The Secret to Better Introductions with Japanese Clients
You know how to bow. You are adept at one-on-one business card exchange. You're feeling ready to expand your Japanese business etiquette.
In this new article series, we look at Japanese business manners that aren't as obvious as bowing or business cards.
Today, we're covering the secret to better introductions with Japanese clients. Master these moves, just in time to impress for your next big pitch meeting.
A step-by-step guide to introducing yourself to Japanese clients
When you arrive at a prospective Japanese client's company, how do introductions unfold?
Japanese business protocol dictates that the visiting/sales party initiates greetings, introductions, and business card exchanges—and within the visiting party, the senior executive goes first.
Therefore, if you are trying to secure the business/patronage of the other party, you should be the one to introduce yourself first.
According to Nishide Hiroko, a business management consultant, from her book on Japanese business manners, what follows is the generally accepted protocol to introducing yourself (and your team) to your clients during your first face-to-face meeting.
Scenario: You (the senior executive) are meeting with a Japanese CEO to present your pitch. An interpreter and a subordinate in your company are accompanying you to the prospective client's company, where the meeting will take place. On the client-side, the Japanese CEO will be joined by 2 subordinates.
Step 1. The person on your team to speak first should be the person the client's company has—up until this moment—had communication with. In your case, perhaps it was your interpreter or assistant who set up the meeting.
Step 2. The interpreter/assistant will introduce you/the senior executive to the Japanese CEO/or the senior executive on the client-side.
Step 3. You/the senior executive will introduce yourself and exchange business cards with the Japanese CEO/senior executive on the client-side.
Step 4. Then you will introduce yourself and exchange business cards with the client's subordinates in order of rank. (See our bonus section below for how to deal with many business cards at one time.)
Step 5. Next, your subordinate will introduce himself, first exchanging business cards with the Japanese CEO/senior executive on the client-side. And then, in consecutive order of rank, your subordinate will exchange business cards with each of the remaining members on the client-side.
(Video: At 3:02 in the graphic illustration, the businessmen at the head of both lines are the senior executives, followed by their subordinates in order of rank.)
On the flip side, if you are receiving Japanese visitors who are looking to obtain your business, the senior executive on their sales team will introduce themselves first to you (or whoever is the senior executive on your team) with the exchange of business cards and then to your subordinates in consecutive order of rank.
Once you get this format for introducing yourself to Japanese clients, it will feel like second nature, and after going through this once or twice in real life, you will probably not have to think of this step-by-step again.
Occasionally, circumstances will throw a wrench into this established introduction order but knowing the correct protocol will keep those instances to a minimum.
Bonus: How to smoothly receive multiple business cards at once
Exchanging business cards with one individual is relatively straightforward. And we assume you've mastered this move.
But when a business situation forces you to accept multiple business cards at once, things can get complicated. Placing anything on top of a business card is considered disrespectful, so what do you do when you've received one card and yet there are more to come?
When there are many individuals to exchange cards with, you will want to master the following steps:
Step 1. Accept Person 1's business card, receiving it on the top of your business card holder momentarily, saying chyoudai itashimasu and bowing respectfully, pausing a little before moving to the next person (don’t rush!).
Step 2. As you move to the next person to be introduced, place Person 1's business card behind your business card holder, making room to receive Person 2's business card respectfully.
(Video: Start at 4:27 to see a visual of how this unfolds.)
Step 3. Accept Person 2's business card, receiving it on the top of your business card holder momentarily, saying chyoudai itashimasu and bowing respectfully before moving to the next person.
Step 4. As you move to the next person to be introduced, place Person 2's business card behind Person 1's business card (behind your business card holder), making room to receive Person 3's business card respectfully.
Step 5. Accept Person 3's business card, receiving it on the top of your business card holder momentarily, saying chyoudai itashimasu and bowing respectfully before moving to the next person.
Step 6. Place Person 3's business card behind Person 2's business card (behind your business card holder).
Step 7. Deftly bring the stack of business cards that were behind your business card holder back to rest—once again—on the top of your business card holder—revealing Person 1's business card at the top of the stack of business cards. (Person 1 = the senior executive.)
Step 8. At this point, you will likely take seats. If there is a conference table, you can place the business cards on the table in front of you, mirroring the clients' seating order, with Person 1's card (senior executive) resting on your business card holder.
Placing the cards on the table in front of you is standard for business meetings in Japan; it allows you to refer to the cards to avoid forgetting names. However, if you aren't sure about seniority, even after introductions, seating protocol might clue you in, which we will get to in an upcoming article. If the rank is still unclear, then place each card on the table in front of you, without resting any single card on top of your business card holder.
If any of this feels confusing to you, just remember you are not alone in that feeling. As we published in an article previously, approx. 40.4% of the Japanese respondents were not so confident in their business etiquette, and 9.8% said they were not confident at all.
We hope it's somewhat comforting to know that even Japanese have trouble with Japanese business manners. And an easy way to ensure you always make the best impression is to use customer service professionals to help you build lasting customer relationships in Japan.
Stay tuned for future articles on business manners that will help you go beyond bowing and business cards to win at capturing the attention of your Japanese customers—the right way!
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