A Sales Organization’s Struggle: Hunting vs Farming

Does your business lend itself to customers consistently placing “orders”? Are you lucky enough to enjoy easy & automatic renewal of business? If so, stop reading.

image of hunter and farmer for blog post on sales organization's stuggle

Most salespeople have to endure a daunting balancing act — a balance between two activities: 1) the management of current accounts (farming) & 2) going out & finding new business (hunting). Which activity do you think usually wins? Yep, farming. It’s easier.

The Farmer 


The Farmer: The person who builds & cultivates relationships & opportunities within existing accounts. This person makes sales from existing customers. It’s an important role for any sales organization. Maintaining relationships is critical. Uncovering opportunities within existing accounts is an imperative to the growth of the business. No question.

It’s also easier to do than hunting. Just pay attention to any sales organization that has existing accounts AND the need to grow new accounts. Most salespeople go where they’re known.

The old TV show, Cheer’s, said it best. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Hell yes, they do. Salespeople want to go where they’re known, where they’re “liked”, where they can feel accomplished. A place that’s familiar. A place where rejection is less likely. That’s right, a place where hearing NO is less common. Does this make them bad people? No, this makes them farmers — not hunters.


The Hunter


The Hunter: The person who looks (hunts) for & identifies new opportunities — typically in new & unchartered territory. (Yes, we all know a salesperson can hunt for new opportunities within current accounts — we’re talking about hunting for new accounts). Hunting is also a critical role for a sales organization. Mission critical. Often referred to as prospecting. Anyone who has been a hunter in sales for longer than a week knows the moment they stop hunting is the moment they go out of business.

This is the person that will call people they don’t know to talk to them about something they probably don’t want to buy. They will do this today, tomorrow & every day they want to stay in business — because they have to. They don’t like the word NO any more than the farmer, but they deal with it. It’s part of the sales game to them.

Keeping the Balance


Here’s the rub: most salespeople have to do both in their sales roles — they have to hunt & they have to farm. When this is the case, something always takes a back seat — hunting. No surprise, given the chance to go where you are known vs. where you’re not known, where would you go?

Let’s face it, salespeople are people too. They want that good feeling as much as the next person. The problem is they often get it at existing accounts even if existing accounts aren’t buying anything new.

That familiar feeling along with all of the other things a salesperson has to do has the tendency of keeping a farmer out of the hunting game. Most salespeople will tell you all of the things they have to do: manage existing accounts, administrative work, internal meetings, quotes & proposals, & so on. Some will even try as hard as they can to convince you that they don’t have time to hunt for new business. Then they prove it by not hunting for new business.

It’s an epidemic in the sales world.

So What Do You Do?


We’ll answer that in two ways:

  1. What should sales leaders do?
  2. What should salespeople do?

Sales Leaders:  Evaluate talent. You need to be better at evaluating talent. The hunter & the farmer have completely different skills. The farmer is generally organized, attentive to detail, accommodating, likable & caring, a good listener & recognizes the needs of others. The hunter tends to be more outgoing, innovative, less attentive to detail, a risk taker, motivated, flexible with rules & regulations & comfortable with rejection.

Set clear expectations. If your sales team is like many others, & has to hunt & farm, make sure you are crystal clear about what is expected. The “farmers” had better know the expectation of new business. The hunter needs to understand the importance of maintaining business & the danger of losing business if their accounts are “ignored”. Hold them accountable. Your ability to hold these salespeople accountable to these expectations separates you from weaker sales leaders (you know, posers.)  You should be coaching & motivating both of these people daily.

Salespeople:  You need to know your strengths & your gaps. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you lean toward the farmer admit it. But don’t just wallow in it. Do something about it. Set prospecting time aside on your calendar. Get curious. Ask for referrals. Join industry & professional associations. Get out of the office.

If you are more the hunter, that’s OK. But you still need to show current accounts some love. Again, schedule customer calls & visits on your calendar. Build relationships with the key people at your accounts. Be known as the trusted advisor — not just a vendor. Someone said this: Slow down, steady wins the race.

Nobody said the balance between hunting & farming in sales was going to be easy. If it’s important enough you will figure it out. You have to. After all, you can’t go around hoping that nobody will notice that your accounts aren’t growing & that you aren’t closing any new business forever, can you? They notice.

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Dave Tear

Dave is passionate about selling & helping others understand the sales process. Whether a client company has a 5 person sales team or a 300 person National sales force, Dave can Coach & Train them to be the best in their industry.
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