I've always said I want a farmer, not a hunter.
Hunters go for the kill and they move on.
A farmer nurtures; he watches things grow.
Often in conversations about sales and customers, people talk about hunters and farmers. For those of you not familiar with the idea, the idea is that sales people can be classified as either Hunters or farmers. Hunters are sales people who go out and make the kill: get the new order or get the new customer; farmers are those sales people who manage existing customers to gain more orders from them.
With this idea, Hunters have short-term relationships with customers—long enough to win the order, and then pass over the new customer to the farmer and move on to find new prey. There are some businesses where this approach would work, if there are large numbers of customers yet to try your products and where there are limited opportunities to sell different products. Yet in many markets and with many products, there are fewer customers but bigger customers.
The challenge with the hunter passing the customer to the farmer is that the hunter does not really understand the customer deeply and is not focused on a long-term relationship. Typically they are rewarded for this year’s sales. The rewards give them incentives to only worry about this year to ignore the consequences of the customers purchasing decision for next year’s sales. After all, it is not their problem, it’s a problem for the farmer!
As an aside, we find it difficult to see how using an idea that represents chasing a customer and then killing them will encourage sustainable sales.
In a recent discussion with a customer, they expressed some discomfort at being described as a farmer. This was based on their old-fashioned perception of a farmer: an old man who just keeps doing the same things that his father did.
Our view is that thinking about an account manager as a farmer is apt. In our experience, the modern farmer is likely to be female with an agricultural degree and constantly searching for ways to grow products that suit the demands of changing customers. The best farmers are equally comfortable discussing marketing as pesticides.
Farmers have to take a strategic view, and think beyond a single year. Whether growing crops or growing cattle, much of the financial returns come beyond this financial year. So farmers rarely make a decision that will save them money in this financial year and then cost them in the following years. They make decisions that produce sustainable returns for the farm. For the farmer, there are many things outside of their control, factors affecting the markets and factors affecting how quickly they can grow, for example, the climate. The best farmers use long-term forecasts to make robust decisions that can cope with a variety of outcomes.
For us the best Strategic Account Managers are like farmers: take a strategic view, and think beyond the single year. They rarely make a decision that will save them money in this financial year and cost them in the following years. They make decisions that produce sustainable returns for the company and sustainable relationships with the customer. Even for the best Account Managers, there are many things outside of their control, such as market demand and competitor actions. Account Managers too use long-term information about markets and competitors to make robust decisions that can cope with a variety of outcomes. They build barriers to competitors; they build higher revenues and lower costs for their customers; they help build sustainable relationships.
In many businesses, our advice is: Kill the Hunters and Feed the Farmers.
If you want to grow your revenue, then feed your farmers with tools to deliver sustainable revenue and sustainable relationships.