Hunter or Farmer: What type of sales professional do you want?

Clever people will recognize & tolerate nothing but cleverness.

I am often asked how do you really find a top performing sales professional?  What characteristics or qualities can you readily identify that will ensure you’ve got a winner?  That takes me back to what my own sales manager advised me when I was replacing him and asked to a top performing sales role to my first “gig” as a sales manager:   “Hire’em, train’em, send’em out, then watch’em like a hawk!”

I wish it were as simple.  Looking back now,  I can clearly see what mistakes I made when I started and find it easy to identify new or bad managers based on repeating those same mistakes.  Good and bad managers will be left for another blog while I tackle this weighty question:  How do you reduce your risk of making a bad hire in sales?

Initially, you have to understand what type of sales professional you looking for.   Most organizations will say they're looking for "Hunters" and not order takers.  What they mean is someone who can drum up new business.  They can be titled “Business Development Representative” or simply “Sales Representative”.  They are more easily identified when you take the time to understand the Hunter mentality:

  • Short sales cycles
  • High call rate/activity (they will look and sound busy)
  • Transactional sales:  Find’em and Close’em and Move on
  • Someone else takes care of the follow through (deliverables, implementation), follow up and customer satisfaction
  • They should be armed with lots of marketing pieces and tools to sell
  • They will rarely make formal presentations or get involved with RFPs
  • The call types are usually small to medium-sized businesses
  • Networking to them is to gather as many contacts as possible
  • They don’t need leads, but appreciate being fed leads once in a while
  • They tend to turnover quicker because what attracts them to hunting may also go hand in hand with becoming bored with doing the same thing over and over again.
  • Hunters aren’t as respected amongst colleagues because others tend to have to do clean up from the “sell at all costs” mentality.
  • Make sure they are base salary + commission – reward based on results
  • They will thrive in a competitive environment – post stats or sales scoreboards – that motivates them to see themselves on the top
  • Don’t expect them to be a team player in the office because their game is winning sales, not fans
  • They excel at “feature dumps” and may be more technically savvy with every gadget known to speed up sales
  • They may be annoyed by too many meetings or impatient with training that takes them out of the hunt
  • What paperwork?  You want them to make calls right?  Enter information into a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system – yeah, right, whatever you say … then back out they go.
  • They may drive you crazy when you have to constantly remind them to complete administrative tasks.  On time?  When’s that?
  • There will be several fish stories and a few whales that got away
  • Research for leads is scanning newspapers or web Career Section
  • In when the boss is, lunch with "prospects" and out of the office at 5
If you’re still gungho on taking on a Hunter, you should have a plan on how you will take care of existing customers or new customers once they’re signed.  For the sake of clarity, we’ll call them Customer Service.  Here are questions that should be addressed:
  •  Are these personnel trained to handle complex issues?
  • If existing customers are your bread and butter, should they be left in the hands of someone who may not be your most experienced employee?  
  • Is there an elevation process to move up quickly to solve issues?
  •  Does someone proactively call on customers before issues come up?
  • Who monitors your company's service level agreements are being met? 
  • Does anyone personally call on the your customer's place of business?
  • How do you promote new product offerings to existing customers?
  • Do you identify customers levels?  By revenue?  How they do business? Or frequency?   i.e. Business to Business (B2B),  mid-level, major accounts or enterprise.
  • Who can keep track of whether competitors are swimming around your customers, low-balling to get in the door, and you only find out after they've already left by the donut crumbs (zeros) on the revenue sheet?
  • If you bog your sales reps down with administrative tasks, writing their own proposals, composing RFPs from scratch, doing their own estimating, etc. etc. is it fair to call them a Hunter?
What often paralyses organizations is when you point out  “take care of your customers and your customers will take care of the bottom line” ...  or,  it takes 85% more effort to attract a new customer than it takes to keep existing customers happy.  This is where there is a disconnect.  Organizations want to pay someone commission to find the new customer and then have them move on to find more.   That is fine as long as you understand:
  • How do you define new business?  New customers or net new revenue?
  • Who manages the relationship with the customer?
  • How are you going to take care of new customers once they sign on?
  • Do you know whether the customer bought the person selling them just as much as the organization, service, product?
  • At what stage or how do they transition from the rep to someone else?
  •  How complicated is the sales process?  
  • Is pre- and post-sales support required?
  • How long are the sales cycles?
  • Is your offering transactional business that churns quickly?
  • Do you support sales efforts with captivating marketing or sales tools like brochures, samples or demos?
  • How accurately are the territories aligned?
  • Are you giving kudos to a rep who carries a $750,000 territory and increases new business by 10% and not to another rep who carries $1.5 million but only increases new business by 5%?

