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Salesperson: Hunter or Farmer?

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by Mike on May 19, 2011

I’m from New York, although I’ve been in St. Louis for 19 years and have lost most of the accent and some of the harsh edges. But I still like to make extreme statements – the kind that would fit as a headline for the New York Post. And I’ve learned from many consulting engagements, it’s often necessary to make extreme declarative statements to wake up the client and help swing the pendulum back toward the center.

The single biggest problem I see contributing to lack of new business development success is the hybrid hunter-farmer sales role.

There. I’ve said it. And I feel better already. After just five months back at full-time sales consulting, I can share without reservation that the typical blended part new business hunter, part account manager sales position is killing the NewSales acquisition efforts of many companies.

I know. You’re not supposed to point out the problem unless you are ready to share the solution. Well, this issue is big and hairy, and there isn’t a simple fix or canned solution. But the problem is so massive and so pervasive that it’s worth opening up the dialogue even if I can’t wave the magic consultant’s wand and pull a neat and pretty answer out of my hat.

There are precious few true hunters, but an abundance of account manager-farmers. Take a look at your sales team. How many legit A-player rainmakers do you have? If yours is like the typical company I see, the answer is between 10% and 20% of your team. Most likely, it’s closer to 10%.  So…let me ask: if you have so few true new business killers, why do you task them with account management responsibility that dilutes their hunting effort? What’s the opportunity cost of having your best fisherman cleaning, cooking, setting the table, doing dishes? Before responding with your pat answer or the company line, answer this: are you hitting your fish-catching goals? Honestly, I am tired of hearing how important all these other “sales” functions are. Stated simply, if you are not hitting your new business acquisition numbers, isn’t it fair to examine how much real time and focused effort is actually dedicated to the cause?

No one defaults to prospecting. No one. Show me one blended-role salesperson who is ignoring the needs of an important existing account to focus on new business development (prospecting) and I’ll show 10,000 salespeople doing the opposite. Finding a successful part-time prospector salesperson is as rare as seeing Halley’s Comet racing across the night sky.

Yes, I am being extreme – intentionally. Sure, there are rare cases when super-gifted and disciplined humans end up on our sales teams. And these freaks of nature have both the gifts and skills to love on and penetrate existing customers, yet know when to carve out dedicated prospecting time, possess the drive and technique to get in front of strangers, and thrive hunting for new business. And every single sales leader reading this post would pay the moon to have just one person like that in their organization!

Questions to ponder:

  1. When was the last time you took a hard look at the account management/service burden that is placed on your supposed new business sales team?
  2. Is your sales compensation structured in such a way that a dollar sold to an existing account pays the same commission as a dollar sold to a new account? Year after year?
  3. If you’re falling short of the desired level of new business acquisition, have you considered studying how salespeople are actually spending their time? I fear you may be shocked about the ACTUAL amount of time dedicated to prospecting by salespeople with hybrid hunter-farmer responsibility.

Related posts:

a) Guest post by my friend and old client Mike LaTella who compared true salespeople to account managers

b) My recent post on Killer Interview Questions for Sales Hunters

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelley Robertson May 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Wicked post Mike!

If every sales-based organization took this advice to heart I’m sure they would see a dramatic increase in sales…faster than they ever imagined.


Mike May 20, 2011 at 1:14 am

Thanks for reading and commenting Kelley. It’s a big issue.


jinan alrawi May 20, 2011 at 7:31 am

hi Mike,
Excellent wake up call for companies.
will forward your piece to some tech start ups I’m talking with.


Mike May 20, 2011 at 11:21 am

Your thoughts and support are always welcomed and appreciated. I was on an airplane looking at the map of Europe last week and it made me think of you over there raising the bar for the sales profession.
Thanks for the encouragement!


Wim @ Sales Sells May 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

Hi Mike,

I heard you touch on this issue in your webinar with Anthony and was already hoping that you would go deeper into this on your blog.

While I agree with your point of view, it’s my experience that many clients love to have one single contact point. They’ve put their trust in the “hunter”, the person who contacted them and showed them he or she understands who they are and what they need. We all know the customer buys not only the product or service, he also buys the salesperson.

So I was wondering, how would you implement that in your system? How and when would you transfer that trust from the hunter to the farmer? When should the account be passed on to the farmer and how would you make this process painless for the client?



Mike May 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

Good morning Wim,
Brilliant questions. Thanks for reading — and I am glad to have revisited a topic that was on your mind!
As I wrote in the piece, this is a big, hairy issue and there isn’t a simple solution — or answer to your question. If there was, we would see “good” variations of alternatives all around us.

