Hunters and Farmers – Putting Food On the Table Couldn’t Look More Different

By Rachel Cavallo on Jun 8, 2014

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with two very distinct types of salesforces. One group is focused solely on pulling more business out of their accounts, and the other group is focused solely on going after new accounts. While working with these groups simultaneously, the distinction between the “hunter” and the “farmer” has become very real, and it’s given me pause to consider the unique qualities required to develop net new accounts and cultivate existing ones.

Farmers v. Hunters

Now, being a southern girl whose mother comes from a long line of farmers, I’ve grown up knowing what it takes to be a good farmer – this is actually quite necessary since I now help to select the farmers who work our family farmland.

Finding the right farmer is critical. Of course, you need farmers who can profit from growing and harvesting crops so that they will continue to rent your land, but there is more to it than that. An irresponsible farmer can get greedy and overuse your land… ruining the soil for future crops. They can also make poor decisions on irrigation and plowing that can affect the usability of your land or require costly repairs. Of course, they can also make poor decisions in how they invest their money or their time, and this can leave them without the funds to continue their operations or pay your rent.

On the whole, you need farmers who see a long-term future with your land – individuals who will make pragmatic decisions to keep the soil rich, not take short cuts that abuse your land, and be diligent about the investments they make with their time and capital in order to maintain steady profitability. 

On the other hand… Hunters are an entirely different breed.

While farmers wake up every day thinking about what is required that day to take care of their land, hunters wake up every day ready for the next adventure. They eagerly explore new terrain, using binoculars and other instruments to find their next target. In fact, they take great care to select the right instruments and invest time and money to ensure their tools are ready when the opportunity strikes. Depending on the animal of the season, they select their hunting geography carefully to maximize their chance of finding their next target. They may have even prepped the land ahead of time, ensuring they were attracting the right animal or ensuring they had the right positioning to take advantage of each opportunity.

In addition, because hunters rarely get a second shot at the same target, they also practice to ensure they make the most of every opportunity. While a farmer takes pride in a bumper crop and views progression as doing the same with more land, hunters prize the trophy and get excited to explore new ways to get more sophisticated trophies each season… while often continuing to take down smaller targets just to keep the freezer stocked.

Best of Both

Just like the animal hunters, we want our sales hunters to get excited every day about figuring out where to find new business, honing their tools and skills to go after it, and continuously thinking about how to find bigger and better opportunities. We also want them to make a few risky shots, taking chances and putting themselves out there to drive new business in tough situations.

Like the farmers, we want our account managers to take a long-term view and be thoughtful about each move they make with our most important customers. We want them to cultivate the business, provide ongoing value and service to meet their business needs, and be thoughtful about how we invest in the account to maximize our opportunity. The very essence of these unique requirements demonstrates why successful new business developers may struggle when asked to lead an account and why successful account managers may find it extremely difficult to drive business with net new customers. 

Supporting Both Camps

Processes, tools, knowledge, and training may require distinct nuances between these groups. For example, an account team will need sophisticated tools and enablers that will help them to plan to grow the account… identifying new opportunities, strengthening existing relationships and building new ones, providing superior service, and adding value that strengthens the customer’s business. A new business development team needs tools that enable them to develop strong territory coverage plans, identify and qualify new potential accounts, navigate to unknown stakeholders, position their organization, and earn the right to propose on new business.

Account managers and new business developers may need to work differently with their own organization, as well. When account managers need support from the organization, they will want to protect their relationships and further their positioning within the account. They may be reluctant to take risks or introduce new opportunities that could impact existing business, but they should consistently want to bring the latest information and insights to their accounts in order to secure or maintain their role as a trusted advisor.

On the other hand, new business developers need the bright, shiny object that will capture the new customer’s attention. They may be more willing to put new ideas on the table and bring other resources to the party, if doing so will help them to get a foot in the door.

So what does all this mean? Respect the different requirements for hunters and farmers. Sales is never a one-size-fits-all function. Each group will prioritize their needs differently, and will require unique enablers to excel at their craft.

Not to mention, a hunter looking for the next trophy is just as likely to plow over the relationships at a strong account as a farmer is likely to miss the next big thing by not being willing to bet the farm and take the shot. Understanding these nuances is the key to improving the performance of both your hunters and your farmers.

Rachel Cavallo

Written by Rachel Cavallo

If there’s anyone who understands how sales people tick, it’s Rachel Cavallo. Rachel specializes in strategies that drive sales forces to adopt real change… the kind of change that produces results. She has managed many sales force transformations, helping sales leaders realign organizations and define new selling models, as well as designed and delivered sales training, coaching, and change management programs. At Symmetrics Group, Rachel is loved for her creativity and big picture thinking – she has a knack for crystallizing complex concepts into a single picture with high impact messages.

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