“There is a chronically low level of understanding of professional sales training in Japan”

Sales master

Helping to transform Japan’s workforce

 


Text by Gavin Blair / Photos by Kageaki Smith


Most people reach an age, goal or position in life where they feel they’ve achieved enough and can ease up a little and enjoy the fruits of their labour. But despite being at an age where many choose to retire, and with an impressive array of accomplishments already behind him, Dr Greg Story is showing no sign of slowing down.

President of Dale Carnegie Training Japan since 2010, the Brisbane, Australia-born Story has spent a total of 31 years in his adopted home. He first set foot in Japan in 1979, “when Tokyo Tower was the tallest building”, on an education ministry scholarship to study Japanese at Sophia University. Story also used the opportunity to further his studies of the Shito-ryu Karate he had started practicing as a 17-year-old in Australia.

“The Japanese karate masters I trained with seemed to take the opposite approach to everything, and I realised that if I really wanted to understand karate I would have to go and try to understand Japan,” says Story.

With a sixth dan ranking he still practices martial arts today, while running the Japanese operations of what is perhaps the world’s best-known, business-focused interpersonal skills training company and also producing a prodigious amount of content. He currently puts out three weekly podcasts, on the subjects of leadership, presentations and sales, along with The Cutting Edge Japan Business Show on YouTube, and has written over 1,000 articles on LinkedIn. If that weren’t enough, in February he published the business book Japan Sales Mastery – Lessons from Thirty Years in Japan, which went on to chart-topping success on Amazon Japan.

Following his Japanese studies, Story completed a Master’s degree in international relations at Sophia, before returning to Griffith University in Brisbane, where he had been an undergraduate, to take a doctorate in philosophy focused on Japanese decision-making.

Beginning his career at an international property consultancy, where he established the company’s Japan desk, Story found himself with an opportunity to return to Japan in 1992 with the Australian Trade and Investment Commission. After heading the agency’s operations in Nagoya, Osaka and Tokyo, he left for Shinsei Bank in 2003, where he stayed until 2007, becoming general manager of its Platinum Banking Division.

Taking over the Japan franchise of Dale Carnegie Training may have been the logical path that Story’s varied career was pointing to. He is an unabashedly passionate proselytiser for the principles first laid out in 1936 in Carnegie’s seminal How to Win Friends and Influence People.

 

“Over this 12-week course, you see people really transform,” says Story. “People who can’t articulate very well become more articulate, people who are shy become more confident, people who have been holding themselves back find something in themselves that is really a catalyst for action. We call them breakthroughs.”

The job of trainers is to “uncover in you something you don’t know about yourself,” says Story, who declares that the lofty overarching goal of Dale Carnegie training courses is nothing less than “changing our world one person at a time.”

Clients in Japan are companies of all sizes, according to Story, and courses include leadership, presenting, sales, customer service and people skills, which can all be tailored to suit specific requirements. The split between domestic and foreign companies is approximately even, with around 60% of the latter being European entities.

Its European clients include companies in high-end retail, industrial engineering and finance. However, with most of the staff at foreign companies being locals, 95% of the courses are delivered by its 40 trainers in Japanese, according to Story. Although this may appear to be common sense, Story says he still encounters global companies that provide sales training courses, designed by their headquarters, that are delivered in English to a salesforce who sell in Japanese to local clients.

In Europe itself, Germany is currently “a powerhouse within the Dale Carnegie organisation and is on course to double its business this year by going after international businesses rather than just domestic companies,” explains Story.

The underlying principles of the Dale Carnegie methods and philosophy are both timeless and borderless, insists Story, who says they require minimal cultural adjustments to make them relevant to a 21st century Japanese business environment. However, Story is not blind to cultural differences, and this was one of the motivations for writing his recent book.

“There is a chronically low level of understanding of professional sales training in Japan. In other areas, such as leadership, people have a clue, but not in sales,” suggests Story.

With nothing having been written on the subject of foreigners selling in Japan since 1988, Story believed there was a gap in the market. Nevertheless, he says the reaction to his book has been far bigger than he had anticipated. He is now in the process of creating a local-language version, aimed at Japanese selling to their compatriots.

This August, Dale Carnegie Training commemorates the 55th anniversary of its first courses in Japan, and the company’s global CEO Joe Hart will be attending the celebrations. But Story believes the best is yet to come for Dale Carnegie in Japan, as the steadily shrinking workforce begins to cause major shifts in workplace culture.

The dwindling pool of new entrants to the labour market is set to become “the first generation of free agent employees in the history of this country”. They will simply leave jobs if they are not managed and treated well, predicts Story. The soft skills of interpersonal interactions are set to be more crucial than ever, he believes.

“Communication, leading, engagement, coaching — all of these soft skills, have to be done at a much better level,” says Story. “Because if you’re not doing it at a better level than your competitor, you will definitely lose.” 

“People who can’t articulate very well become more articulate, people who are shy become more confident”

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