But then, you heard that entering the Japanese market is difficult – or even impossible. One mountain is just too high to climb.
It can be difficult. Impossible? I ask not to agree. My experience proves the opposite. Yes, even when there is a local competitor rooted, you can still make hacks in Japan. But doing so requires the right organizational strategy, a little patience, and not a lack of determination.
And you also need to avoid the following four traps.
Trap # 1: In Japan, local presence is so important – but there are many ways to achieve it
Any “showcase” in Japan is a must
In my first job after completing my MBA, I visited a Japanese prospect in the automotive field. This company is internationally recognized and is used to conducting business around the world.
We competed against a Japanese company to profit the business of the potential customer. We had one winning card up our sleeves: our price was less than 50% of the competition. When we unveiled the pricing, the customer’s jaws fell to the floor. “This?!?” – That’s what they said (but then in Japanese).
A customer with international knowledge plus an unbeatable price should be a winning combination in any country, right?
Well, We’ve still lost this business!
Why? Because their next question was about the quality of local service. Our division did not have a local office. However, we had a contract with another division that had a Japanese representative and could guarantee service on our products.
Still, it is not considered good enough.
Look, Japanese businesses, large and small, are usually proud of the quality of their wares. They demand such a level of dedication from their suppliers. Therefore, more payment may be acceptable if it guarantees a high level of dedication.
Thus, a Japanese competitor usually has a built-in advantage. Customers know they Know what they will expect.
Now, as a foreign software company, does that mean you have to invest a lot of money in advance to open a large Japanese office before you make a foray into Japan? No. There are cheaper alternatives.
The first is to have a local partner. There are several such in the market. But just appointing a marketer and expecting them to do all the heavy tasks for you may not do the job. Look, Japanese customers understand that the distributor will not do this all The support they will need. They may also be concerned that your company will ignore their contribution to future product development.
So you want to visit customers with the distributor regularly. I call it that Shows the flag And discover that it is critical to ensure that things are done. But this is just the beginning to succeed with marketers – simple Read my article On the subject.
Can’t find what you’re looking for among distributors? Even a skeleton team with the right people can work wonders. I did this in my previous role with just the right kind of person – a Japanese with an attitude can do, talent to break into the product and provide solutions, and the right degree of resilience to succeed. He turned out to be a fantastic partner, and together we built a solid foundation for our Japan presence.
Whatever your strategy, plan to keep your word. Show your Japanese customers that they can trust you Understanding.
Trap # 2: “Documentation Is Not That Important” – When You’re in Japan, Think Again!
Provide clarity about what your software does and how to use it
During my many travels around our wondrous world, I have discovered that the following are constant: When presented with a new software tool, the first inclination of man is usually Just try it.
Tell me about the skills of that school. I usually open the box or download the installer, then continue to use the software. If I’m lost, Then Maybe I’ll try to look for the documentation.
It is so common that some well-known customer products do not even bother to send a user manual anymore.
Well, in Japan things are different. Many engineers will first take the time to read the manual before They start using the software. Yes, there are those who will read it in its entirety.
Oh, and something else. Many in Japan feel that their command of English is insufficient to understand user guides. As a result, even computer scientists will regularly claim for a written guide in Japanese.
And remember what I mentioned in the previous section about the value of the service: they will expect the translation to be excellent. So forget about automatic translations or even professional translations from people who do not have a decent level of technical knowledge.
Now, for some it may seem like an insurmountable challenge. It can really turn out to be expensive. But there are strategies for lowering the entry price.
A member of my team and I have done the past analysis of the guides we had on hand Prioritize them.
Translating the complete 800-page guide that explains all the bells and whistles? Indeed, time consuming! Starting with the “Getting Started” document? Much much more doable.
Some good distributors will even do it for you. If you have local engineers on the team, they may be able to do this in a similar way. After all, when you start operations somewhere, you always have to wear some hats.
Of course, customers will continue to request additional documentation that will be translated over time. But in my experience, quantity and schedule are often negotiable, and over time it is possible to increase the diversity and quality of documentation as local sales increase. This is an effective way to manage barriers to entry.
Trap # 3: Do not handle the language barrier in Japan
Japanese customers in the software industry are not just asking for documentation, of course. They run their entire business in Japanese – sometimes, even with foreigners.
