Four Pitfalls Japanese Firms Face on U.S. Visits (and How to Avoid Them)

Japanese companies love to send staff overseas to scout out new opportunities. Unfortunately, however, these visits aren't always as effective as they could be. Here are four common pitfalls that can trip up Japanese visitors to the U.S., along with some tips on how to avoid them.

Pitfall #1: Leaving the U.S. company wondering "what was that all about?" A first visit starts with an introductory meeting. For Japanese companies, this needs no explanation: it's a chance for two companies to meet each other and an essential first step toward building a long-term relationship.

American executives, in contrast, often come away from a first meeting with a Japanese company shaking their heads. They expect the visitor to explain what they are selling or buying, and can't imagine that people would come all the way from Japan only to view each other's corporate presentations.

To make these meetings more useful, Japanese companies should clearly explain their objectives – even if it's just to get to know each other.

Pitfall #2: Focusing on "who" instead of "what." As a country, Japan is deeply oriented to group affiliations and hierarchy. An introduction is all about the company's reputation, the individual's title, and the relationships they have. Furthermore, Japanese executives are often reluctant to talk about themselves and their past success.

American executives want to know "what you can do for me." Many times, they have little to no knowledge of the Japanese company's reputation, and they may even fail to note a visitor's title. Instead, they want to hear what the visitor can offer – along with evidence they can deliver. The Japanese team will strengthen their pitch if they come prepared to talk about how they've worked with other U.S. companies and what they accomplished together.

Pitfall #3: Fulfilling Japanese needs that in a way that undermines Americans' trust. Japanese companies go to great lengths to build relationships of trust. Unfortunately, however, some of their efforts unintentionally undermine the trust of their potential U.S. partners.

Japanese companies often request reams of confidential information. And, in spite of being sticklers about non-disclosure agreements, they tend to share little information from their side – even when that information would help the relationship.

American executives often understand little about the Japanese market (and may not be very curious – although that's a different issue!). They also may harbor secret fears that the Japanese company is merely trying to copy their technology.

Although these differences are rooted in culture, Japanese companies can help build trust by sharing data about the Japanese market, and by explaining their motivations when asking for additional information.

Pitfall #4: Poor follow-up. We could probably all improve on this one. However, I've talked to many U.S. executives who have been left hanging by a Japanese partner, even after a relatively long series of meetings and detailed sharing of information.

My suggestion to Japanese and U.S. companies alike is to follow up quickly and honestly – especially when the opportunity has been put on hold. It will leave both sides in a better position to reconnect when the Japanese company wants to arrange another visit… which they almost certainly will.

Return to Resources