Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Marketing Versus Sales, Japan Style

There are several epic battles that endure the eons: good and evil, God and Satan, Marketing and Sales...

- The Window Manager 

If you think the battle between marketing and sales was tough, try making the salesforce Japanese and the factory Korean, and then you have a huge battle on your hands. There are several cultural issues going on in this scenario:
1. No Love Lost Between Japan and Korea - WWII was a long time ago. Today Japan and the U.S. are the best of friends although we carpet bombed their country, nuked two of their cities, and turned their God-Emperor into a symbolic figurehead. Since we were the winners, and the Japanese were pretty magnanimous in defeat, we are all friends today.

The same can't be said of some of the countries in the former Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere, especially those that lived through a brutal Japanese occupation. For example, Japanese businessmen to this day are sometimes refused service in Philippino establishments. And, except for China, no other country lived longer and more oppressed under Japanese occupation than Korea.

Now if you get Japanese and Korean business people into a room, everyone is smiles and handshakes. Everyone happily goes out in the evening together for soju or sake, or both. But just underneath those smiles there are attitudes still lingering from over half a century ago: The Japanese still have a feeling of superiority. The Koreans still have an attitude of dislike and distrust.

And these attitudes come out just beneath the surface in business dealings. I had my Japanese sales manager ask my Korean factory manager if the quality his customer was going to receive will be as good as if it were produced in a Japanese factory. I've subsequently got requests from this Japanese sales person to the Korea factory get "lost".

These little things add up, so the round-eye marketing guy has to step in and act as the buffer between the two. In this case I have put myself as a complete buffer between Japan and Korea, and now have everything running smoothly. In another, similar situation, I haven't yet been able to put myself completely in the middle, so things are still a little rocky.

Japanese Sales Philosophy - Non-Japanese companies who set-up local sales offices in Japan always end up asking the same question: Do our sales guys work for us, or the customer?

This is a completely different level than in the U.S. where your sales guy might ask the factory to lower the price, speed delivery, and other activities that "champion" his customer. In Japan you will face a complete lack of respect for the business needs of the parent company, and having your employee totally take the side of the customer.

I know of meetings where a company's own salesperson berated his visiting vice president to lower the price further after the VP and customer had already agreed on a price. I know of Japanese salespeople sending confidential pricing and cost information to their customers to give them an upper hand in dealing with the U.S. parent. I know of salespeople totally going against their company's best interest in order to "service the customer".

I am not alone in this observation. I've experienced it in two companies and have talked to a number of managers in other companies who have experienced the same thing. There are, of course, exceptions - I worked at a third company where our Japanese sales guy was totally awesome. But the Japanese salesperson problem is more common than not. If you berate them about it, they will say "You do not understand the Japanese way" (which is what I was told just last week).
What it means for the American marketing manager is that you really have to go in and control the situation, more or less micromanaging everything that is going on. It also means frequent visits to put yourself instead of the salesguy in front of the customer, which is why I get to go to the Land of the Rising Sun again in just a couple of weeks.
The Japanese Circle of Truth - I've already written on this.
But, in the end, I am still quite a Japanophile. My sales guys present me with problems that I have to fix, but on a personal level I like them and have a good time with them when I am over there. The country is fascinating and the food fantastic. So while they are a pain in the ass, at least they give me a chance to go over there and experience the country some more.

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