The Hunter vs. The Farmer: Making the Right Sales Hires

by Private

It can be dangerous to take an overly simple view of salespeople. The simple view goes something like this: All sales people are coin operated, put the right number of coins in and push the appropriate buttons, and soon you'll have what you want come out the other end.  When extended to the decision of whether or not to bring on a salesperson, this view oftentimes results in a focus primarily on whether the company has enough coins to hire a salesperson, with cursory thought given to the type of salesperson being hired.  As obvious as it may sound, hiring someone experienced in selling a product with a similar sales cycle as your product is key.

There are two broad types of salespeople, hunters, who seek the quick catch, and, farmers, who have the aptitude and patience to nurture a raw seed over time.  Hiring a hunter to do a farmer's job has the potential to not only frustrate the salesperson seeking a quick hit but to alienate customers seeking a consultative and nurturing approach, and internal resources who are apt to hear the catcalls of a frustrated salesperson who is the victim of bad products and marketing.  At the same time, hiring a farmer to to do job of a hunter can lead to overly complex processes and a hesitation to ask for the sale.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of questions to ask in determining whether to utilize a hunter or farmer in software sales:

PRODUCT CONSIDERATIONS

  • Is the software being sold mission critical and/or costly?  If it is, chances are that the customer is not going make a decision quickly. Hire a farmer.
  • How often is this type of software refreshed? Something that is refreshed every 5-7 years, like enterprise resource planning software, is apt to require a lot of time to evaluate, requiring a farmer.
  • How much integration with existing solutions is required?  Integration is by its very nature typically messy. If this system being replaced or the system being put in will require a lot of complex integration, the customer is apt to want to forecast how those integrations will play out.
  • Is the solution a small part of a bigger system or the whole system?  Smaller parts of bigger systems, oftentimes called point solutions, are easier to digest, and a typical way for companies to evaluate a software vendor before buying an entire system. A hunter can oftentimes persuade even the most process intensive customer to quickly purchase a point solution. But be careful, if the followup sale requires selling the whole system you a farmer may be needed, one who looks at the point solution as one step in a longer sales cycle.
  • Does the product purchase require a credit card for monthly billing or an invoice(and/or one time payment)?  As strange as this may sound, a product that can be bought with a swipe of a card can avoid centralized decision making within an organization, oftentimes enabling a hunter to succeed in a company where overall processes dictate a long sales cycle nurtured by a farmer.

CUSTOMER CONSIDERATIONS

  • Is there are a procurement desk involved? Procurement desks are often proxies for long and arduous decision making, signaling the need for a farmer.
  • Who has budget authority? If access to the budget authority is several steps away from where the salesperson currently has access, a farmer is typically needed to gain trust, and, in turn, access.
  • Is this a purchase being made by the IT department or a business function?  IT departments are typically apt to not only evaluate a solution relative to business needs, but also against overall IT infrastructure and IT priorities across divisions while business function leads making software decisions(like a VP of sales) are apt to avoid as much of this as possible, making it easier for a hunter to operate.

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