese, because it forces us to refrain for jumping in. In English though, the gloves are off and it becomes a shambles, when we speak over the top of the buyer.

The other salesperson bad habit is leaping ahead of the buyer, anticipating what they are going to say, formulating a response while they are still speaking and then jumping in with your two bits worth. The issue here is that the formulation process tends to be internal and we cease listening to what the buyer is actually saying in detail. By that, I mean not just hearing the words in the background, but really studying their choice of words, the tone of voice, the emphasis points, noticing what they are not saying, etc.

Because of the difficulty of the audio on these platforms, we really have to spend a lot more time clarifying what the buyer is saying. Normally, if we do this once or twice, no one gets upset. However, with a heavy repetition, we may find the buyer gets annoyed. Instead we need to tell them that, because of the importance of what they are saying and the fact there are audio issues around clarity, you will be asking them for clarification a lot more than normal. You will also note that you will be doing a lot more paraphrasing of what they have said, to make sure we have a perfect understanding of what their needs are. Do this up front and therefore head off client irritation with your attempts to make sure of the messages.

Also, if dealing with Japanese buyers, absolutely ask for permission to ask questions. Getting questioned by a salesperson is a first for most buyers, trained over many years by dud salespeople who just gave their pitch. Expect resistance, unless you get their permission first. This is how hard it is, say: “Maybe we can help you, I am not sure, but in order for me to understand if that is possible, would you mind if I asked a few questions?”. Doing this will save a lot of unnecessary cultural faux pas with buyers.

Work on the assumption the audio is going to be a big problem and then prepare countermeasures to eliminate that issue. Your competitors will just be blundering away making it hard for themselves. Here is a chance to steal a march on your rivals.


09/08/20 • 13 min

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We now sell in the Age of Distraction and the Era of Cynicism. When the client is talking to us online, they can be so easily distracted and can be secretly multi-tasking in the background, not paying any great attention to what we are saying. There has always been a lot of client scepticism about salespeople claims, but with the “fake news” catch phrase being tossed around with wild abandon, buyer cynicism is being added to, rather than diminished. So for our first impression, when we come online to meet the client for the first time, it is critical to grab, keep and deepen their attention. How do we do that?

When the meeting starts, I will assume you have the proper logistics in place. The camera lens on your laptop is slightly above eye line height, that the lighting is such that you are easy to see and that you are wearing a headset, with a microphone attachment, to compensate for the poor quality audio these online platforms provide. Naturally you are sitting up straight, leaning in about 15 degrees, rather than slumped back in your chair.

Please, please, please do not open with “how are you today”. This type of fake interest in the buyer’s well being has zero impact and makes you sound like those sleazy telephone sales dogs calling buyers at weird hours, trying to sell them weird stuff. Start with some appreciation instead and say something intelligent and meaningful like, “Covid-19 has really added a lot of stress to everyone’s workloads, so let me begin by thanking you for making time to speak with me today”. That is a highly credible opening statement that shows we are all in this together, you understand their world and you are appreciative of them. You continue by adding value, “The object of my call today is to understand whether the results we have been able to achieve for other clients are also possible for your firm. I have no idea if that will be the case or not, but I am very keen to see if we can be of some meaningful assistance to you”. We are telling them that we have a track record of getting results, we are not going to a pushy, pushy salesperson and we are focused on helping them, rather than ourselves.

We then bridge into the agenda for the call. Depending on the situation we may have sent the agenda ahead of the meeting or we may be pulling it up on screen at the start of the meeting. You don’t ask for a “yes” or a “no” and as you are doing it, you just say “please allow me to bring up the agenda for our call today so that we can make the most efficient use of our time together”. We are being assumptive about using an agenda and we are telling them we are not here to waste their valuable time.

