When business starts? With an official contract? Probably beforehand, the business relationship would already start when you meet your clients and start your conversation with him/ her. Verbally or nonverbally, the impression what you give to your client’s heavy influence your business result. Especially Japanese business culture, known as more human-oriented culture, may often be reflection on the individual behaviors in the meeting.
Even if your company sell excellent products, if you are not trustworthy, your Japanese clients will never buy from you. This human-oriented culture require you proper behavior when you having a meeting with them, especially for the first meeting.
Business meeting with Japanese clients
As well as other countries, when having a business meeting in Japan, to strike the right balance between formal and informal is important. That means, you don’t need to be super formal without any smile and fixed in the chair like a robot, but you shouldn’t be too much relaxed and easy-going.
To which extend you have to be formal/ informal would be gradually experienced when you have many times meeting with Japanese clients, but here I would list 5 important tips to avoid any cultural confliction.
Above all, to give a good impression, being punctual is the most important start of your business meeting. I’ve worked in Japan and Germany, and I feel that in Japan the punctuality is more tightly required when it comes to business meeting.
However, when you visit your clients for the first time, it may be possible you are not able to reach on time due to the delayed train (it’s rarely though) or losing your way. In that case, what you have to do is to call your clients once you realize you cannot be there on time, even it is few minutes delay. Thus, before having meeting, I recommend you keep the phone-number so that you can call in case you care delayed.
Punctual in this sense means, 5 minutes before than the scheduled time would be perfect. For example, if you have arranged your appointment at 15:00, it’s better to be there around 14:55.
Exchanging your business card
Depending on the situation, but you may mostly be welcomed by your clients. If it’s your first meeting, it’s common to exchange business-card at site. But if the person in charge has experience working with foreigners, it may be allowed to start with shake-hand.
Business-card is regarded as your double, it represents whole your status in the Japanese society, so you must not treat is as a shit, it should be treated carefully and respectfully as if it’s an antique.
Self-Introduction/ small talk
It’s common in Japan to talk private stuffs before getting to start the business (but some people prefer commercial way without any private conversation). Thus, first few minutes would be spent to understand each other, it may become a fundament of your relationship in-between,
What you have to include in your introduction is, for example, just easy explanation of yourself, as such position, work experience, location. It would be nice when you stayed at hotel last night and eat something local meal, and then compliment of that, since many of Japanese are proud of their home city or where they live.
Conduct research in advance
Before having meeting, it is strongly recommended to conduct a research on the company’s history. Many Japanese employers respect their own corporate history be proud of that. It might be highly possible that your clients talk about his company, and then you can say “Ah I see, I saw the info in the website before coming here, I really respect your old company’s history!”
Send an Email after meeting
When finished meeting, you have one more thing to do. You have to send an email to express your gratitude for today’s meeting immediately (in case you have a dinner with your clients, it’s same).
It doesn’t need to be complex mail with 1000 words, but just like a simple expression like “thank you for our conversation today” would be enough.
By the way, we have made a video showing some stereotypes of bad behavior done by bosses in Japan. If you are unlucky, your boss might behave like this. Clients should be nicer to you because it is an external communication. However, if their positions are stronger than you (customer), you might meet such persons also on external occasions.