The way that people do business in Japan has radically changed as a result of COVID-19. Historically, the Japanese have been very much about face to face relationship selling where you establish relationships and build trust but now everything has to be done remotely or online. Like everyone else, the Japanese are really keen to keep doing business so they've actually embraced the remote way of doing things which has been quite interesting to watch and had some unexpected benefits.
One of the big differences in doing business in Japan, compared to western countries like the US or Australia, is the emphasis on relationships. We have a sales office in Japan that is predominantly a channel business so relationships are critical. We spend a lot of time establishing trust and that takes time and often involves a lot of travel - once I flew all the way to Japan for a half-hour meeting because people expect that you will take the time to see them. This makes the cost of sale in Japan incredibly high.
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Business (not) as usual
Now with COVID-19 people are spending less time traveling in Japan and they’re far more productive in terms of their allocation of time. Things just get done a lot faster and they’re finding new ways of doing things.
When you go to the office in Japan face to face you meet the whole team and speak to everyone. But not everyone speaks English so now over Zoom we’re speaking to only a small group of individuals. We’ve also seen not just meetings but things like training move online. Historically, we’ve done training face to face but online is far more effective and efficient.
How we’re adapting
While the Japanese appear to have adapted well to working remotely, at the same time there are certain things about doing business there that I don’t think will change. They still love talking to people face to face so we’ve had to try new ways to have social interactions. Yugo Hayashi runs our sales office in Japan and we did a virtual cook together recently where we actually cooked dinner and ate together over Zoom.
As we move forward, certainly until it's easy to travel between Australia and Japan, we’ll continue to find new ways to embrace our Japanese colleague’s desire and need for relationships. For example, we’re planning on organizing a virtual dinner with some of our Japanese partners when the restaurants open up there so they can at least go out to dinner while I join virtually. We’re also looking at more ways we can establish, build and grow relationships remotely because I think that will always be important to the Japanese.
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