The customer is kamisama (God) in sales. We hear this a lot in Japan, across all industries and sectors. Sometimes, however, the buyer can be more like an oni (devil) when they deal with salespeople. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour regardless of the source, but when you are trying to sell your product or service to a company, do you have to put up with it?
Unless you are in a very small market segment, where there are only a limited number of buyers, then, as salespeople, we have choices. If the former is the case, I suggest changing industries and getting out of that negative environment of bad behaviour. If you know what you are doing, you can probably work in almost any business.
The worst sales environment in Japan is the pharmaceutical industry—selling to doctors. Japanese medical practitioners tend to consider themselves vastly superior to everyone else, from patients to those considered at the bottom of the pile—drug salespeople. Being forced to wait around for hours, being spoken to like dirt, fawning over the doctors and arranging all types of incentives to get them to buy, even cleaning their car, has been reality for decades.
A conflict of interest has emerged recently. There are many more restrictions now on entertaining doctors. The incentives are being restricted and the salesperson doesn’t have much in the way of ame (sweets) to offer anymore. However, they still get plenty of muchi (whip) from the buyer.
What often surprises me about HR people in Japan is how they run their own show, regardless of what the president may want. Recently, I had lunch with the president of a multi-national firm. Afterwards, as promised, the president sent an email to the HR person instructing them to meet me to discuss training for their firm.
I followed up with the HR person many times, but never got an answer. It has become obvious they don’t care what the president said; we are not going to fit into their plan.
Another annoying activity is being asked to spend time to quote a product or service, when the firm has no intention to buy from you. This is often driven by internal compliance regulations that require three quotes.
Recently we were contacted by a large firm requesting a quote for a particular piece of training. Efforts to meet the client to discuss the needs and so on were rebuffed because they said they were too busy. We were instructed to just send the quote; it will be fine. This is a tricky one, because you don’t know if you are being taken advantage of or if they are, in fact, so busy, hence why they need your help.
Who are we dealing with—time wasters or genuine buyers? If they are really interested, then they will respond with either more questions or an order. If stony silence is all we get, we know we have been royally used to assist a competitor’s sales effort.
In another case, the president concerned, a graduate of our programme, told his HR director to get us to quote for some training. This was exciting; you think, “This is looking good”. In this example, I actually got to meet the HR people and their internal client. I followed up to present the proposal to them. They said, “No, we are very busy, just send it”. This was a warning signal. I pushed back saying, “actually I need to explain it for you”. I got further stalling: “No, just send it”.
What looked like an inside track to a positive decision got derailed when the internal buying entity flexed its muscle to show its independence. There was no response from their side, so again we are taken advantage of.
Accept that sometimes you will get played by the buyer, but keep a record of the incident. As the old saying goes, “fool me once it’s your fault, fool me twice it’s my fault”.