If you want your sales reps to do the hunting while the organization takes  care of the business they sell, that is completely fine.  However, depending on the answers above, sales cycle, ongoing involvement required, you may hire an Account Executive or Account Manager.  They come packaged looking like a  “Farmer” with most or all of the following attributes:

  • Builders of strong and lasting relationships
  • Not as high activity as their Hunter counterparts; there is a balance between hunting versus taking care of existing customers; more of latter
  • They will be thorough because they care about their reputation
  • They can be annoying by being actively concerned and want to be involved during any implementation process
  • They will do follow up, know everyone and everything about the customer
  • They’ll research a prospect, understand who’s who, what’s before they pick up the phone or enter the premises
  • Networking to them is within the context of their customers' industry so they can attend their events, see them in their own environment, with their peers and learn more about the customer's business
  • Yes, they appear to spend time doing pretty power points customized to who/what they’re presenting
  • They rely on referrals more than cold calls, because they’re warm and a testiment to their hard work and reputation
  • The new business  may not be from brand new customers, but from brand new individuals or departments within their customer base
  • There will be little clean up from over promising and under delivering
  • They will have  ideas on how to make the life of “their” customers easier
  •  They won’t turnover, as long as you recognize the value they bring
  • Don’t criticize their sales efforts, new business means new revenue 
  •  Paperwork will usually be detailed, updates whether you want it or not
  •  CRMs are conscientiously updated because they want to track and remember each customer as though each one is their only one (that is how they will be treated)
  • They won’t mind meetings as long as it is discussing their customers, resolving issues, coming up with innovative ideas to manage customers better.
  • You may wonder if that rep leaves if that customer will leave with them?
  • They will be more of a team player because they’re open to learning better ways to retain their customers or new avenues to create revenue from their warm pool.
  • Chances are while everyone else is sharing whale tales or discussing sports scores, they're at their customer's office or working at their desk; they'd rather not discuss it until its done
  • You probably don't notice what time they start in the morning, unless it seems late, failing to notice dark circles under their eyes
This sometimes circles back to organizations rethinking the original complaint that they want hunters.   Many sales managers fall short on this area.  Especially new sales managers.  Ask yourself:  as long as revenue is growing, what is the problem with feeding off existing customers?  The predisposition is to expect new customers.  Many executives love the war stories of Hunters and think that they must be doing extraordinary. What is wrong  with new revenue channels from existing customers?  Aren’t the results the same?  The challenge being, you can't rely on existing customers in the long run.

As a matter of fact, most end up with Farmers because they actually prefer the behaviours of a Farmer.    They are easier to manage.  They don’t turnover as much, nor do they strain the organization resources as much as a hunter does.  

By now, you may be irritated.  What you really want is new revenue.  Well, then you have to decide what that new revenue will look like and how it will be managed once it arrives.

Often times,  the people doing the pre-screening are not sales people.  Unfortunately, the mediocre sales pros are sometimes better at selling themselves than producing results.  The Hunter is who HR tends to gravitate towards if they're pressured to hire someone that can sell.   In some circles, Hunters can be stereotyped as “bottom feeders”.  From my perspective, if you're not careful, they'll tell you what you want to hear then afterwards eat your bottom line.

Personally, I’d opt for the person who is attentive, appears to be somewhat humble, and asks great questions.  I understand that high turnover in sales actually detracts from creating revenue streams.  Many short-lived sales people result from being fakes, not being able to add value or deliver results.  I get it that there are ones that may actually look like a Farmer but still have the Hunter instincts.  That's when you have  found Utopia.



    This is a gr8 post that make us think of our goals and personal philosophy on how to get there...

    Sales is a passion, for the product, for the hunt for the sale... Utopia in sales is something to aspire to...

    Gr8 stuff,

  2. A great and detailed post. I'd like to think of myself as a Farmer, who will hunt when there's not much going on on my piece of land - someone's idea of utopia perhaps?!

    The account handlers are the most crucial piece to this puzzle when the Hunters are a dominant force, as it's far easier to generate sales from an existing client than it is to find new ones and the relationship aspect of the client acquisition is of great importance.

  3. Thanks Sharel,
    Appreciate the positive feedback. Even better if it makes one think and have to consider what our philosophies are. Absolutely, Utopia is having the best of both attributes ... which often is harder to do than it sounds.
    Keep on selling!

  4. Appreciate the feedback James,
    You got it! Taking care of existing customers is one thing - client acquisition is quite another. Existing customers tend to trust you, patient, whereas newly acquired ones require more hand-holding. Many sales folk can relate to losing a new customer as it was being handed off.
    I hope you continue to read and comment again!

  5. I liked how you laid out the pros and cons depending upon the type of selling that the company is doing. This falls under "How complicated is the sales process?" but I've found the biggest variant is whether you typically sell to one or two individuals or to a group (i.e. large organization). Managing all the relationships and personalities in the latter can be challenging if you're bent on a quick sale.

  6. Interesting take on what I wrote Mike. The sales process is definitely more complicated than many realize, or the average sales professional merely skims the surface. Hopefully, it also carried the message of "be careful what you wish for"


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