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Sales Hunters vs. Farmers: Is That Relevant Anymore?

Author: David Brock

It  seems like the concept of “hunters and farmers” has been around virtually as long as sales.

In theory, hunters are the people that have to prospect, to bring in new accounts or logos. The farmers, according to mythology nurture those accounts, retaining the business, possibly growing to drive more revenue.

In much of the literature, there’s a lot of jockeying and ego about which is the “real” sales job.

Frankly, I think these categorizations aren’t useful–if they ever have been.

The salesperson’s job is to maximize the share of account or territory for which they are responsible. I believe it is our God-given right to gain 100% share of customer and share of territory. But it’s our jobs as sales professionals to figure out how to do this.

Hunters vs Farmers: The Disappearing Gap

This implies several things that bridge the traditional distinctions between hunters and farmers.

In maximizing their share of account/territory, it means salespeople have to constantly search for new opportunities in which they can help customers, driving business for their companies. That sounds a lot like hunting.

In maximizing share of account/territory, salespeople also have to focus on retaining all the revenue currently being generated in the account and territory.  That sounds a lot like farming.

Our jobs are really about growth. We have to sell more within our territories and accounts every year. We have to prospect to find new opportunities.  If we lose something through retention problems, then from a performance point of view we are in a deficit position. As a result, we have to find a way to make up that deficit and grow.

Fundamentally, the notions of hunting and farming are no longer relevant, so let’s stop wasting time talking about them. We are all unified in growing our accounts and territories.  So let’s focus on how we do this rather than defending outdated ideas.


David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more.

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4 Comments

Comments

    Lane Smith:

    I really don’t agree with this article. Over the years I have worked with many IT companies that are struggling to evolve their businesses from consulting or product sales to recurring revenue streams. They usually have reached a plateau in sales revenue and are struggling to increase their profitability. The single biggest problem I have seen is that they have an established salesforce that at one point consisted of great “hunters” but as their model and compensation plans rewarded these reps for keeping & managing their customers the reps became “farmers”. Now they have a salesforce that doesn’t need to find new business to make good money and are not willing to risk their customer base (nest egg) by introducing new and unproven services that could potentially create new challenges for them.

    We often find that the only way for them to have success with finding new customers is to hire a new sales force dedicated to finding new business (hunters). We then hire account managers (farmers) to maintain and grow the existing accounts. This model is very much alive and working well in todays world so I would say the concept is still very much relevant.

    Dave Brock:

    Lane, thanks for the thoughtful comment, in reality, I think it addresses the same issue I’m addressing in the article. Sales people are responsible for growing revenue, that means they have to find business, either from new customers or expanding our relationships within customers–growing our business by finding new opportunities, as well as maintaining current business.

    The reason we go through the cycles you highlight is that we don’t hold everyone accountable for generating new business. We could avoid this, by stopping the concept of hunting and farming and looking at how each person is going to contribute to business growth–either with new customers or expanding the relationship (hunting within) current customers.

    Terry Hedden:

    Clearly defined roles and reaponsibilities are critical to success in every MSP. Lead generation, client aquisition and client retention are all completely different and deep specialization yields the best results. We have clients we give 10 or even 100 qualified managed services leads to a month and strongly recommend that they give those to their best closer. Once the deal is done, the account should be professionally managed by someone skilled in service and cross sales. Asking a great closer to become an account manager after the sale simply puts a race horse out to pasture slowly and painfully. In most msp firms, the owner is the best closer so why not tee that person up with a bunch of leads to close and allow others to manage the accounts?! Works quite well for Marketopia’s clients!

    Greg:

    I’ve managed several sales teams in my career, and I have seen conflict between “hunters” and “farmers.” The perfect sales professional is a combination of both characteristics.
    The market and economy has drastically changed since the 70’s & 80’s (especially after the recession). The famous phrase “Always Be Closing” doesn’t apply any more. The “hunters” philosophy no longer works in today’s sales environment. When it does, it’s a quick sale. In today’s environment, sales professionals need to learn the new ABC’s of Selling: Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity.
    Attunement: Understanding someone’s perspective
    Buoyancy: Sales people need to ask the question “Can you do this?” Why? They start summoning answers/reasons within themselves
    Clarity: Information overload society. Skill set today is to make sense of all this information. Problem-finding instead of problem-solving.
    If sales organizations adopt the new ABC’s of selling, they will have better customer retention and long-term growth. It’s all about relationships and trust. If people like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will buy from you.

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