Salesperson: Hunter or Farmer?

MikeLeadership & Management, Sales Process, Sales Talent

hunterfarmersml

I’m from New York, although I’ve been in St. Louis for 19 years and have lost most of the accent and some of the harsh edges. But I still like to make extreme statements – the kind that would fit as a headline for the New York Post. And I’ve learned from many consulting engagements, it’s often necessary to make extreme declarative statements to wake up the client and help swing the pendulum back toward the center.

The single biggest problem I see contributing to lack of new business development success is the hybrid hunter-farmer sales role.

There. I’ve said it. And I feel better already. After just five months back at full-time sales consulting, I can share without reservation that the typical blended part new business hunter, part account manager sales position is killing the NewSales acquisition efforts of many companies.

I know. You’re not supposed to point out the problem unless you are ready to share the solution. Well, this issue is big and hairy, and there isn’t a simple fix or canned solution. But the problem is so massive and so pervasive that it’s worth opening up the dialogue even if I can’t wave the magic consultant’s wand and pull a neat and pretty answer out of my hat.

There are precious few true hunters, but an abundance of account manager-farmers. Take a look at your sales team. How many legit A-player rainmakers do you have? If yours is like the typical company I see, the answer is between 10% and 20% of your team. Most likely, it’s closer to 10%. ┬áSo…let me ask: if you have so few true new business killers, why do you task them with account management responsibility that dilutes their hunting effort? What’s the opportunity cost of having your best fisherman cleaning, cooking, setting the table, doing dishes? Before responding with your pat answer or the company line, answer this: are you hitting your fish-catching goals? Honestly, I am tired of hearing how important all these other “sales” functions are. Stated simply, if you are not hitting your new business acquisition numbers, isn’t it fair to examine how much real time and focused effort is actually dedicated to the cause?

No one defaults to prospecting. No one. Show me one blended-role salesperson who is ignoring the needs of an important existing account to focus on new business development (prospecting) and I’ll show 10,000 salespeople doing the opposite. Finding a successful part-time prospector salesperson is as rare as seeing Halley’s Comet racing across the night sky.

Yes, I am being extreme – intentionally. Sure, there are rare cases when super-gifted and disciplined humans end up on our sales teams. And these freaks of nature have both the gifts and skills to love on and penetrate existing customers, yet know when to carve out dedicated prospecting time, possess the drive and technique to get in front of strangers, and thrive hunting for new business. And every single sales leader reading this post would pay the moon to have just one person like that in their organization!

Questions to ponder:

  1. When was the last time you took a hard look at the account management/service burden that is placed on your supposed new business sales team?
  2. Is your sales compensation structured in such a way that a dollar sold to an existing account pays the same commission as a dollar sold to a new account? Year after year?
  3. If you’re falling short of the desired level of new business acquisition, have you considered studying how salespeople are actually spending their time? I fear you may be shocked about the ACTUAL amount of time dedicated to prospecting by salespeople with hybrid hunter-farmer responsibility.

Related posts:

a) Guest post by my friend and old client Mike LaTella who compared true salespeople to account managers

b) My recent post on Killer Interview Questions for Sales Hunters

Servant Leadership
Mental Picture of a Sales Call