Who Sells Better Today, the Farmer or the Hunter?

Which sales model works best in today's social world? The slow-and-steady style, or the enterprising, aggressive approach?
Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes
August 09, 2012 In sales and marketing circles, you may have heard that some business types are farmers and some are hunters. Some like to plant many seeds among prospects, water them, nurture them, and help them grow. Some people are hunters, scouting for prospects and pursuing people who could become customers.

I started this story believing that the hunter/farmer analogy is a dead one and that it should be abandoned. But after receiving a number of detailed e-mails from business owners and solo entrepreneurs, I decided that I would explore it further before giving my verdict, giving consideration to the role that social media now plays in sales. In the past, salespeople were generally hunters or farmers. Business owners typically had to play both roles or starve. 

Wear the Right Hat

Most readers wrote to me saying that it is not, and maybe never has been, an either-or scenario. Great sales happen when sales and marketing types understand the customer well enough to put on the appropriate hat.

Let’s look at a few characteristics from each, starting with hunters:

  • Hunters love to network.
  • They enjoy being out in the field, scouting for the next customer.
  • Hunters are decent at maintaining a client base, but prefer to keep exploring new areas.
  • They are solution-oriented—willing to analyze problems and work on developing solutions.
  • Hunters are usually bored with one task and some might say they suffer from an attention deficit disorder.
  • They like to multitask and manage multiple leads and projects at the same time.

Farmers in general take a more steady approach:

  • Like farmers in real life, these types often are happy working with one or a few customers.
  • Farmers take a long-term view and will work for a long time to close a lead.
  • They optimize sales opportunities by learning about the individual needs of each client (and are able to upsell and cross-sell).
  • They are strongest at customer retention.
  • Farmers are open to client feedback and will stay on task until they exhaust all options in serving the client.

Felicity Fields, an online marketing coach, explained that business owners often use social media to “hunt” for new prospects, but it isn’t sustainable to always be hunting. She suggests that it is vital to “build their own ‘marketing farm’ instead of running around chasing down new leads. Owners should think about building up their own social media presence, instead of running about the Internet.”

I believe she is on to something: If you look at your customer/prospect base as an area, you have to do a lot as a farmer to keep that area healthy and growing. But you also have to protect it from predators and other forces of nature, so you need some hunters who will patrol the perimeter and expand it from time to time.

Growing up in a farming and hunting community, I observed people who did both, so I am going to declare the analogy obsolete. It isn’t farmer versus hunter. It is farmers who know how to hunt or hunters who know how to farm. Having an either-or mentality creates division within a company and its sales effort. You need both types on your team, and it is vital to regularly encourage and motivate them to learn from one another.

 TJ McCue runs TechBizTalk, a review, how-to, and tutorial site to help you discover the top new Web-based applications and services for your growing company.

Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes