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No Room For Farmers!

by David Brock on March 13th, 2012

Sales people are often described as Hunters or Farmers.  Hunters have been characterized as chasing after new customers and new opportunities.  Farmers focus on nurturing established accounts, keeping loyal customers, growing the business primarily through servicing the customer and growing the relationship.

I’m not sure that model has ever been appropriate, but in today’s world of value creation, the model falls far short of what our customers need and what our own organizations need.

Everybody Hunts!  It’s the responsibility of each sales person to constantly develop their territories–whether it’s an industry segment, a geographic region, or a named account, everyone hunts.  We have to constantly be assessing our territories, looking for opportunities to grow.  We have to be constantly exploring–developing new relationships, finding new ways to contribute to our customers.

Our customers deserve far more than nurturing and great service.  Those are table stakes for any sales territory, but they don’t help our customers grow and improve.  They don’t help our customers get better.  Our customers need us to be hunting–helping them to discover new opportunities, new ideas, ways to grow and improve.  Our customers and prospects need us to challenge them, to get them to think about new opportunities for their businesses, to improve their own success.

Hunting demands curiosity and creativity.  Hunters have to search, they have to discover, they have to push.  Hunters are constantly exploring–finding untapped potential in their territory, a new customer, a new opportunity, something different for current customers.  Hunters know, they must create new ideas and visions for their customers and prospects.  They know they must nurture and develop those ideas over time.  Hunters know they must be patient, working with the customer, developing them until the time is right, until they are prepared to buy.

Your customers want hunters not farmers, they want us to help them build their business.  Are you hunting within your territory, are you living up to your customers’ expectations?

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  1. Dave,
    If I may, I beg to differ a bit…
    My experience has been that “hunters” (as a generalization) usually do not have the patience required to continue to nourish and grow an account. This difference is what has separated the two types from the time they became differentiated.
    Good farmers do as you suggest and help the customer grow and they also build relationships within accounts that lead to new business. So yes…they are required to hunt, but I feel they have a place in the sales organization.
    Salespeople (both types) today need to become “knowledge brokers” and help the customer grow. As the profession quickly matures, your point will probably become valid, but in today’s market, there is still a need for someone skilled in taking care of the customer’s needs.
    Perhaps we need to align these skills (thru training) in order to create your desired model.

    • Todd, thanks for the comment (sorry for the slow reply). In truth, the post was a bit unfair—I think the notion of hunting and farming has endured long past it’s expiration date. In truth, great sales people need a blend of both hunting and farming skills. Additionally, as much as possible, we need to match the strengths of our people with the requirements of the territory, so they produce the best results.

      Thanks for your continued contributions to this blog!

  2. David – I would also to respectfully disagree. Given the research suggests most sales (80-90%) are made between the 4th and 12th contacts and the majority of sales people (80-90%) stop after the 3rd contact, this suggests there is ineffective hunting and farming going on, People buy from people they know and trust and 3 meetings may just not build that trust factor.

    This is not an either or situation, but one where both skills sets are required. Farmers cannot grow bad seeds (think poor sales leads) and hunters cannot live just on wounding the target (think abandoning the sales lead).

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

    • Leanne, thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right–sales people really need both hunting and farming skills. The model really has outlived it’s usefulness (if it ever had any).

  3. We would agree that Hunters and Farmers (Salespeople) never did exist. It was “shorthand” which we used a Burroughs, (now part of Unisys) in the 1970’s to disastrous effect!

    However, today we are confronted with a researched model that does work, The Challenger, and this works most effectively.

    As a Community in Sales we should stop trying to “Hybrid” the mythical model, and get on with implementing the Model that works!

    • Great comment Brian! For some reason, we as a community tend to perpetuate the myths of the hunter and farmer. As you point out, I’m not sue it was ever appropriate, but in today’s world it is just wrong. Whatever model of customer engagement one subscribes to, whether it is Challenger or something else, we need to talk about sales people that have a blend of skills and capabilties–whether they are pursuing net new business and customers or whether they are expanding their footprint and shre of existing customers. Thanks for the comment!

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