The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


How to Be Likeable and Trustworthy When Selling
The first six seconds decides everything

By Dr. Greg Story

It has always been astonishing to me how hopeless some salespeople are in this country.

Over the past 20 years, I have been through thousands of job interviews with salespeople. My company teaches selling techniques, so we see a broad gamut of salespeople coming through the door. We also buy services and products, and thus are on the receiving end of the (lack of a) sales process by salespeople.

On-the-job training is the main pedagogical system in Japan for training the new salesperson. This works well if your boss has a clue and knows about selling. But often, what you get is hand-me-down techniques that are ineffective. These techniques are then poorly executed in the hands of the newbies.

As consumers, we like to buy, but few of us want to be sold anything. We like to do business with people we like and trust. We will occasionally do business with people we don’t like and very, very rarely with people we don’t trust—but neither is our preference. The million-dollar question is, “What makes you likeable and trustworthy?”

Building rapport in the first meeting with a prospective client is critical for establishing likeability or trust. When you think about it, this is the same as in a job interview.

In both cases we enter an unfamiliar environment and greet strangers who are brimming over with doubt and skepticism. If a salesperson cannot handle a job interview and build rapport straight away, it is unlikely they are doing much better out in the field.

So, what needs to be done? First, pay attention to posture. Standing up straight communicates confidence.

Also, bowing from a half leaning posture, especially while still on the move, makes a person look weak and unconvincing. Walk in standing straight and tall, stop, and then bow or shake hands, depending on the circumstances.

If there is a handshake involved, drop the dead fish (weak) grasp and the double-hander (gripping the forearm with the other hand). The latter is the classic insincere politician special.

Some Japanese have become overly Westernized, in that they apply a bone-crushing grip. Teach your Japanese team how to shake hands properly. Overly weak or strong grips impinge on building that all-important first impression.

You only have a maximum of six seconds to get that first impression correct, so every second counts. When you first see the client, make eye contact. Don’t burn a hole in the person’s head, but hold eye contact at the start for around six seconds and smile.

This conveys consideration, reliability, and confidence—all attributes we seek in business partners. Combine this with a greeting and the usual pleasantries.

The next step is crucial. We segue into establishing rapport through initial light conversation. Japan has some fairly unremarkable fallbacks in this regard, usually remarks about the weather or the distance travelled to get to a meeting.

Also, be careful about commenting on a prominent feature of the surroundings. I was in a brand-new office the other day that has a really impressive moss wall in the lobby. My hosts have likely heard obvious comments about the moss wall from every visitor who has preceded me. Boring!

Teach your salespeople to say something unexpected, intelligent, and memorable. In the previous situation, try, “Have you found that team motivation has lifted since you moved to this impressive new office?”; or, “Have you found your brand equity with your clients has improved since moving here?” This gets the focus off you as the salesperson and on to the client and their business.

The very first seconds of meeting someone are vital to building the business relationship. Simple errors in posture, greetings and conversation can be our undoing. Let’s get the basics right to make sure that we totally own that first impression.



Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.