The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan



Salespeople Should Be Principled

By Dr. Greg Story

In 1936, an unknown author, despite many frustrating years of receiving rejections, finally managed to get his manuscript accepted by a major publishing house. That book became a classic in the pantheon of self-help texts: How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Surprisingly, many people in sales have still not read this work. Author Dale Carnegie’s aim was to help all of us deal better with each other, particularly in a business context.

He did this by laying down some principles, which will make us more successful in communicating with others, especially those who are very different from ourselves.

Salespeople should definitely be friendly. Ancient Chinese wisdom also notes, “A man who cannot smile should not open a shop.” Here are four principles for becoming friendlier with clients.

Become genuinely interested in other people
Our buyers are actually more interested in what we know about what they want, than in what we know about our product or service. A common mistake is becoming wrapped up in the features of our offering and losing focus on the buyer and what they want. It’s time to get busy really understanding our clients.

The key word in this principle is “genuine.” Having a correct kokorogamae, or true intention, means being honestly focused on understanding the client, to really serve them and build a partnership. We must be fully focused on their success, because wrapped up inside that outcome is our own success.

Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
Salespeople have a nasty habit of selective listening and selective conversation, focusing on their preferred topics. Their kokorogamae is centered on their interests, and the buyer’s interests are secondary.

Sales talk is a misnomer—there is no sales talk. There are well-designed questions and there are carefully crafted explanations for solution delivery, which are tightly tied to the buyer’s interests. Questions uncover interests, and with laser-beam focus, those interests should be the only topics of salespeople’s discussions.

Sounds simple, but salespeople love to talk. They love the sound of their own voice and they become deaf to the client, often without even realizing it.

Check yourself during your next client conversation. Imagine your words were recorded; would they fully address the buyer’s interests? If not, then stop blathering and start talking in those terms.

Japanese buyers are rarely uncomfortable with silence, so don’t feel pressured to fill the conversation gaps with nonsense!

Be a good listener. Encourage the other party to discuss themselves
Good listening means listening for what is not being said.

It means not pretending to be listening, while we secretly think of our soon-to-be-unveiled brilliant response. It means not getting sidetracked by a single piece of key information, but taking in the whole of what is being conveyed. It means listening with our eyes—reading the body language and checking it against all of the words being offered.

Talkative salespeople miss so much key client information and then are puzzled as to why they can’t be more successful in selling. The client doesn’t have the sales handbook, where the questioning sequences are nicely arranged for maximum efficiency.

Instead, the client conversation wanders all over the place, lurching from one topic to another, without compunction.

Actually, the above describes my own tendencies as a buyer. I have so many interests and will happily digress from the digressions of the digressions!

Well-designed questions from the salesperson keep the discussion on track and allow the client to speak about themselves at length. From the buyer’s comments we learn so much about their values, absolute must-haves, desirables, primary interests, and dominant buying motives.

Japanese buyers usually need a higher level of trust to be developed, before they consider opening up and talking about themselves. It is exceedingly rare to wrap up an agreement in Japan with just one meeting. So salespeople, play the long game here and don’t rush. In Japan, we are limbering up for a marathon, not a sprint.

Arouse an eager want in the other person
This principle is not manipulation by a huckster or carnival barker. This is how one becomes a great communicator, someone who can arouse passion and enthusiasm in others.

Sales is the transfer of enthusiasm, based on the salesperson’s belief in the “righteousness” of doing good, through supplying ethical offerings that really help the buyer and their business.

One of the biggest barriers to success in sales is client inertia. Clients keep doing what they have always done, in the same way, and get the same results. Our job is to shake up that equation and help them get a better result, through doing something new: buying our product or service.

We have to help them overcome their fears and persuade them to take action. In Japan there is a penalty for action if something fails, and less of a penalty associated with inaction, so the bias here is to do nothing.

Having a need and taking immediate action are not connected in the client’s mind, until we connect them. We have to fully explain the opportunity cost of not making a decision, taking action, or responding to our proposal.

We achieve all of this by using well thought-out questions, which lead the buyer to draw the same conclusion that we have come to—that our offering is what they need and that they need it right now. This Socratic method of asking questions works because it helps clarify the buyer’s own thinking.

Most salespeople don’t ask enough questions, because they are too busy talking about features. We can arouse an eager want if we frame the questions well.

These principles are universal and timeless, and by adopting them we can become more effective in dealing with buyers.



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


Well-designed questions . . . keep the discussion on track and allow the client to speak about themselves at length.