When my two sons were in elementary school, their teachers told my wife and me that they had ADHD and should be on Ritalin. Before taking any action, I decided to learn more about the condition. The book that helped me the most was ADHD: A Hunter in a Farmer’s World. by Thom Hartman.
I liked that book because I’m an optimist. When I’m handed lemons, I start thinking about how I can make them into lemonade. That’s what Hartman does with ADHD. Instead of seeing it as a disadvantage, he frames it as a different way of seeing the world.
Specifically, he sees people with ADHD as hunters and everyone else as farmers.
Both types of people are useful in their own ways. If you want to feed your tribe and your community properly, you need both hunters and farmers.
It’s the same with business. A lot of your salespeople will be farmers, but you also need some hunters.
Two Types of Salespeople: Hunters and Farmers
Hunters can appear to be disorganized and seem like they’re not following a plan. That’s because organized people (farmers) have a hard time understanding the kinds of plans that hunters use.
Hunters are also ambitious. They’re focused on bagging elephants like KB Homes, Home Depot, or Gensler.
Hunting elephants takes time and curiosity. If the hunter doesn’t have the opportunity to take down an elephant today, they will hunt whatever is available – a rabbit or a smaller prospect.
Hunting rabbits doesn’t seem impressive, but it improves the hunter’s skills. It’s easy to find an elephant the first time out and take a shot at it. Without enough practice, that shot will probably be off-target and not result in a sale.
Farmers are highly organized and skilled at managing their territories. But they make two mistakes when they go out hunting. The first is that they give up too soon and go back to managing their crop of current customers. The second is that they keep using the same sales message with prospects, such as “We have a better perm rating.”
The hunter will try out the sales message they’ve been given, too. But if they find that the elephant doesn’t respond, they quickly abandon the company line. Their next step is to learn even more about the prospect and take another shot. If they miss again, at least their shot was closer than the first one.
Good hunters keep following this process over and over until they land the sale. They will stick with it no matter how long it takes.
Farmers, on the other hand, are more organized. They thrive when they can follow a well-defined plan, a process, or a formula. They know on what day they need to plant a crop and they do it.
Hunters don’t usually have that kind of discipline. They might not feel like planting on that day if something else catches their interest. That’s why hunters will never make great farmers.
Make the Best of Your Sales Team
Too many companies see their salespeople as all being the same. When I work with building materials companies and interview their salespeople, I can easily tell a hunter from a farmer even though they are both expected to bring in new customers and manage current customers.
What I don’t understand is why more building materials companies don’t play to their salespeople’s strengths. Instead of treating them like they all have the same skill set, why not divide the sales team into Business Development and Account Management functions?
The hunters on the sales team would work on Business Development. They would be the ones responsible for bringing in new customers. The Account Management team would be populated by the farmers. They would be responsible for keeping current customers happy and growing their sales volume.
Now, I’m not saying that only people with ADHD should be in Business Development. I only wanted to use it as an example. If you evaluate your sales team, you probably already know who is better at landing new accounts and who is better at keeping and growing current customers.
Some companies have national account managers, but many don’t and they rely on territory salespeople. These companies often miss out on larger opportunities. Let’s say, for example, that you have a salesperson who’s responsible for the Northwest and you have a product that Starbucks could use, you could be missing this opportunity.
I have seen this situation more often than I should. When I ask that rep why they don’t pursue Starbucks, they tell me that the amount of effort to make that sale doesn’t match the reward. That’s because they’re only compensated for sales in their territory. If they get Starbucks to use their product nationally, they will only profit from a portion of that sale.
This keeps the sales rep focused on local and smaller opportunities – they’re chasing rabbits instead of taking down elephants. Yes, you can change their compensation to make big game hunting worth their while. But a Business Development person will focus on larger opportunities and will be better at it.
Let the Hunters Hunt
Assess your salespeople’s strengths and don’t hesitate to adjust their roles accordingly. You won’t get as many big customers if your hunters spend too much time tending to the fields. You also won’t get sustainable growth if you keep sending your farmers out to chase after elephants.
When you let your salespeople focus on what they do best, you’ll be surprised at how much better your results will be.
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