Are you a Hunter or Farmer when it comes to selling?

Is it a good idea to divide up your sales team by hunters and farmers?

First, some definitions.

The hunter in salesA hunter is someone who strictly prospects for new business. He usually makes a ton of warm or cold calls. However, in some cases, he may be responding to inbound inquiries from e-mail, trade shows or other sources.

A farmer is someone who manages existing accounts. His job is to handle all billing and shipping inquiries, but more importantly, he is responsible for growing the accounts by cross-selling or up-selling.

The farmer in salesI have worked as both the hunter and farmer simultaneously, i.e., I was responsible for managing x-number of accounts, but I was also expected to prospect for new business. I would normally set time aside each day and just prospect. Based on studies that I’ve read, the best time to prospect is between 8:00 to 10:00 a.m., and again from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. are normally not considered good times because people are out to lunch.

But is it a good idea to divide up the hunter and farmer roles? It really depends on your industry, the type of products and services you are selling, and how many accounts your company has. If you are working for a start-up or small company, you may end up wearing both the hunter and farmer hat – and other hats as well! But as a company begins to grow and add more accounts, those roles may be separated.

As a general rule, the more complex or longer the sales cycle, the better you should allow only hunters to focus on them. The last thing you want to do is have hunters distracted managing existing accounts while trying to close new business. After all, if you are working for months closing $50K orders, do you really want to deal with existing accounts that may only generate an additional $1,000 or so a year?  On the other hand, it may not be a bad idea to allow hunters to manage only large accounts, and hand off smaller accounts to farmers to manage.

By allowing hunters to manage some large accounts this may introduce a little variety in their jobs. After all, hunting can be stressful because you are constantly dealing with rejections and meeting quota. Allowing hunters to deal with some friendly existing customers may ease the stress level a bit.

The biggest challenge for the farmers is to make sure they don’t become glorified customer service reps. They sometimes have to be pushed to upgrade customers. Yes, this does take time. After all, you are building up relationships. You are digging deeper to learn more about the accounts, and finding other decisions makers to contact. You have to keep up with the industry news and be on the alert of any changes at your accounts. You also have to keep a close eye on your competitors to ensure they don’t steal your customers.

The biggest risk of hunters transferring over their closed accounts to farmers is ensuring that customer relationships will not be impaired. I’ve worked at some companies where customers insisted on only working with the hunter because they developed a good relationship. Despite the hunter reassuring the customers that the farmer will take good care of him, the customer still insisted on working with the hunter. In those rare cases, the hunter kept the customer to ensure peace.

When determining the hunter and farmer role, consider what the salesperson prefers doing. Some people thrive on the challenge of making sales calls and closing business, but they get bored easily managing accounts. They either don’t have the patience or desire to slowly grow accounts over a period of time. Those are your hunters.

The farmers, on the other hand, like the challenge of growing existing accounts. They like digging deep into accounts, learning more about their needs and problems, and uncovering new decision makers.

And there are some who can do both.

 Hunter, Farmer or both. You decide what’s best for your company.

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