The first item on the agenda should crystalise the strategic value of the meeting, establishing why this call is going to helpful and not a waste of their time. “The purpose of our meeting is to discuss your goal for building revenues as quickly as possible, given the disruptions to the market because of Covid-19”. We next go into an overview of the agenda. “Things are changing fast, so let’s start with a review of the current situation, then discuss your goals and how this fits into your overall strategy and then together look at some next steps, if that in fact makes sense”. We are referencing change is taking place, hinting that whatever they were doing before may not be what they need to be doing now and here we are to help them make that adjustment. We want to understand their needs in the context of the direction for the firm, so that we can tailor what we have in our solution to match that direction.

Finally, we mention the solution creation will be a joint effort , where they will have some ownership of the crafting. Again we underline we are not going to be pushing any square pegs into round holes here. To show this is a joint effort we then ask, “What else would you like to add to the agenda?”. This is a very critical step, because they will probably have something very specific in mind, which will take us quickly beyond the generalities we have been mentioning.

Once they have added to or accepted the existing agenda, we have tacit approval to dive into asking them about their current situation. “Thank you, so let me begin by asking you for an update on where are the problem areas and barriers you are facing at the moment?”. We are now off to the races with our questions.

If we have a Japanese buyer in front of us, we should add an extra step and get permission to ask questions. “Thank you for helping with the agenda. I am not sure if we have what you need, but in order for me to understand if that is the case or not, would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”. In Japan, this is important because every buyer has been trained to receive a pitch from the salesperson, so being asked questions by lowly salespeople, can seem a bit uppity and rude to buyers.

How we start has a huge impact on how we finish, so mastering ...


09/01/20 • 12 min

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When we meet people for the first time, we put them through a number of filters. The easiest one is visual. How do they dress? What hairstyle do they have? Are they tall or short, fat or slim, beautiful, average looking or plain ugly? The next filter is voice. Where are they between having a deep baritone or a lilting soprano voice? How fluently do they speak? Do they have an accent? Accents are interesting, because they indicate where they grew up. We can then fit them into our preconceived notions about what people are like from that place. In some cultures, we can also work out their education level from their accent and then transpose our presumptions about how intelligent they are. If you ever want a demonstration of this, just search for audio of Donald Trump having been over dubbed with a pseudo Oxbridge accent. He often claims he is a stable genius, but he actually sounds much more intelligent when you hear him with that dubbed posh accent. The remaining filter is the content of what they are saying and this comes last, after all of these other biases and prejudices have had a field day.

When we are online we have to pay attention to a lot of factors which determine our first impression. This is tricky, because the quality of the audio on most of these online platforms is very poor. Additionally, we can be trapped in a little box on screen, which negates a lot of our body language and appearance. You may have heard that body language is the biggest proportion of our first impression with others. Fake news! The original study in the 1960s by Professor Albert Mehrabian split the first impression into this breakdown: 55% appearance and body language, 33% tone of voice and 7% your words.

While a lot of self-proclaimed “experts” quote these statistics, they neglect to include Mehrabian’s important caveat. He said these splits only apply when we are not congruent. By this he meant, when the words coming out of our mouth, don’t match up with the expression on our face, our body language and the tone of our voice.

The tricky thing today is that the way we look is impinged by the video online technology and the way we sound by the lousy audio. On top of these issues, we live in the Age of Distraction where everyone is multitasking, when they are online and the Era of Cynicism, where everyone is worried that what you are telling them is fake.

If we wanted to get across that we are reliable and credible, then we need to make sure we look into the camera lens on our computer, set at eyeline height or slightly higher, rather than looking at them on the screen. If we look at the screen in front of us, it looks to the buyer like we are looking down on them. Sit up straight and slightly forward, by about ten to fifteen degrees. This is the online equivalent of leaning into the buyer, when they are speaking, just as we would were we face to face.

Obviously dress the part, because so many visual clues are captured there. Get into your business battle armour for the meeting and look and feel the part of a professional. Have additional lighting set up so that you are very clear on screen to the buyer. We don’t buy things from people lurking around in the dark, so get those lights organised.

