In my consulting practice I often hear from clients that it is very difficult to deal with Japanese companies at international trade fairs. Their major concern is the fact that the visit ends after a polite and informative conversation, but without any commitment. What can be frustrating for the Western business person to understand is that in Japan, trade fairs do not play the same role as they do in Europe or other markets. Rather, they have an informational purpose and are used to set up an initial contact, they are without a pressing need to negotiate or even conclude business directly at the fair. Therefore, closing deals at trade fairs in Japan is an exception.
It is also quite surprising for visitors from abroad that Japanese trade fairs are sometimes completely focused on Japan and not very familiar with international clients and participants. However, you should not hastily reject the opportunities that communication with Japanese companies at trade fairs could offer your business. There is a great number of leading international trade fairs established in a great variety of industries in Japan which deserve consideration for your schedule. To mention just some of them: For the automotive industry there is the Tokyo Motor Show, semiconductors are covered by Semicon, CEATEC is focused on consumer electronics, and JIMTOF specializes in machine tools.
In addition to this you can meet more and more companies from Japan at major trade events internationally and in your country. You may be surprised to find not only the big players from Japan, but also a variety of committed and capable small and medium enterprises who might be offering the exact opportunities you are looking for.
Japan is known for innovations and setting global trends, especially in the field of technology. Therefore, Japanese companies exhibiting in your country should be of interest if you are at the leading edge in a field or want to get there. Especially if you are in the field of future technologies such as nanotechnology, robotics, energy and environmental technology, you should at least have one eye on potential partners from Japan.
Presenting at and visiting specialist trade fairs is a proven way to make an impression and establish business contacts with potential international partners. However, trade shows in Japan sometimes follow different rules from those with which you may be familiar with in Europe, and Japanese exhibitors in your country might also not be aware of the differences. Therefore careful preparation and selection of the show, as well as the businesses you want to engage with is crucial in dealing with Japanese companies in trade shows.
If you are inexperienced and unprepared it might easily happen that you will not get the expected results from your interaction with Japanese companies. However, it would be a mistake to give up on a potentially profitable business at an early stage just because you are not familiar with the rules of the game.
In this article I give you some advice and insider tips to avoid the most common pitfalls and beginner’s mistakes when interacting with Japanese companies at trade fairs to help you to get started successfully with your Japan related projects.
There are some very simple guidelines that you can follow to create lasting and mutually profitable connections with Japanese businesses that will help build trust and inspire engagement
Dealing with Japanese companies can be difficult. They have a unique culture, that has evolved into a homogeneous society with the world outlook of an island nation, separated from the rest of the world for many years in history. This means communication can be very complex and it is likely quite hard to achieve trust and deeper levels of engagement. Therefore it is crucial to prepare yourself and learn about these communication issues and show the required cultural awareness.
Another important step of preparation is to make contacts before the show and to issue specific invitations to potential clients or partners, and it is at least equally important to have an appropriate follow-up.
Japanese companies are generally more risk averse than their western counterparts. As a rule Japanese business people are working hard to avoid uncertainty or risk, and there is a general tendency among them and even consumers to prefer risk mitigation over potential future rewards.
For that reason it is of great importance that you communicate statements that underline your commitment to your potential business partner. Staff from all levels of hierarchy in the company are more likely to engage with you once they believe you are committed for the long term, and after they are assured your relationship with them will be harmonious and fair.
Japanese business partners are particularly interested in your long term plans and reputation in dealing with other partners from Japan. For that reason it can be helpful to consider highlighting any partnerships you have formed with reputable, well-known Japanese companies. It may also be an advantage if you already have investments or a local office in Japan.
It is also important to know that Japanese audiences generally prefer to receive different types of information, and to be aware of of the way in which Japanese companies communicate.
Do not only rely on impressive marketing efforts such as a big trade show presence to make the right people aware of your products. It might also be possible that your brand is not recognized, even if you are an industry leader in your home market.
Japanese people are generally quite detail oriented, preferring content based on data. Japanese corporate and product communications are usually more detailed than their Western counterparts. In addition, you have to be aware that they are generally risk averse and that Japan has experienced more than two decades of economic plateauing, which contributes to even more skepticism.
This means that Japanese companies are not easily convinced by big marketing claims without much substance. Therefore, you should provide as much proof as possible to support your claims about quality, safety, popularity, etc. Your reliability will be part of the foundation of a relationship with any Japanese company.
Although preparation and cultural awareness are essential, you also have to be careful not to overdo it and lose your distinctive advantages as a foreign company. Don’t become too Japanese.
Japanese companies realize that their slow decision-making and other features of Japanese business culture can be a problem, they also understand that they should be acting faster. Especially with the increase of competition from China and South Korea in the past decade, which has highlighted this painfully. Japan’s corporate culture is responding and adapting to this new reality. However there is still a long way to go, and a committed international partner could be a valuable asset for any Japanese company that is trying to improve.
Japanese companies are looking for positive differences in an international partner. They might feel motivated by positive and hopeful messages that might counterbalance with their tendency for risk aversion. This may present an opportunity for your company to attract and engage Japanese partners simply by being a source of outside optimism about Japan.
If you are interested in a long-term partnership with a Japanese company, it is important to recognize and embrace the role you can play in helping it progress. As a partner, you can help define and shape a brighter future for the company and Japan in general, it can also be a great advantage to communicate this appropriately.
Make sure you also highlight your overall vision and maintain a positive outlook. Share that positive vision with your partner and show them how cooperation can lead to a brighter future for both companies.