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Hunters vs Farmers - good model or waste of space?

Hi all,

The Hunters/Farmers model has been around for a while as a method of differentiating two different sales roles:

Hunters: Focus on getting new customers. Stereotypically, fast aggressive sales types.

Farmers: Focus on managing existing accounts. Steroetypically slower, gentler relationship managers.

Some people really like the model. Others don't.

It's rather seductive.

We all know people who have a "hunter" personality. They love the challenge of going out and winning new work - but hate the maintenance aspects of managing accounts.

Conversely, we all know "farmers". People who hate to go out into the unknown, but who love to build long-term relationships and manage customer service to ensure ongoing sales.

Seductive - but does it work?

I'm not sure that in the modern world that hunting & farming are so far apart. Certainly in the world of large sales and major customers.

For major new customers, you still have to cultivate a new customer relationship over time - it's not a one-shot sale. It takes real farmer skills to build the relationship, understand the customer and their needs, keep delivering good work (giving value first). So the hunter needs strong farmer skills.

For existing accounts, the farmer can't afford to relax. They need to be aggressively targeting new customers within the account and winning new sales (otherwise the hunters from competitors will come in and steal their crops). So the farmer needs good hunter skills.

So despite their personalities, I think both hunters and farmers need very similar set of skills in the modern world: Understanding customer needs and building strong customer relationships. In one case it's with a new customer before the first sale - in the other it's with an existing customer after the first sale. But it's broadly the same skills.

I remember Neil Rackham of Huthwaite (and SPIN selling fame) metioning one of his interviewees when doing research for a book saying that if they heard their competitors were implementing a Hunter/Farmer system they licked their lips in anticipation. Typically it meant the competitor's best sales people ended up as hunters looking for new accounts with the weaker ones being set up as farmers for the big existing accounts. The company then put its best sales people to attack the competitor's big farmed accounts - knowing they could eat the farmers alive.

Does anyone else have any experience of the Hunter/Farmer model - or a mixed one where people do some hunting & some farming?

Ian - by ianbrodie
I find (prospect) people who want what I offer them (the hunter); and I manage past sales and relationships (farmer).

My business is built on both activities we call selling (retailing) and sponsoring (recruiting) and working with those we sponsor. I can only imagine that in every selling situaiton finding new people - hunting - and keeping term relationships is what makes success.

Every model or metaphor has it's ability to inform as well as it's ability to limit and close other ways of looking at things.

The way to understand customer needs is to understand your products well and to find out from your customer and potential customer what those needs are and if you have a mutual reason for doing business. Long term that means the same.

MitchM - by MitchM
I've lived both sides of the fence:
>> hunting to uncover new business in either:
> new accounts; or,
> existing accounts;
>> farming to maintain/grow the business;

You're bang-on when you note the similarities wrt skill-sets. Some companies put their farmers into government patches because they feel that it's a better fit. In the Apple days, though, I put a real hunter into the government territory and never looked back. Ted was awesome in the role! He was tenacious to a fault: lifting rocks to find budget. Literally stealing the business from the farmers at IBM ...

During interviews, I would always seek out the hunter in everyone. If they were "dyed in the wool" farmers, they typically didn't work-out.

In my very early days, 3M seemed to prefer the farmer-type for the majority of their offering (given their over-powering marketshare). However, I was selling their copiers which were not so well known and we had to hunt like mad to make plan (with Xerox leading the heap in those early days).

I find it interesting now because the recruitment business has the nomenclature screwed up: "outbound sales" is a telemarketer who makes proactive (hunting) calls. I had one search firm tell me that the difference relates to real outbound SR's "holding closely to the client" whereas the telemarketer MUST get onto the next call in order to keep the numbers up!

Interesting post ...

Good luck & Good selling!
Pat - by OUTSource Sales
The company I work for uses a similar model. You have outside guys, hunters who are agressive and very sharp, who go and create new customers, then turn them over to inside guys, farmers who are usually younger and less experienced, and may not have quite the interest invested in keeping the customer happy. I personally hate to work and create this great relationship with a customer and make some big promises, then turn them over to someone who wasn't there for the process. It seems creates an accountability issue too. Everyone wants to take credit for the good things but blames the other for the shortfalls.

In all, I think it's a little inefficient. I prefer to have fewer customers, but they rely on me from the start of the relationship down the the tiny orders and issues. It's good to be able to depend on someone. - by jamesrobertstclair
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