Speak a little more slowly than usual, because of the poor audio quality and the audio time lag. This sounds easy to do, until you get excited about your product and start gushing about what a wonder it is and about the copious benefits for the buyer. You may find you really start ramping up your speaking speed. Also wear a headset with a microphone. This is very important for you to be able to hear the buyer as clearly as possible.

Don’t speak in a monotone, where every word is given equal attention and strength in some lunatic verbal democracy. Hit key words harder than the others to highlight these words are very important for the listener to take special note of. If we were in person, we could drop the strength out of these keys words, as another means of bringing contrast to what we are saying. Unfortunately, in the online world, we have a hard enough time being heard even at a strong volume, so forget whispering for effect.

Speak with enthusiasm. In fact, raise your energy about 20% above normal to account for the draining effects of the camera and audio. People who regularly appear on television know this. They compensate for the camera diminishing their presence, by ramping up their energy output. You will find that increasing your gesture frequency helps with raising your energy levels.

We must also project total authority, belief and sincerity. Eliminate all hesitation in your sale’s talk. No ums and ahs are allowed. These indicate you are uncertain about the thing you sell. We don’t buy from people who don’t sound like they are 100% sold on their own product. Instead replace these ums and ahs with pauses. The pause is a genius idea, because it allows ...


08/25/20 • 13 min

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08/18/20 • 10 min

Online meetings with existing clients are a breeze. The connection is there, the history, the trust has been built and the rapport building was done a long time ago. Basically this is a walk in the park. Now the brand new client is a different matter. You have never met, let alone even seen each other before and now you meet online for the first time. This can be a daunting prospect.

There is going to be a heightened sense of stress for this first meeting. “Will I be able to build trust online?”, “Can I establish some rapport, when we are separated physically and I am only seeing them on this little screen?”, “Will I be able to hear them clearly, given how poorly the audio performs in these online meetings?”. If we prepare well, we can reduce some of these anxieties.

Review your industry knowledge. What is their situation today given Covid-19 is disrupting so many sectors of industry? Is the market declining, rising, how fast, at what volume? What do I know about their company. How is their current revenue situation? What is the situation with their rivals – what would be some common issues they would be facing too? What about this individual I am meeting? What is their title, what information about them can I pick up through a Google search, looking at Linkedin, Facebook, my own contacts, their vendors, my colleagues, etc.

Before we speak with them, we have to review the value we bring to our clients. We are not focused on the spec details of the product, but on the benefits we deliver. If they decide to adopt us as a supplier, then how have other clients applied the benefits of our value inside their own companies. This could be a very useful insight to introduce when talking to this new customer.

What is likely to be their perspective? Buyers are generally interested in where they can place your solution in the triangle of tension, between time, quality and cost. Are we talking to the CEO, who will have a strategic viewpoint on where the company needs to go? Is it the CFO who is razor sharp focused on the cash flow burn and preserving the available cash inside the organisation? Is the client a technical buyer, who is going to be concerned about the spec, the gritty detail, the product guarantees available? Is the buyer a user buyer who is worried about ease of adaption inside the company, the after sales service help available, the delivery times involved?

Before we even make the appointment for the meeting, we need to sit down and draw a vertical dividing line on a sheet of paper. On one side we scope up what are the likely key issues facing this company right now. On the other side we align our solutions for their possible issues. There may be things we can't help them with and that is okay. We just need to understand where we can help them, depending on the priorities they attach, to the issues they currently face.

When we make the call to see about a business meeting, we try and understand if there is in fact a point to us meeting at all. We start by thanking them for their time on the phone and tell them “in order to properly prepare for our meeting, may I ask a few quick questions?”. We then check on possible needs they may have. We have already done some research and have come up with some hypotheses on what they might need. We are still in the dark at this point though, so we need to try a few possibilities and see if they correspond to the needs they have. “Many companies in your industry are currently facing an issue about XYZ. Is that also a concern for you?”. We are only looking for indications of what actually are their key pain points at this time.