This may come as a bit of a surprise because English is very Common language Of the software industry. You can usually achieve by speaking English only with customers in many countries around the world. But anyone who has ever visited Japan will confirm that things there can be completely different.
why is it? Essentially, learning a foreign language is always easier if your destination is close to your native language. For example, English and French share many words. They use a similar sentence structure, i.e. subject-verb-object. They also share the same alphabet, minus some diacritics.
The Japanese use two groups of alphabet-like symbols (more accurately described as syllables) While Still sprinkle a fair dose of Kenjim– Icons expressing ideas (and initially imported from China). And although the Japanese have chosen to import many words phonetically from English and other European languages, the pronunciation can be significantly different.
Oh, and the verb goes At the end of the sentence!
It’s complicated. I know. I am a student of the Japanese language. It takes a lot of practice – and a lot of “CPU cycles” – to reverse the word order before saying a sentence!
This has significant implications for both external and internal stakeholders. For example, suppose your company sells a unit testing tool. You want prospects to find you, so you fund a keyword search that targets Japan. However, sponsoring “unit tests” may not yield much in terms of leads. If prospects type ユ ニ ッ ト テ ス ス ト or 単 体 テ ス ト in their search window, you’re probably unlucky.
So, do you need a Japanese website? Probably.
However, it will help if you do not forget the effect of the language barrier you may have inward. For example, communicating with your local employees can sometimes be just as challenging. As a result, they may feel that you do not fully understand their situation.
You may not be able to grasp some of the clues they provide because of cultural differences. For example, Japanese business speech tends to be very formal, very polite, and for those accustomed to a much more direct speaking style, this can create confusion. For a funny example, watch my video above.
Just like Shows the flag It is an effective strategy for building your local presence (see the first part of this article), it can also be an excellent lubricant for your relationship with the remote office in Japan (or the distributor). In my experience, there are many things that may become clear to managers only after talking face-to-face with remote employees.
Trap # 4 Ignoring the local culture in Japan may cost you (but a slight appeal may pay off)
As I explained earlier, business relationships in Japan tend to be very formal. When you enter a conference room to meet people for the first time, you are likely to walk around the room in a certain order. You first meet the senior (and yes, sometimes you have to guess who it is). You then present your business card with both hands, with the address facing your counterpart. Then, pronounce a few words to introduce yourself (bonus points if done in Japanese), and bow down. Repeat this for other participants.
The Japanese language reflects this. This includes keigo (敬 語), a complete system of combinations of special verbs, special verbs and other linguistic instruments designed to give due respect and show respect towards those “in charge of you”. These will include your customers.
Have you ever wondered about the long talk that waiters in restaurants accent when you walk into a place? Yes, that is keigo also.
You ignore manners for your own danger. If a prospect concludes that you are not giving enough respect, he or she may conclude that you will not be a reliable business partner. Pure and simple.
Fortunately, you have a simple way to prepare: do your research. You might even learn the local language a bit. After all, doing business is building trust, which requires breaking the ice.
However, there is no need to be perfect. First, usually the Japanese do not expect perfection from you. You’re a stranger, after all. Baside that, keigo It’s hard even for the Japanese to control!
There are even cases where you enjoy the extra space tin Play in your favor.
For example, a few years ago, I visited our prospect. A competitor (also a foreign company) has visited them in the past and claimed that only their tool can be used for a certain level of certification because they have a feature that we are missing.
That was not true. We have been used successfully at this level of certification by other clients. And this competitor probably knew it, because I’ve seen this “fact” repeated by many customers in Asia.
However, when you tried to align the documentation, many customers saw my answers with suspicion. “You say that because you do not have that feature.”
Usually, I keep my cool all the time, especially in Japan. But on that occasion I allowed myself, consciously, to express annoyance. Stimulation because it was not accurate. Annoyed that in my opinion it was a disrespect For the customer.
The customer intervened: “Maybe they just did not know.”
I told him they probably know better. And I suggested he contact my clients who would confirm what I said.
This is definitely not what you can expect from your typical Japanese businessman. And the truth is, expressing anger is usually a risky strategy. But in my opinion, the circumstances justify it. As a stranger, I enjoyed a little more room for maneuver.
The result? We landed this deal.
So, by all means, learn and respect the local culture. The more you know, the better off you will be. But understand that your status as a non-native does not only entail disadvantages. Sometimes it can play in your favor.
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