I need to understand more about cultural differences in doing business with Japan
April 20, 2011 1:58 PM Subscribe
I need to understand the Japanese cultural importance of "saving face" with respect to business, and how I can make myself less frustrated with an ongoing business negotiation I'm involved in.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
My company -- a small, private high-tech firm in the US -- is bidding on a project for a Japanese government agency, via our sales representatives in Japan (a small private firm). My company has just recently started doing business in Asia and we are aware that there are cultural sensitivities that we need to take into account when doing business there as opposed to the Western nations we've worked in historically. And we're all making a good effort to do that.
However, this current project is driving me insane. We are at the point where the end customer is still deciding what its requirements are, and we have the opportunity to provide feedback on their current requirements set (again, via our Japanese representatives). I am the lead engineer, so I have pointed out to our sales lead (a man here in the US, who is the interface to our Japanese representatives and ultimately to the end customer) numerous requirements that I think are ill-conceived that I believe stem from a lack of understanding of our technology (we are in a relatively new sector). However, every time I point something like this out -- say, that the customer is requesting model X, whereas I think model Y better suits what they need and they only requested X because they don't quite understand yet how they actually want to use it -- I am repeatedly shot down by our sales lead, who insists that we may not under any circumstances imply that the customer should ask for something else, and once they say "I want X" we must give them X, even if it is a technical nightmare for us.
I don't doubt that if we tell the customer we think they want something different, there are sensitive ways to do it. I'm sure "you don't understand what you need" isn't going to fly. But I honestly can't comprehend how we can reasonably do business without being able to push back on anything that's unreasonable.
But I have no sanity check for this. The sales lead is the only one in our company who has experience doing business in Asia, and so he is looked to as the expert on the cultural interactions. However, he will often make somewhat racist comments and jokes to prove his point, so I have a hard time separating what business practices stem from legitimate cultural differences versus his stereotypes about the Japanese.
So help me out here. Either those of you in Japan who do business with the US or other Western countries, or those of you who do business with Japan regularly: am I actually really out of line here? Is it true that we can't push back, and we have to just agree to unreasonable sets of requirements that will be almost impossible to execute on? If so, if I am the project manager for this contract if we get it, what can I expect as far as further interaction with our customers as we run into technical roadblocks and potentially unmet requirements along the way? (Do I just have to suck it up and lose face on behalf of my company?) And if not, if it doesn't actually have to be this way, what can I use to convince the sales guy that we *do* have a leg to stand on and we *can* ask them to change a specification without anyone looking bad?