My best shot at an answer and a model that I’ve seen work successfully (in fact, a model that I personally sold and thrived under) is a “Team Sales Approach.” In that team model, what’s imperative is that the door-opener-hunter sets the stage right up front with the prospect that the company uses a team approach to better serve customers. That way the prospect doesn’t feel cheated by the handoff or like there was a bait and switch. Most buyers, even if they fall in love with the hunter, will admit that follow-up, details, program coordination are not the best “gifts” in a typical salesperson. So with some self-deprecating humor and command of what’s best for the customer, it usually works fine to paint the picture of the team sale and service very early in the sales process. And a key to making that work is to introduce the account manager as soon as possible after an initial introductory or exploratory meeting. That gives the account time to fall in love the the A/M and provides the A/M a chance to show off his/her stuff and contribute to closing the deal. That approach worked exceedingly well for me as the hunter. And I was able to sell 3x what my company’s average hunter sold because I was freed up to hunt like a madman — and could sleep at night knowing the accounts were in better hands than mine being served by a top-drawer account manager that was gifted at problem-solving, program management and details.

Hope that helps a bit. Great question. Real life issue. Would love to hear others chime in. This is a HUGE deal that is hurting sales results about everywhere I go.


Wim @ Sales Sells May 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Hi Mike,

I’m sorry it took me a while to get back to this, but it’s been a busy weekend! Fortunately I had bookmarked the page as I was really curious of your view on this matter.

I can see that team approach work really well, especially if it’s presented at the right time and with the right attitude. The team play and synergy between the hunter and A/M are of vital importance too I guess. If the two aren’t 100% tuned into each other, this might raise questions with the prospect.

It was a great experience to read your opinion on this, Mike. It’s advice that I will take with me for life and I truly appreciate you taking the time to go into this on a deeper level.

Talk to you soon,


Tom Quinn May 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Your hunter article is “so right on”. I continue to find companies that are clinging to the old way of doing business and not embracing or acknowledging the changes that have occurred in the market. These changing market forces demand a new hunter-consultative sales person. this sales type is virtually non-existent in current sales forces. My observation and experience has been that the young non-established sales persons of the future should be our target. they are technology savvy and mobile ready to do the job required in the future. I recently wrote an article for the MFSA PostScript entitled send me your sons & daughters – aimed at small business owners. I wish you good selling


Mike May 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm

You are one of those wise sages in my life and to the professional sales community. Thanks for trolling around here and sharing your pearls of wisdom. Great Selling to you and your clients too!


Brad Bethune May 20, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I believe this is the big reason why Lead Generation and Lead Nurturing companies similar to Vendere Partners are so so successful. You have reps that are great account managers, you have reps that are great closers, and you have reps that are prospectors and it is like finding a needle in a haystack to find a person that can do all three.


Mike May 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Hi Brad,
Welcome to the blog. While your comment might be perceived as a tad promotional for your company, I am feeling generous today. Generous and a little surprised by all the play this post is getting. I knew this was a big issue, but didn’t realize that it would strike such a sensitive nerve. Plus, I absolutely agree with your perspective that different people are gifted differently and natural talent should help place certain individuals in certain roles.
Good to have you here!


Jeffrey Becker May 27, 2011 at 2:04 am

I wonder what happens to good hunters who are also burdened with account management responsibilities. Do you think it is possible that these capable hunters ever lose or misplace their quiver, because of all the pending account management work that faces them? Perhaps this point of view is just an excuse for not doing more hunting. Your comments are incredibly insightful and wonderful food for thought and action.



Mike May 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Welcome to Jeff. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My simple answer to your question is “yes.” It’s more complicated, but you touched on one of the main drivers of this post. Lots of factors contribute: human nature, complacency, lack of hunger, comp. plans, the urgent vs. important and so on. Over the years I’ve concluded that no one defaults to prospecting. And since I usually get brought into a company that isn’t achieving it’s new business acquisition goals, I’ve become uber-sensitive detecting when hunters have stopped hunting. There are always “good” reasons for it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the people charged with acquiring new business have lost their way.


Michael Roby December 5, 2011 at 8:28 pm

You are spot on. Compensation drives behavior. It’s no different that the “Sales Assistant” role. When having to choose between sales & service/admin, service/admin ALWAYS wins. To be successful, you need a blend of hunting & farming, but not necessarily in the same role.

In addition, you have my favorite name for boys!


Ted Barden January 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Mike, thanks for the insightful information on hunter/farmer and aligning carrots properly. I’m working with organizations to help identify the “right” candidates for the sales openings. I’ve come across a couple of companies where the sales plan doesn’t quite match up with the goal of hunting vs. farming. Since you touched on this in your article, I’d love to see more on this area. I’ve taken some notes on the ideas presented here that I can address with my clients. In order for them to see me as a strategic partner, I have to bring more to the table then great candidates and this helps! Thanks


Saqib March 22, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Old is Gold, just like this article. – Gold worth information. Thanks Mike!


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