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The Sales Japan Series - 196: The Cold Calling On Zoom Salesperson - Part Six

196: The Cold Calling On Zoom Salesperson - Part Six

The Sales Japan Series

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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