Hunters or Farmers or Both?
One of the advantages of being an executive coach is that you get to sit in on boardroom conversations. I’m always excited when the conversation turns to revenue generation. Everyone around the table is interested in the why’s and how’s of where the numbers are and the question always arises – “do we have the right sales organization structure?” Most senior (non sales) leaders understand the concept of Hunters and Farmers but the lines are blurring between the two. Even the most seasoned sales leaders are wrestling with fielding the right balance of both. Here’s why:
The term “hunter” is used to describe the type of salesperson focused on closing deals with new customers. Once one deal wraps, hunters aggressively move on to the next prospect and try to close another deal. This focus on deal-making and capturing new “prey” fills a need but is creating a drive for transactions. This drive is often frustrating the efforts of marketing and product groups looking to raise the bar of sophistication (and thus value) in their solutions. In addition, hunters are prone to action, not analysis. Today’s buyers are expecting business value and a high level of knowledge about their issues and challenges. Hunters detest administration and thus prep (what I call sleuthing). Most hunters abhor sleuthing because they are not “in motion.” Point – more sleuthing is needed to win the B-to-B sale.
The term “farmer” describes a sales role that cultivates and nurtures customer relationships. Farmers deploy a more consultative sales process than hunters. The farmer’s focus is on developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s business in order to effectively identify solutions that fit well with the customer’s strategy and needs. Many Farmers are incented to grow revenue within existing accounts. Farmers must possess strong interpersonal skills, be able to develop trusted relationships over time, and have the ability to make and execute mid- to long-term account plans. What holds these professionals back are the administrative and firefighting activities required in ongoing relationships. This “stress” is sapping the intellectual curiosity of these groups, which oddly enough, is driving more hunter-type mentality. The challenge is that farmers need to balance the relationship and the next sale. Typically one wins out.
THE THIRD WAY
Sales organizations need hunters and farmers to meet in the middle. Hunters need to be more cerebral about their pursuits; savvier about the various stakeholders they’ll be engaging and more patient with consensus-based buying policies. But this is more than just adding more pepper and cooking with less salt. Farmers need clarity as to what is truly value adding to their customers and need to recommend incremental solutions by playing ideas upstream constantly. Senior sales leaders then need to think about their sales process and the types of skills their people will need depending on their roles.
High performing sales organizations are talking to their customers about how they prefer to buy and are aligning their sales and relationship management processes around that. In addition, more non-sales resources are touching the customer, both in transactional and consultative pursuits and they need to know where they fit in the sales process and what’s expected.