Depending on their business, we may ask them about their current usage. Due to Covid-19, are they using more or less of the thing we supply? We also check on if they have budget to do business with us. “I know that companies are looking carefully at where they invest their funds at the moment and I am sure your company is the same. What kind of budget have they given you to work with at the moment?

At this point we may have sufficient information to conclude there is no actually point in meeting with them. We should say so, in a polite way, framed around not wishing to waste their time. If we think there is value, then we should make that point and confidently ask for the appointment to meet online.


08/18/20 • 10 min

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08/10/20 • 10 min

Meeting a potential new customer online is a daunting prospect for salespeople. All of the skills we have built up have been tailored and refined for the face to face environment. Being in the same room with someone allows us to really get their vibe, microscopically analyse their body language, clearly hear what they have to say and in turn, be heard by the customer. The online world negates almost all of those finely honed skills. In particular, given our usual tried, true and tested modus operandi has been vanquished, how do we build trust with people who don’t know us and can barely even see or hear us?

When we go to the reception area of a client’s office, the person we are meeting will come out and collect us and then we move to the meeting room or we may have already been shown into the meeting room by the reception staff. In both cases the first impression will be vital. If we are sitting nicely, behaving ourselves in reception and the client approaches us, we are very conscious that this first interaction has a strong bearing on how things will go. Producing a brilliant first impression is what separate the great salespeople from the rest of the punters.

The same applies when they enter the meeting room, where we have been sitting waiting for them to arrive. We look them in the eye and smile before we stand. When we do get up, we stand up straight and greet them. Things are a bit different today. Wearing a face mask puts all of the weight on your eyes, to convey that smile. When we are online we can dispense with the face mask, but we have another mask controlling us and that is the screen. The size of our face in a little box will vary depending on how many others are in the meeting and who is talking. There is also the issue of their face on screen is at least ten centimetres below our camera lens, so if we are looking at their face, it appears we are talking down to them the whole time. Also, how can we gauge their reaction to what we are saying, if we are looking at the camera lens, so that we appear to be talking directly to them?

Well we can’t see two things at once in this case, so we have to smile, talk to them through the medium of our camera lens, give up on absorbing their immediate reaction to our words and concentrate on what they say in reply and how they say it. If possible, we want a neutral background which is absolutely not fascinating at all and so won’t compete with us. The green screen backgrounds available today are pretty wonky, but may be better than the catastrophe of your home environment. We also need to make sure our face is well lit. Often, I see people attending webinars, looking like they are broadcasting from a dank dungeon, because they are hiding in the dark. Naturally we are dressed in our business battle dress, including trousers by the way, in case we have to get up. We have all seen hilarious clips of the casual bottom half, being revealed when people walked away from the camera.

Interaction online is tough. The audio systems seem designed to ensure we are often talking over each, other effectively cancelling out completely what was just offered up. Getting excited and jumping in while the client is talking, during a face to face meeting, is not the best either but in an online meeting, it is a very bad decision. We need to allow the client to finish what they are saying. We need to exhibit good listening skills. We have to make an extra effort to feed back what we heard because the audio is usually unreliable. We obviously have to be on time and we need to keep to time. Clients can still be living that meeting hell, which has now shifted online rather than when they were those meeting room nomads, wandering around the corridors from one meeting to the next. If we say we are going to do something, then we need to be delivering immediately, in order to establish that feeling of reliability and therefore trust.

If we are doing a good job, the buyer will be seeking our advice on what is possible. We are seen as potential business partners. We have to reinforce that idea by providing useful insights about the industry, the market and the competition. These pieces of analysis have to reflect a correct understanding of the client’s current situation, where they want to be and what is holding them back at the moment. This is crunch time, because this reveals whether you have been spending your Covid-19 time at home fruitfully or just watching Netflix. Normally we are pretty busy, so our study time is limited but this has been the opportunity to really gather data and information to help clients with their business. How have you been spending your time?

