Is Hunters vs. Farmers Still Relevant for Sales?



If you have been in sales for any period of time, you would have heard about “hunters” and “farmers”. But does this distinction really matter anymore? This question came to me recently from my friend who wrote a great post on hunters vs. farmers that I recommend you check out.  What had started as a comment evolved into a much longer post that I wanted to share with you.

I would say that “hunter” and “farmer” are still useful frameworks for describing two encompassing sales objectives; developing new business and expanding business with existing customers. Within that framework are people whose skills and disposition align with achieving one of these objectives. In some instances, it is very obvious which objective fits best with the salesperson.  Some people are clearly better at acquiring new business and others are much better building long term relationships.  And then there are plenty of situations where you will find hybrids. That being said, the hunter/farmer paradigm is dated and not a reliable framework for building B2B sales teams in today’s market selling complex solutions.

If you are not familiar with hunters vs. farmers, let me provide a quick overview.  Hunters are the risk takers, the aggressive ones, and the type to pounce on new opportunities.  Farmers are the patient ones, the analyzers -the type to cultivate relationships to develop opportunities. As such, many companies staff their new business teams with hunters while those that manage existing client relationships are staffed with farmers. The thinking is that the hunter profile is better suited for closing new business and the “farmer” is more suited for long-term relationship building activities that open up expanded opportunities with existing accounts.

This type of thinking however, is potentially disastrous to the long term success of your sales team and company. The flaw is apparent when you consider that the hunter/farmer framework:

  • Engenders a transactional mindset in the new business sales team
  • Introduces miscommunication between the implementation team and customers
  • Distorts incentives and compensation structures across sales
  • Confuses characteristics of new business sales with that of lead generation sales

A more modern view of the world would be to understand changing sales motions and roles that have emerged to fit those motions.  We now have prospectors or SDR’s which are initiating conversations with prospects, closers that move these initial conversations to contractual agreements, customer success professionals that ensure customers receive the expected value from the solution and account managers that foster long-term customer relationships.

It may seem like I am complicating what was a much simpler worldview of sales. Doesn’t hunter and farmer just map better how the world works? In the past, yes, but the reason why hunter/farmer no longer makes sense has to do with the evolving behaviors of buyers and how they evaluate, buy, and implement solutions. Therefore, it would be wise for us to map the way we sell to this buyer’s journey and structure our sales teams to best serve customers and position our sales teams for success.

The change to this new view of sales also recalibrates the sales strategy. This is especially important for growth stage startups where the objective had been to acquire as many new customers as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, that leads to massive churn, the backlash of which is then felt downstream as negative perceptions spread making new sales even more difficult.  If all you have is a bunch of closers on the team, then your end result is a lot of unsatisfied customers and unsatisfied sales reps fighting against the quality perception and competitive landmines.

Sales leaders are starting to take notice and now strive to create balance and controlled growth deploying the four roles as necessary. They are thinking long-term about the customer experience and not just the net new revenue or expansion opportunities. It is about having a holistic view of customer relationships and how each relationship builds upon the growth of the company in a way that is healthy, additive, and provides value for both the customer and the solution provider.

How this plays out in the role of salesperson is that there are a few more options for career path. It also means that the modern salesperson has to be willing to stretch and incorporate new skills. When the divide is no longer hunter or farmer, you need to recast your skills and gain new skills to best succeed at whatever role you pursue. Some may become hybrids, or what I refer to as full-stack salespeople, which is certainly helpful in certain situations. There is also the option to specialize and become a master of the domain in one particular component of the sale.

The lesson here is not to fall into the simplicity of tired models used to describe sales. Figure out what exactly you need to excel at each stage of the buyer journey, then build toward filling those needs from a people and process perspective. And remember that what you’re trying to achieve is a balance between new business, customer satisfaction, and growing existing accounts.  That consideration alone should sway you from the false “hunters vs. farmers” dichotomy and towards embracing the customer experience model as both a sales strategy and as a guide for building your sales organization.



Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington

About the author: Mark Birch

Mark is an early stage technology investor and entrepreneur based in NYC. Through Birch Ventures, he works with a portfolio of early stage B2B SaaS technology startups providing both capital and guidance in the areas of marketing, sales, strategic planning and funding.

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