Sales Comp III: Hunters and Farmers

Sales people break down into two subgroups- hunters and farmers. The purists will argue that in fact, only hunters are sales people. I can buy that. The farmers are more likely to be called Customer Service Representatives or Account Managers. Both types, however, are frequently compensated by how much the customer buys.

Hunters are what we usually think of as “Salesman” with a capital S. They are ADD, with the hyperactive focus that ADD folks have. (I know- I R one.) They track the quarry through rain and snow, ignoring hunger and fatigue until they succeed. Then they drag it back to the cave, throw it on the  floor, and tick everyone else off by drinking coffee and slapping each other on the back while the “real” work of filling the order or delivering the service goes on.

Farmers work in cycles. Early agrarian societies didn’t track linear time, they only paid attention to the planting cycle. At best, the concept of multiple years, if it was needed, was described as “Three reapings ago.” Farmers plant, nurture, grow, reap, and then do it all over again.

In our modern world, farming sounds like a boring way to do business. It may be, but the agrarian societies raised healthier kids and their population grew until they squeezed out the hunter-gatherers. History always has a lesson.

Going back to our discussion about Suppliers and Vendors (sales comp II- September 27th) the type of company representative to the customer you utilize is partially dependent on the type of selling relationship you have. We all need some hunters to open up the accounts. It is how you generate add-on or repeat sales that guides the hunter/farmer hiring decision.

If you are a “supplier” by my definition (every sale is made in a competitive environment) then you need hunters and only hunters. They should live in insecurity, with a sense of urgency that begins again the minute a sale is closed.

If you are a “vendor” (and some readers have challenged my definitions- sorry) then you need a few hunters to open accounts, and some farmers to maintain and grow the relationship.

Both should be compensated on results, but in different ways. There is little point in giving a hunter ongoing commissions on steady, repeat business. He or she is paid to hunt. Allowing a hunter to build up residual income is demotivational.

The farmer, of course, is a cultivator. As he or she grows the relationships, income should grow as well. The farmer builds a “crop” of good accounts that produce season after season. Paying a farmer for breaking into new accounts is often futile, and puts pressure on the farmer. Behaviorally, farmer prefer predictable income. Unlike hunters, they don’t get the same adrenalin rush from the big “kill.”

Frequently, hunters and farmers work well in teams. One makes the initial sale, and the other grows the relationship. When there is a problem or competitive challenge, the farmer sends the hunter back in to do a new “close.”

A final point: whether a sales position is appropriately filled by a hunter or a farmer depends on the objectives, the length of the sales cycle, and the type of selling relationship. You should NOT decide which type of salespeople you already have, and then try to fit the job to them.

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One Response to Sales Comp III: Hunters and Farmers

  1. Joe Zente says:

    One more word of advice…

    Less than 1% of all candidates seeking work today have the full suite of HUNTER competencies and conditions, so if you are looking for a hunter, make sure to conduct an objective assessment of what you are getting yourself into before pulling the trigger on a new hire.

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