1963 was the first year I was a tax paying sales person, and I have enjoyed that distinction for soon to be 50 years. I have sold for and consulted to companies headquartered in a basement and as immense as Siemens and Johnson & Johnson.
In almost all of those organizations, the individuals are talking about hunters and farmers. When this subject comes up, everyone in the room nods with understanding – that is everyone but ME! I don’t get it – at least not the way they are describing it.
What I hear is these organizations are so hungry for revenue they will cling to any myth hoping it is true or that this is a magic spell that will result in the growth of profitable revenue if we just talk about hunters and farmers.
Here is my problem with this conversation. Every CEO I know wants to continually grow profitable revenue. They want the revenue to be predictable so a forecast can be counted on, and as revenue grows, the CEO wants the cost for producing revenue to decrease based on strategic investments in brand, software, process, tools and talent.
If what CEO’s want is the predictable growth of profitable revenue at consistently decreasing cost per revenue dollar, then what is the best way to think about hunting and farming to reach these goals?
To be clear, most of hunting is really a way to describe opportunistic selling. I understand the temptation to get sales people who have a great rolodex, network or cold calling ability and turn them loose to hunt the biggest game they can quickly find. The hunter really doesn’t care if they find Moose, Elk, Buffalo, Deer, Quail, Doves, Rabbits or they have to revert to rod and reel for Bass, Trout, Carp or Salmon (as long as they get paid). When we turn the hunter loose to hunt (any revenue they can find), we are telling them to kill whatever is the fastest and easiest to slay. Sometimes we intend to have strategic hunters, but seldom do they perform that way, and even more seldom do organizations build the structure to make that work (like comp plans supporting only strategic hunting).
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and place for hunters (I am a hunter). That time is VERY early in a company’s or product’s (offer’s) life. At this early stage, nobody really knows what the market should be, and opportunistic hunting is a form of research into the market. This is only valid for a short time and takes a special hunter to help determine the right targets for the company and the commission plan. The company also needs the discipline to learn from what the hunter is doing in order to become more strategic and to focus on future niches to dominate with ideal buyers who are highly profitable.
Farmers are often described as being less skilled, less strategic, less worthy of strategic investment. They seem less risky (that should be good), and appear much more tactical related to the organization’s growth and profits.
This vision of the farmer part of the business is as misunderstood as the vision of the hunter as the best strategic option for growth.
The hunter is only strategic at the early stages of an organization, an offer or a market. At other times, the hunter is a desperate attempt to find anything to kill to avoid becoming extinct.
Farming is a predictable way to eat for today and grow for the future. Farmers understand their environment (soil or customers), they know what that environment needs to get better (fertilizer or other offers, products and services), farmers can actually predict over a period of time what certain investments will yield in the way of additional growth and revenue. Hunters get up each day and hope they see something to slay.
Farmers can add acreage (more projects or referrals), or improve the process on the current acres (customers), or they can plant different crops (sell different products or services) to get more predictability and higher returns, which accomplishes the goal of predictably growing profitable revenue both in the short-term and the long-term.
For thousands of years, farmers have proactively been driving down the resources required per acre and increasing both the yield and the profits. Compare this to hunters - hunters are one-to-one producers on a good day. If what the hunter finds to slay is a bunny, you have a thin stew, and if they find a buffalo, you have steaks. The sales hunter can find a BIG deal with no profit or great profit, a mid-sized deal with reasonable profits or find nothing at all. Hunters slay whatever opportunity they can quickly find to be sure everyone eats, and they get paid.
We need both hunters and farmers.
Hunters fit where what we are doing is new, and no one knows exactly what the environment holds or how to get a great return. Farmers are the short-term strategic key to growing organizations, offers and markets once we understand what we are doing and how the environment responds to our different strategic options.
We know the best way to make more money given available resources is from current and past customers and referrals from these sources. This is strategic farming activity and leads to repeatability, predictability and profitability today and into the future.
The next time someone starts talking about sales hunters and farmers don’t sit there and nod. Make sure there is clarity about the advantages of each and be sure that each resource is being applied at the right time, for the right reasons and is getting the RIGHT RESULTS.