How we’ve built successful channel partnerships in Japan

How we’ve built successful channel partnerships in Japan

Recently I was in the US and people were just blown away when I told them about the success of our business in Japan. Our Japanese business grew nearly 40% last year and this year is shaping up to be great as well, but it’s not something that has happened overnight. The reality is that it’s tough to do business in Japan and it’s taken us over four years to get it right. 

Relationships over transactions every time

In Japan, business is relationship focused rather than transactional so we need to take a different approach to other countries. You can’t go into Japan and demand immediate success using a western model. You have to establish trust before you can really enter the market. So initially you don’t really know what’s going on because no one tells you the truth. My favourite Japanese word is maybe, which really means no, but people won’t say that to your face.  

You do eventually reach a point where people are open with you but it’s a long journey. This is because people honestly care about who they do business with. They care about who you are and what your character is like. This makes a huge difference to how you do business with them. 

Face-to-face is critical

Things like the number of trips and face to face meetings you have is important and this is what makes it hard to sell there. Our Japanese team has a phenomenal number of face to face meetings compared to any other region that we work in. I have also personally spent a lot of time in Japan building relationships with our key resellers in the market and customers. That's all part and parcel of the process of working in Japan. You have to engage with the Japanese and understand what they want to do and how they want to achieve it so you can build trust. 

Distributing trust

When we started in Japan we had a distributor, so we got a sense of what was required before we took over the business and created Yellowfin Japan. We then gave Yugo Hayashi, our Managing Director East Asia, the  freedom to run the business in a Japanese way and create their own culture which certainly helped us. Our partners can see the relationship and trust that I have in Yugo and know that he has the ability to influence an outcome which helps build the relationship. While it's still a very Japanese business, they’ve taken some of the western cultural ethos that's differentiated us in the marketplace and created a business which is quite unique.  

Even if you have your own business in Japan, you can’t do business there without resellers. You have to partner with big system integrators who provide tech services to companies and take you into their accounts. 

So our team works with system integrators who are our partners in Japan. We have lots of valuable partners in our ecosystem, but we also have cornerstone partnerships that are critical and that’s what NTT is to Yellowfin. Within NTT, we actually have four partners. The lead partner is NTT TechnoCross and we’ve built our relationship with them over several years. It now feels like they’re a part of Yellowfin because we’re aligned in what we want to do. 

We also partner with NTT Data, NTT DATA Kansai and NTT DATA China. Collectively, we have a hundred direct customers including Denso Japan and East Japan Railway Company. We also have 20 internal customers within the NTT group, so it's a really strong partnership. We work closely together to build out our strategy for how we’re going to grow the business every year.

To build this level of trust our partners have tested our relationship. For example, for every big deal we do in Japan they will ask for an enhancement. They may not really need us to change our code, but they’re constantly testing the relationship, which doesn't happen anywhere else. They do this because they really take ownership of the end customer. They want to know that when it comes to the crunch, we're going to be there standing side by side, helping them to engage with their customers and be successful.  

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