The ultimate objective is to become part of the client’s brain trust. We bring value to the relationship that they cannot generate from within. “Design in” in manufacturing is the sweet spot. You are incorporated into the product, before it is even launched. We want to ...


08/10/20 • 10 min

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08/04/20 • 12 min

I love dark chocolate. One of the downsides of my chocolate proclivity is that the lift from the sugar is followed by a deep drop in energy. One answer would be to keep eating chocolate all day, so that there is no drop, but the dropping dead of a heart attack opportunity probably makes that an unwise choice. Sales is similar. We totally rev the buyer up. We skilfully word picture them into a sugary world of good fortune about to arrive and then we depart. We take off with the sales order joyously grasped in our sweaty palm. Did we allow for the depression that follows the deal sugar hit?

It doesn’t matter if we are dealing with an individual buyer of a high ticket item or a corporate functionary, the same sugar hit can apply. We have taken them along the railway lines of building trust, determining needs through questioning, matching our solution, handling any pushback or hesitation and gaining agreement. All good textbook stuff and we now switch to fulfillment mode. We get on to the logistics, as this often requires the assistance of other departments. We are deep, deep in the detail and busily arranging for things to happen for the buyer. We have their best interests at heart, but we have completely taken our eye off the sugar hit.

What happens to the buyer after the sugar hit evaporates? What are they thinking? What things might be worrying them about this big commitment they have made for themselves or on behalf of the firm? Have we factored this in at all? We have severely raised their hopes, but we have left them in a state of “ungratified stasis”.

In B2B sales, we can easily forget we are dealing with human beings, racked with worries and fears. Japan is a country of “no mistakes allowed” and so people are scared to make a commitment, take responsibility or be accountable. They need strong reassurance they have made the right decision, that they won’t get into trouble, that everything will be fine and not to worry. Ah, but we don’t do it though. We just glide off into the sunset and start working on the next sale.

We have been working on their buyer emotions, because we know people buy on emotion and justify with logic. This “justify with logic” bit is often not given enough attention. The sugar hit of the emotional rollercoaster wears off and the doubts begin to crowd in. Giving them more rah rah, about how great this will be for the company, is just trying to extend the sugar hit. We cannot keep this up indefinitely.

We have their agreement, now we need to get to work to calm them down and enmesh them in the logical reasons this purchase is the right decision. We summarise what we just discussed, why the deal is important to helping their business and what will happen next. This is even down to the detail of when we will send the invoice, the date of payment clarification and the next steps they can expect from our side. It is all delivered in a friendly but calm tone of deep, studied religiosity about how much we believe this is the best thing for them.

We certainly ask them if they have any questions about anything to do with the deal and the delivery arrangements. We ask the question and then we shut up. We absolutely must not speak again until they answer. We are trying to flush out any basis for buyer’s remorse, that nagging doubt of “have I done the right thing or not?”.

Following this we ask for a referral. They are hot but calmer now and are likely to be open to introducing us to one of their circle. Please, please do not ask dumb things like, “do you know of anyone who...?”. That question confuses them. We are unnaturally requesting them to take in their whole world in one gulp, rather than just a key piece of it. Instead we try and narrow the focus down to people they can see in their mind’s eye. “Amongst your current business contacts in Tokyo, have you met anyone who may also benefit their business by applying this type of solution?”.

We say goodbye and then as soon as we get a chance, we send a follow up email. In that email we list up the 5 most important logical reasons that this deal with make a difference to their business. We should be sending another email the next morning attaching data, white papers, references, anything that smacks of concrete evidence and not just salesperson blather. By this time, things will begin to roll out and the solution will start to be applied. We make sure there is no opening for triggering overwhelming doubt and hesitations about their decision.

Enjoy your dark chocolate, seal the deal, but account for the sugar hit that will come, by being fully ready for it.


08/04/20 • 12 min

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07/28/20 • 13 min

We have come to the final stage of the sales process, getting people to agree to move forward and place their order. We have built the trust, understood the buyer’s needs, matched our solution to those needs, cleared up any hesitations, so now we can ask for their business. What could be easier than this after all that preparatory work? In Japan, as with many things, it is not that simple.

