Guess what? We finally closed the Japanese bank deal! It’s been a bumpy ride the past few months but on the bright side I’ve learned how to distinguish between about sixteen different types of hmmms.
Let me back up a little.
Prior to my first meeting with the bank’s executive team I sat down with my sales manager Tom to discuss our strategy. He explained that business was conducted differently in Eastern cultures than it was in Western cultures. In the first meeting, the initial focus is on establishing a relationship by understanding each other’s needs rather than simply discussing different products and services.
He also told me that when we exchanged business cards to make sure I took each business card with two hands and looked at it for a couple seconds before putting it away. Simply taking it and putting it away is considered disrespectful.
I felt pretty confident going into the first meeting but left feeling extremely frustrated because we barely got anything accomplished and I was sure they were not interested. But a few days later they set up an additional meeting so I guess they were.
Anyway, at one point during the second meeting, the CEO asked if our software could perform a specific function. I was getting ready to say no when Tom interjected saying that it would be very difficult but he would look into it. The rest of the meeting went this way and I was so confused. Every time a question was asked, the answer was either that is something we can accommodate or that will be very difficult.
What happened to a simple yes or no?
After the meeting, I asked Tom what was going on and he shed some light on the situation. Apparently, Japan is a very high context culture; answers are situational instead of explicit. Saving face in front of peers is extremely important and the word “no” is almost never used. It is better to use phrases like that will be difficult or we will have to think about it. Basically, how things were said was more important than what was said so I needed to pay more attention to how they were saying things.
It took a few more meetings but I finally was able to distinguish when my points were received favorably, when they were not interested (fyi “we’re considering it” means we’re not so move on), and when they simply needed a few moments for personal reflection. It was completely exhausting but we were finally able to tailor our offering to their needs and close the deal!