Credit: Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash

As the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted corporate traditions in Japan, business media company Nikkei had to find new ways to generate its B2B subscription revenue.

Nikkei publishes the Tokyo Stock Exchange, its financial newspaper The Nikkei has a 2m print circulation, and the website amassed 750k paying subscribers since its launch in 2010. On top of this strong portfolio, Nikkei bought the Financial Times in 2015.

Two years later, the company launched the 'enterprise' business development strategy, which offers corporations a subscription programme. At £45/$62 a month, employees can get additional content, tools for sharing keywords within teams, gift paywalled articles to other people, and provide English translations for global companies.

The strategy was inspired by data showing that CEOs who had single subscriptions were prone to cancelling. However, retention was much higher when the value was trickled down throughout the company.

Before the pandemic, would secure most of these corporate contracts in-person, as per Japanese tradition, said Yosuke Suzuki, general manager, digital business development, Nikkei, speaking at INMA Subscription Summit last week.

"It is [considered] a more proud and trustworthy way to sell products, even in cases where the product itself is online," he explains.

The ratio between in-person and online sales was 70:30 before lockdown. This changed once business meetings could not take place, resulting in 95 per cent of contracts being secured online. New monthly acquisitions were also three times higher now than they were two years ago and are steadily increasing.

So what changed? Last year, Nikkei started a three-phase webinar process to act as a subscription tool:

The first phase is a topical, widely attended webinar for around 300-400 delegates. Its goal is to create interest and generate leads through a must-attend event. Nikkei's editorial staff arrange the agenda; speakers include well-known writers, company executives and business leaders. They will try to move those attendees onto the next event.

The second phase is product-focused and tries to get delegates to consider taking up an 'enterprise' subscription. These events typically garner 50 delegates, and they offer trial periods of products tailored to those working in sales, management and HR.

These triallists might then return for the third event with around 20-30 people. The goal here is to convert the higher-ups, with talks focusing on case studies and Q&As. At this event, attendees get a clear picture of what the subscription can do for their company.

Suzuki said that conversion rates here are the same as with their physical sales and it is cheaper than doing business in person. For audiences, traditions are changing as attendees are starting to wake up to the convenience of working online. The problem Nikkei is yet to solve is a fundamental one: holding people's attention.

"Of course, it is not that easy to convince people to buy our products," he says. "Sometimes webinar audiences just listen passively without much focus on presentations."

Nikkei also concentrated on improving the experience of the converted attendees. In March 2020, it introduced chatbots to the main landing page to provide product support. It is a mixture of human and automated interactions. The sales team handle messages sent during weekday business hours, robots take the rudder the rest of the time. Suzuki said the company gets an 80 per cent satisfaction rate with this feature.

In the times ahead, it aims to be more tactical with automation. It wants to scale down human interaction with smaller clients for on-boarding and account activation.

Want to receive journalism news and job updates straight to your phone? Subscribe to on Telegram on our jobs channel for the latest job opportunities and our news channel for a weekly digest every Monday morning.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).