Salespeople here fear the buyer. They believe their job is to always say “Yes” to whatever the buyer wants. Buyers in Japan have been trained by errant salespeople, to expect a pitch. The idea is you turn up deliver your pitch and then the buyer will dissect it and tell you all the things wrong with it. They then expect you to deal with those issues, so that they can be assured this is a safe buying decision. Online or in person, the same expectation rules.

This sounds reasonable, except it is folly for salespeople to do things this way. I can never understand how a pitch could possibly be considered a good idea for the opening of your sales presentation? How do you know what to pitch? Most of us have multiple solutions, so which one should we start off with? When pitching, we can begin talking about something which is not central to their interests, thus wasting their time or something completely irrelevant and so totally waste their time.

This fear of the buyer spills over into not saying “No” to the buyer. Sometimes, it makes no sense to agree to the buyer’s requests or demands. Japanese salespeople will just take the command as an order and then twist the organisation up into knots to deliver the demand. Over the years, whenever I question my sales teams about these client demands, they reply that they agreed because that is what the buyer wanted. “Why didn’t you say no”?, is met with blank looks, staring at their shoes or puzzlement. The “say yes to everything” mentality is drilled into salespeople here, so that they cannot imagine a parallel universe, where you don’t agree to everything the buyer wants.

This fear is part of the reason most Japanese salespeople leave the order request in a vague state of greyness. It is actually a black or white decision – you either agree to buy or you don’t. How can there be any grey?

Japan loves living in the grey, that never never land where vagueness, circuitousness, indirectness and obfuscation rule supreme. A rejection in Japan represents an assault on the Wa (和), that societal harmony that has been built up over centuries, to allow Japanese people to live cheek by jowl, without killing each other. It is also an assault on one‘s own Kao (顔) or face, a humiliation best avoided at all costs, including the cost to the business of not asking for the sale.

Deal closing fear exists amongst salespeople everywhere, but Japan takes it to Olympic Games gold medal winning levels. It doesn’t have to be like this. Of course, closing the deal doesn't have to only reflect the typical American way of doing things. That style is very aggressive and pushy. There are books aplenty published on how to push and manipulate the client to do the deal. All of them totally worthless in this environment.

We need a softer approach in Japan, but still we must have an approach. We can’t dwell in the grey. Here are five “soft” closes entirely suitable for Japan:

  1. “Would you like to go ahead?” is hardly hard sell, but it is a direct approach.
  2. “Would you like to start in August or would September be better”, is less direct, but in a subtle way still suggests that they have agreed and will go ahead.
  3. “The free delivery will cease after November, so shall we get things started now, so that you can enjoy that free service”, is putting some soft time pressure for a decision on the client.
  4. “Would you require a hard copy of the invoice or can we send it electronically?”, is an over the horizon choice they will have to make and we bring that forward now, to get confirmation that “yes”, they are going to buy.
  5. “This is the last one in stock, so shall we grab it for you now, so that you don’t miss out”, is the scarcity with time pressure soft close, to get some clarity from the client about their intentions.

None of these closes are difficult or divisive and won’t offend the buyer. We may get a rejection to our offer, but at least we have their decision. It is better to get a “no” than a “definite maybe” and spend excess time and energy imagining the deal is still alive.

In Japan rather than “no”, we are more likely to be told it will be muzukashii (難しい), which is often mistranslated as “difficult”. You tell some thrusting foreign salesperson it is “difficult” and they go straight into problem solving mode, as to why the difficulty can be overcome. The more accurate translation for businesspeople is “impossible”. Hearing that answer will sit you back down and get you thinking differen...


07/28/20 • 13 min

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07/21/20 • 13 min

We have moved along the continuum of the sales process, from making the cold call, getting the appointment, building trust, asking insightful questions to presenting our solution. This is when the wheels can fall off and the sale gets lost. Up until this point of the presentation we have been in control. We have imagined we understand what the client wants, have amassed the materials to explain what we can do and how it will work, but we may have been delusional.

