Many export managers have experienced over the years in which way Time, Quality, Reactivity and Service have another dimension or meaning in the Country of the Rising Sun.
The interest of Japan Success Stories lays in what they usually showcase, that is, Persistence and Concepts like “Getting to know your Client” or “Adapt and Change”, more than in the very results achieved. Cross-cultural Management Practices are very important when approaching Markets like Japan. However, in this article, we will rather focus on the business side of things.
Zoom on B2B Business
“The golden rule for every business man is this: Put yourself in your customer’s place.” (Orison Swett Marden)
Japanese Trading Companies and Japanese Banks gather a lot of information about Industry trends (domestic and overseas), about their clients, about their suppliers and about their business partners, among others. In a similar way, it is therefore important for foreign companies to gather information about B2B business in Japan, as well as to find out as much as possible about their professional Japanese clients.
Needless to say, using B2B Directory sites is a very first action to take. These sites are popular in Japan too, although Japanese companies tend to rely on off-line business networks to find partners. In addition, the Reconstruction Process in Tohoku region, as well as the governmental policy of Industrial Clusters nationwide also constitute potential sources of business opportunities.
Where to find B2B opportunities?
“Always deliver more than expected” (Larry Page)
– B2B Directory sites:
As a first stop, the JETRO website holds a very useful “Business Opportunities” section providing 3 types of databases: a Business Matching Database (TTPP or “Trade Tie-up Promotion Program”), an Online Trade Fair Database (J-Messe) and a Japanese Government Procurement database.
In parallel, Private Online B2B Marketplaces are essentially professional matchmakers helping businesses to find each other and providing an exchange where they can do business together in a professional way. New B2B sites emerge, others disappear. In the end, there are a couple of leading online exchanges in each category, as well as a few non-specialist general B2B exchanges.
– Public/Government tenders/contracts
Essential part of the opening of Japanese Public Markets to the world, more procurement information is available now in English. The JETRO website gathers government procurement information under two categories: National Government procurement notices and invitations, as well as, Local Government procurement information featuring a Search for 47 Prefectures and 20 Designated cities, plus, Links to 42 Core Cities and 40 Exceptional Cities.
However, as the huge amount of available information is translated from Japanese into English using a private automatic translation service, it might not always deliver accurate results.
– Clusters and Special Zones:
Among recent Incentives to attract foreign companies and investments in R&D facilities and Asian regional Headquarters, the Japanese government implemented in 2011 the Comprehensive Special Zone System (7 zones or clusters) with special regulatory measures and tax, financial and fiscal support measures as a comprehensive policy package.
In addition to these clusters, following the March 2011 devastating Earthquake in Tohoku region, the government created a Special Zone for Reconstruction, together with a new governmental agency (the Reconstruction Agency) with a view to promoting and coordinating all the reconstruction policies in an integrated manner, involving the (domestic and foreign) Private sector.
Recommendations for your B2B Marketing Mix in Japan
From the feedback obtained from many executives (analysis of over 50 EU success stories in Japan) and from our own experience, we propose the following:
– Product: Whenever necessary, Innovate, Develop a New Product from scratch, Redesign a Product, Adapt your Packaging, Integrate your Products with third party Products/Services, eventually fully Customize your Products in order to meet your customer needs! Constantly upgrade software, improve your productsand keep up with new trends. Provide a Japanese user interface as well as user manuals in Japanese. Go for Industrial projects with local partners.
– Place: Sales through a licence/partnership agreement or a Joint-Venture can ease the long product registration process in Japan or may allow to avoid the complex distribution system. Demanding technical (state-of-the-art technology) and service (24 hours a day, 7 days a week support) requirements fully justify local branch openings in order to support, as much as possible, in real time (without waiting for the reply from headquarters) Japanese customers in Japanese.
– Price: Higher product performances (or premium brands in case of cars) might justify premium pricing in Japan but it is usually advisable to go for a competitive pricing, relatively in line with market prices. Consulting fees, Maintenance fees, System Integration & Additional services might generate additional incomes. Check the competition and compare with your offer. What kind of products or services do they offer? Within which time frame (delivery times) and at what prices? What are their payment terms? The extent of your installation list in Japan (key reference projects) might impact your pricing policy. If you are new on the market, work with competitive pricing.
– Promotion: Especially for technical products, your company or your distributor have to run product demonstrations and technical seminars/workshops in order to show concretely what your (new) products can really do: specification sheets are not enough to sell! Organize regularly Open Door events, technical seminars & training workshops (preferably in Japanese). Support your clients and business allies with the necessary hardware for their shows. Attend key Trade shows and let your products be visible everywhere. Invite the Press, of course. “Successful Demos speak louder than words”. Invite your VIP clients to your Headquarters and escort them yourself! Advertise your company’s reference installations or projects in Japan and eventually worldwide.
Hoping this post has been helpful, I wish you the best in your “Japan Sales & Marketing process”. For questions, advice or enquiries, please feel free to contact me.