Reducing the value of Japanese customer requirements, lack of understanding of Japanese business culture, managing of the local office by a company employee (expatriate) or from Headquarters will lead you to fail in Japan.
I used to tell my customers “penetrating the Japanese market is the same as a diver entering the sea and then understanding that there is not enough oxygen in the balloon to get out of the water. Is it dangerous? Yes. I’m sure they have been practicing such scenarios many times.”
So, why not practice and prepare your team company for such a scenario and successfully penetrate the Japanese market?
Soft skills don't count?
C-Level executives believe in hard skills only?
The importance of Soft-Skills
Covid-19 challenged us all and created a new normal. Work from home (WFH) has become almost the norm; cross cultural barriers have become far more significant than ever before, thus starting to understand the importance of soft skills.
Businesses recognize the importance of building soft skills in their employees in order to harness the broader benefits. Yet without objectively and comprehensively measuring soft skills, it is difficult to measure the impact of this investment.
Academic literature has found a consistent relationship between human capital and economic growth. According to the study these were the top 10 most relevant and important soft skills include:
Communication. Oral and written skills, presenting, listening.
Courtesy. Manners, business etiquette, gracious. Says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, respectful.
Flexibility. Adaptability, willing to change, lifelong learner. Accepts changes, adjusts, teachable.
Integrity. Honesty, ethical, high morals. Has personal values, does what is right.
Interpersonal skills. Nice, personable, sense of humor. Friendly, nurturing, empathetic, has self-control, patient, sociability, warmth, social skills.
Positive attitude. Optimistic, enthusiastic, encouraging, happy, confident.
Professionalism. Business-like, well-dressed, appearance, poised.
Responsibility. Accountable, reliable, gets the job done, resourceful, self-disciplined, wants to do well, meticulous, common sense.
Teamwork. Cooperative gets along with others. Agreeable, supportive, helpful, collaborative.
Work ethic. Hard working, willing to work, loyal, initiative, self-motivated, on time, good attendance.
5 tips guaranteeing successful penetration to Japan
The tips below reflect more than 30 years of practical and academic experience: living and working as an expatriate in Japan; building and maintaining a long-term business and personal relationship; guiding and consulting accelerators, startups, established companies; conducting workshops; mentoring programs and lectures in the Academy.
TIP 1 - Don't Under Valuate of Japanese Customer Needs
You will be surprised in your first business meeting in Japan. Best case scenario you arrived at the meeting maybe with an interpreter or with your colleagues while the other party come with +4 participates.
Business decisions in Japan are taken bottom-up, during the meeting you will be asked the same question in a different way, the reason, checking your “repeated answer”, consistency.
At the beginning of the meeting questions might be focused on the technology aspect, be prepared to answer technical questions, else bring with you the CTO or R&D manager.
The documentation presented or provided to the Japanese party is superficial, details are missing (WYSIWYG), and some cultures' business behavior is based on improvising on the spot - not in Japan.
Lessening the importance of meeting deadlines. True story: A deal was signed between Japanese & Western company to provide two containers of roses for Valentine's Day. The container has been delayed and arrived one day after Valentine's. The Japanese firm decided to cancel the deal. The foreign company was surprised and complained that “It's only one day late". Failure to meet deadlines, for example a promise to send technical/ marketing material result in - loss of credibility.
Lack of openness in giving free courses or tutorials. Build trust, one of the pillars to doing successful business.
TIP 2 - Avoid Lack of Understanding Business Culture
It seems that C-Level, executives are starting to understand following the COVID-19 the importance of soft skills, cross-cultural communication skills, business code & ethics and more.
It is crucial to make all necessary preparations (seminars, workshops and lectures) prior to arriving in Japan. Know with whom you are going to meet, seniority , gender, fixed agenda, sitting arrangement, exchanging business cards, do’s & don’t, meeting expectations etc.
Companies were sending emails and got surprised why the response took time (most of the time almost no answer). First build personal relationship only than business will follow.