One of the disappointing parts of being in sales is dealing with clients. If we didn’t have to deal with people everything would go so much smoother. We wouldn’t make any sales either so that isn't going to work. Some clients are a bit crafty. They sit there answering our questions – remember we asked their permission for us to ask questions – and yet they have been fooling us. They have been telling us about the tip of the iceberg of their problems, but hiding the real issues under the waterline. Why would they do that?

Trust is the answer. There isn’t sufficient trust yet for them to share with us all their dirty laundry, all the fail points inside their company, all the horrendous problems they are facing. Remember, we just walked in off the street or came down the line to their Zoom screen and they don’t know us from Adam. Why would they be inclined to share the gruesome details of their disaster, their living nightmare, with a complete stranger? Now we don't know that. We have imagined we have built up enough trust for them to tell us what they need.

When we get to the solution explanation point, they start to reveal their true colours. They start to point out all the shortcomings of this solution. The failing salespeople start to argue, begin to defend, to justify and to explain why the client is wrong. I hope this isn't you! If it is, salvation is at hand, so listen up. When we get this type of pushback, we must realise we haven't identified their true problem and our solution is perfectly designed to fix a non problem or a minor problem. There is no point trying to ram that inadequate solution down the client’s throat, through force of will.

We need to stop defending the solution provided and sweetly ask, “Thank you for your feedback. I feel that I have misunderstood what would help you the most. What would be something that would be the highest priority for you and your company?” And then we sit there and say absolutely nothing, until they speak. If time has to freeze over, then so be it. Do not elaborate or qualify or add – just sit there patiently. While this is going on, the client is having an internal struggle with themselves, to decide whether they want to share the real problems with you. Let them struggle and just wait.

If they won’t tell you, then thank them for their time and move on. There is no point wasting time on time wasters. Call someone else you can help and who is prepared to share their issues with you. If they do tell you the real issue, then you repeat the questioning formula again and really try to understand if you can help them or not. Thank them, make an appointment for the next meeting to present the solution and your proposal and away you go again.

If they play straight with you and just say something simple like “your price is too high”, then we use the objection handling process. Your brain at this point has to have the word “CUSHION” blinking on and off like a warning beacon. You need to train your brain to do this, so that you don’t jump in and start to argue, begin to defend, to justify and to explain why the client is wrong. Instead you say something to give you thinking time, like, “Well it is very important to consider the financial position of the company”. This is a neutral statement that will buy you four seconds of thinking time and you immediately recall, “that’s right, don’t argue, begin to defend, to justify and to explain why the client is wrong”. Instead you angelically ask, “May I ask you why you say that?”. Again you shut up and do not speak until they answer you.

Now you just listen to their reasoning. “Your price is too high” is like a five word headline in a newspaper. A few centimetres down there will be the accompanying article, which will go to great lengths to explain what that headline was referring to. So we need the article too, the reason why they say that, before we know how to answer it. They have to justify their position and in the process they will give us a better insight into the issue. Have they misunderstood us, is there some value perception we have not sufficiently met, is there a budget timing problem, etc?

So we either satisfy their price point or we walk away or we come up with another arrangement, that provides a volume purchase balance against a price discount, a quid pro quo, that works for both of us. Walking away is often the best option because you have spent a lot of effort positioning yourself in t...


07/21/20 • 13 min

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One of the sad things about salespeople is they mostly have no idea what they are doing. So we transfer that poor understanding of the basics to the online world and then wonder why they are not succeeding. Kata is a Japanese word to describe a set way of doing things. In Karate we learn kata and they must be done in the exact same way, every time. These are best practice modes and the idea is to perfect them. Sales also has kata, but few salespeople learn them, let alone try to perfect them. The online world requires new kata built on top of the old kata. You can’t move to the second level, until you have mastered the first level.

