Sales organizations may retain different types of sales representatives. In a technology sales environment, two different types, the “hunter” and the “farmer,” each play a distinct role. This article will help you grasp some of your staffing options as you build a sales team that efficiently supports your go-to-market strategy, and sales process.
The term “hunter” is used to describe the type of sales rep who is focused on closing deals with new customers. Once one deal wraps up, hunters aggressively (so to speak) move on to the next prospect and try to close another new deal. This energetic focus on deal-making and capturing new “prey” makes hunters a tempting option for start-ups. The drive for transactions often stems from the commissions they can earn. This means that hunters are best suited for businesses with relatively straightforward and uncomplicated sales cycles, such as commodity sales.
Hunters are less well-suited for businesses that attempt to develop long-term relationships with their customers, because hunters are not motivated by the balanced and often (for them) restrained efforts required to build a relationship over time.
Hunters need to have strong egos as they face a high number of daily rejections. Most hunters play a numbers game—they essentially assume that the more calls they place, the more deals they will close. Sales organizations have a relatively high turnover of staff in general, and the turnover amongst hunters tends to be even higher (30% to 35% per year) because they either suffer from burnout or can’t earn as much in commissions as expected.
The analogy of the “farmer” describes a sales role that cultivates and nurtures customer relationships. Farmers deploy a more consultative sales process than hunters. The farmer’s focus is on developing an in-depth understanding of the customer’s business in order to effectively identify solutions that fit well with the customer’s strategy and needs. Farmers are typically paid both for customer retention as well as for closing new deals. This type of role fits well with businesses that have repeat customers or businesses that sell complex products (requiring sales skills such as collaboration and political instinct).
Farmers must possess strong interpersonal skills, be able to develop trusted relationships over time, and have the ability to make and execute mid- to long-term account plans.
The stereotypes of the “hunter” and the “farmer” can help you when thinking about your sales process and the types of skills you will need in your salespeople, depending on their roles. Only in a few cases do sales reps fall squarely into one of these two categories; in reality, the majority of sales people fall somewhere between the extremes. Nevertheless, these are helpful concepts to think about as you build your sales process from scratch. It will be important to know whether you need employees that lean more toward being hunters or farmers as you set out job descriptions and hire your first salespeople.
While differences in personality are important to keep in mind, it is also vital to remember that much of your sales team’s behaviour will depend on the incentives offered in the form of commissions and bonuses. Startups should recognize that it is possible to build a sales organization with both hunters and farmers, as long they are deployed and given incentives to use their talents in the right way.