Hunters Vs Farmers – How to Organize Your Sales Force

It is the age old question. Is there a secret sauce that all great salespeople have, or are successful hunters different from successful farmers? Over the past couple of years it has become clear (at least in my head) that there are two distinct types of salespeople: hunters and farmers. I decided to write this article because I have had several discussions over the past two months with salespeople who want to know whether they are a hunter or a farmer, and with sales executives that want to know how to organize their sales force based on the two distinct types of salespeople. As always, I would love your opinions on hunters vs. farmers, and what your company’s sales force looks like!

Let me first articulate what I mean by hunters (Ex. “New Business Development Executive”) and farmers (Ex. “Account Manager”). Hunters largely work at the beginning of the sales funnel, both prospecting and qualifying sales opportunities. They generally will find a solution to a qualified prospect’s expressed need and work to take the opportunity to closure, but are not responsible for post-sales activities. Farmers largely work at the back end of the funnel, and are responsible for servicing existing customers and identifying/closing new sales opportunities with their assigned accounts.

Differences Between Hunters and Farmers:

One of the shocking things that I learned when getting to understand what makes great hunters/farmers was that many of the major competencies that make someone successful at one type of sales role actually work against them in another! If you have been engaged in this debate or are wondering if you are a better hunter/ farmer, here are some key differences between the two types of sales roles.

Emotional Resilience vs. Emotional Intelligence: Hunters must be emotionally resilient to deal with the high levels of daily rejection that come with prospecting (ex cold calling); they have to bounce back in a matter of seconds from rejection and reach out to another potential prospect. Because hunters spend a lot of time prospecting, this is a key aspect to their success. On the other hand, farmers must be emotionally in-tune with their account team and the customer team. After all, customer satisfaction is an emotional feeling and farmers must be adept at sensing that.

Hunt vs. Fulfillment: Hunters are driven by the rush of the hunt (go figure!), and the thrill of the “kill”. Given how exciting that rush is, everyday details can seem pretty boring. Because the primary duty of a hunter is to hunt, this works out well. In contrast, good farmers like to get their hands dirty with the details, and consider themselves solid and dependable. This caters well to fulfillment duties, which are vital to managing an account.

Independence vs. Team: Hunters are self-motivators and work very well independently. They sometimes even have a disdain for marketing or sales operations folks that try to work with them, and often don’t like team work. This is a vital characteristic because hunters work primarily by themselves during the prospecting and qualifying phases and have to be highly self-motivated. They rarely get help in their jobs unless an opportunity has passed the qualification phase. By contract, farmers are team players and collaborators. They work closely with their account management team and the client, often framing business challenges and creating solutions alongside their client.

Qualifying vs. Nurturing: The best business development people out there are superior qualifiers. Hunters can be given 100 accounts and very quickly tell which five are worth pursuing. In business development, it is essential that hunters spend their time on prospects that might close or else they are wasting their time. This is the biggest barrier to a hunter’s productivity, so the ability to qualify quickly and accurately is crucial. In contract, farmers are great nurturers. They look at relationships from a long term perspective and are interested in getting to know their clients on a multitude of dimensions. In account management, it is essential that salespeople develop thick long term bonds with their customers to promote trust and loyalty. If a farmer was given 100 prospects, they would naturally try to develop long term relationships with most of them.

Organizing Your Sales Force into Hunting and Farming

Growing revenue is always a priority in business, so hunters are always needed when the business is small and growing. As the business starts to grow and you see potential for profitable long term relationships with current customers, you will need to add farmers to your mix. The most common mistake I see business make is to under invest in their farmers. This is primarily because by the time you need farmers your sales force is filled with hunters that don’t value farming. Take great care to check your hunters and invest in a farming unit. The type of farming unit you need will depend on several factors: size of client (gross revenue), complexity of client’s business, importance of your products/services to client’s business, complexity of your product/service portfolio, and of course revenue potential. As those criteria grow, there is the opportunity for more investment in an elite farming group. Farming units vary from cheap inside sales reps, to expensive Strategic Account Managers.

The investment in splitting your sales force into hunters (New Business Development) and farmers (Account Management) is large. You will need additional management layers, dedicated sales operations and enablement personnel, and other support roles. You should always run the numbers to make sure that each NBD and AM unit is profitable and can support itself. Sales should always be a revenue center.

Weaknesses of Implementing the Hunter/Farmer Model

One of the things that I have come to believe in my time studying and working with businesses is that every management model has its weaknesses. Splitting up your sales department into hunter and farmer departments is no exception. Here are two problems that I have seen businesses encounter and how to overcome them:

First, companies think Account Management (farming) is the same as customer service….IT IS NOT. Certainly customer service is a large component of account management, but the primary focus of Account Management is to grow long term revenue……which should be reflected in their incentive plans. I find too often that Account Managers do not work on any form of commission, and therefore don’t seek out new sales opportunities. If you don’t incentivize your farmers to grow the business, you will get a reactive group of folks who don’t grow your most fertile customers. Keep in mind that it costs 8-10 times as much to sell to a new customer than to an existing one, so your farming unit should have a great expense to revenue ratio.

The strongest objection to the separation of a sales force into hunters (new business development) and farmers (Account Management) is that it makes for an awkward transition for the customer after they have signed on the dotted line. This is a VERY valid point. After all, the customer has purchased from you because they have had a great experience with your hunter and might perceive a transition as a bait and switch. It is important to get your Account Managers involved with sales opportunities as early as the proposal writing process and as late as the final presentations.

You should also develop a value proposition for your customer’s transition to the Account Manager during the proposal/presentation process. You need to ask for your new client’s approval to transition to the new Account Manager, and you should only fully transition them when the clients feel comfortable. This part does require a lot of “managing”, but is well worth the price to put your employees in roles that align with their competencies and put your customers in good long term hands.


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