For those in the minority in sales, who actually enquired about what the client needs, this is only the start. Again, sadly for many, this is the end of their approach and they don’t know how to go further. They enquire about what the client needs and then they spend the rest of the meeting time with the buyer, trying to convince them to buy their solution. They hammer the buyer with slides brimming with information. The problem with this approach, although much better than the pitchfest quicksand most other salespeople wallow in, is that you become a transactional element in the buyer’s world.

Farming should be 80% of the effort and the other 20% spent on hunting for new clients. Let’s be clear, we are not looking for a sale. This is a critical point that many salespeople miss. We are not looking for a sale, because we are looking for a resale. As much as we love our clients and take super good care of them, there will be reasons why they drop out and so must be replaced. This is why we need to hunt. In Japan, there are few salespeople who can be successful hunters. In the online world this problem is really exacerbated. The upshot is you don’t have a big supply of talent to do hunting and this will make it difficult to grow your business. Better to have lots of farmers, who are in good supply and only depend on hunters for 20% of your revenue. Talking to existing clients online is relatively comfortable for most salespeople.

Sounds great but how do you get to 80% of your business coming from existing customers who are repeat buyers? Running around trying to fill needs will not get your there. It is a bit like today’s cars. When there is a problem the mechanic doesn’t even bother fixing the part. They just get a new one and replace the whole unit. Look under the hood sometime and what you see is a bewildering array of units, which are switched in and out. Forget trying your luck fixing it by yourself. When we are only satisfying needs, we become one of those replaceable units. The buyer switches us out and replaces us with a competitor.

The way to stay in the game is to become a trusted advisor. Sounds easier than it is. To achieve that aim we need to elevate the dialogue with the buyer. At the bottom of the ladder are wants and needs. Fulfilling those can become a commoditised effort. We don’t want to be a commodity because then we are chosen on the basis of price. We want to be chosen on the basis of value instead.

We need to engage the buyer beyond wants and needs to have a discussion about their challenges and goals. We are now entering the strategic partner zone, where we don’t just fix immediate needs, we start to get to the “design in” stage. In manufacturing certain products, the way to make the sale is to be involved in the design stage and get your widget “in” to the specifications. When we are clear about their goals and their barriers to achieving those goals, we are having a much richer conversation than our pitchfest or tactical needs fulfilment only competitors.

Asking about their strategy, their positioning in the market and where they want to be in the industry is where the trusted advisor magic starts to happen. This requires a lot more intelligent digging in the questioning stage and the development of quite different questions for the buyer. For example, “If we can supply the solution to this issue, how will this accelerate your strategy?”. If we want to go up the scale we can ask, “You have spent a lot of time, effort and money on brand building and marketing, so if we can solve this issue, how will it reinforce or improve the positioning you have desired in the market?”. At the top of the ladder we ask, “If we can solve this issue, how will this ensure you continue to be a leader in this industry?”.

This is a long way from just asking, “If we can supply it in blue, would you be able to make a decision today?”. This is the transactional kata. Rather, we want the trusted advisor kata using more sophisticated questioning and focusing on conversations about bigger picture issues than things like the colour range.

When you understand their problem, start digging in for the more strategic ramifications of solving their issue. To become a trusted advisor, you have to be able to solver bigger problems ...


09/22/20 • 11 min

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How many episodes does The Sales Japan Series have?

The Sales Japan Series currently has 370 episodes available.

What topics does The Sales Japan Series cover?

The podcast is about Japan, Management, Podcasts, Sales and Business.

What is the most popular episode on The Sales Japan Series?

The episode title '203: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part Two)' is the most popular.

What is the average episode length on The Sales Japan Series?

The average episode length on The Sales Japan Series is 13 minutes.

How often are episodes of The Sales Japan Series released?

Episodes of The Sales Japan Series are typically released every 7 days.

When was the first episode of The Sales Japan Series?

The first episode of The Sales Japan Series was released on Nov 3, 2016.

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