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B2B in Japan: 9 Tips for Successful Communication & Partnership

80 Level Research team seeks to explore the best practices in Japanese B2B that would help you develop trusted relationships with partners and improve its market reputation.

Quality is a religion.

  • Quality is the most important indicator of a product or service. 
  • The Japanese are proud of the high-quality work they do. Work is considered one of the most important things in life.
  • The Japanese believe that a certain price should be equal to the quality of a product or service. 

Provide successful cases and ready-made scenarios

  • Japanese will only accept foreign things if they're very highly valued and accredited. Mention the awards your company has won and get testimonials from renowned professionals in the field.
  • Point out the uniqueness and competitiveness of pitched products or services.
  • Showing past cases is important: Mention similar experiences that you and your company had.

Understand that building connections and negotiations takes time

  • Japanese are very cautious with new people. It takes a long time to earn trust and build up working relationships. 
  • It’s a common experience for foreigners to feel like they’ve grown close to someone only to discover that Japanese don’t feel the same, and there is actually an insurmountable gap.
  • The negotiation process is very long and difficult. Many people from Japanese companies are involved, and all of them have to come to an agreement. A reply to an email can take weeks.

Slowly but surely

  • Japanese tend to work slowly, which has to be considered when setting deadlines. Things will take much more time than in the West or other Asian countries.
  • All processes in Japanese companies are very methodical and analytical. The planning is also meticulous. Japanese thoroughly follow rules, manuals, and established procedures. 
  • Everything has to be strictly monitored. There’s an entire system of checks on every organizational level.
  • Time isn’t a priority. Nothing will be released until it meets the highest quality standards and company’s goals.

Waterfall rather than Agile

  • Japanese are inclined to use the Waterfall project management approach rather than Agile. Project steps are approached in a sequential fashion, completing one task before beginning the next. One thing at a time. The emphasis is on promptness and good organization over flexibility.

Keep your distance

  • Traditionally, Japanese organizations have a fixed hierarchical, multilayered structure, where the ideal distance between a boss and a subordinate is high. 
  • In Japan, top-down management and top-down production are most common. The system is nowhere near as flat as it can be in the West. 

Speak with the right people 

  • Find a keyman to address: Dive into the decision-making processes in the industry and identify people’s areas of expertise and their position in the company's hierarchy.
  • A common mistake is trying to ignore the chain of command, so to speak, and directly communicating with people in the wrong order. 

Show respect to those “above you”

  • You shouldn’t forget to be especially respectful when talking to people “above you”: Consider their seniority, age, years at the company, their control over budgets, and people with different values. 
  • A successful way to interact with people is by being incredibly formal. 
  • In office conference rooms, people take seats depending on their status. The closer to the door, the lower the status.
  • Avoid speaking negatively and having any prejudice towards Japan, even in a light conversation. Concepts that align with Western ideals don’t necessarily align with Japanese ideals.

In order to see all 9 tips to be successful in Japan:

  1. Now You’re Talking!
  2. It’s All About Connections
  3. Trust Is the Key To Strong Long-term Relationships
  4. Drop the “Know-it-All” Attitude
  5. One Misstep and the Game Is Over
  6. Bonus Tips about Culture Peculiarities in Japan

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