Updating The Hunter-Farmer Sales Model

Jun 26, 2022
Collin Stewart

The hunter-farmer sales model has been around for years, but is it still accurate?

It’s an image we’re all familiar with–the hunter is a lone wolf salesperson who relentlessly hunts down new leads, while the farmer cultivates relationships with their existing accounts.

According to Sean O’Shaughnessey, Chief Revenue Officer at Agile Stacks, these tropes are overly simplistic. In a changing B2B landscape, we need a more nuanced view of sales roles, and it’s time to expand our archetypes beyond this dualistic model.

A more realistic framework for evaluating a salesperson’s particular role is to add two more personas – the gatherer and the trapper.

“The strongest salespeople are trappers in a gatherer position – they are salespeople selling to high-quality companies and they are tasked to maximize revenue from that target,” says O’Shaughnessey. That person is entrenched. Competing with that person is nearly impossible.

But, one can be successful in any one of those personas – if they work hard enough. If you work your ass off, then there isn’t anything bad about any of these. You can be absolutely one of them and succeed.

Hunter-Farmer Sales Model McKinsey

The Hunter Sales Persona 

This is the lone wolf salesperson, focused entirely on closing deals. Hunter sales are driven by “the kill” and comfortable in high-volume, highly-transactional environments. 

The problem with being a sales hunter is that these people shoot at everything, and as a result, they often miss. Without learning from the other persona types, sales hunting leads to a high volume of leads but low conversion rates.

The Farmer Sales Persona

In contrast to hunter sales, farmers spend their time cultivating relationships and planting seeds. They’re more of an account manager type, servicing their territory primarily through upsells. Farmer types are well suited to roles in customer success.

The Problem With the Hunter-Farmer Sales Model

While the hunter-farmer sales model may have worked well fifty years ago, the rules of the game have changed. Mass volume sales hunting is no longer effective. Today’s buyers want a more personal, human-based approach.

The traditional hunter-farmer sales model is too simplistic for the modern sales world, with complicated products, high competition, and long decision-making times. And approaching modern consumers with the old sales hunter mentality can do more harm than good.

The Gatherer Sales Persona 

Gatherers are similar to farmers, but they also bring in new deals. They are more proactive than farmers, they know their territory, and generally have good relationships with high-quality companies. They are constantly trying to grow their accounts and are seen as trusted advisors.

The Trapper Sales Persona 

The trapper is a closing-focused role, similar to the sales hunter. But instead of shooting in every possible direction, the trapper understands exactly what to shoot at–in other words, they place their traps strategically.

Combining the traits of these two personas, trapper-gatherers sell to high-quality companies and maximize revenue from their target accounts. It’s a position that’s nearly impossible to compete with.

An Expanded Hunter-Farmer Sales Strategy

A critical reason for this persona expansion is greater consistency. Farmers see good years and bad years; if they get caught in a draught (ie., lose one of their accounts), they can lose everything very quickly.

Conversely, a sales hunter sees and shoots. It’s a numbers game. Hunter sales personas are great at bringing in new leads but fail to cultivate long-term client relationships, and therefore miss out on a large amount of potential revenue.

The trapper persona is more strategic. In a complicated sales cycle, there are a lot of steps before a decision is made. The trapper knows exactly the best time to enter this cycle. 

Trappers have an in-depth understanding of their ideal customer and they meet the prospect where they’re at, usually through inbound marketing. They create content that appeals to every step in the buyer’s journey and customizes their approach based on what phase the prospect is in. The result is more deals closed.

Updating the Hunter-Farmer Sales Model

Every salesperson sells three things: their product, their company, and themselves. But, of those three, it’s selling themselves that’s most important.

Salespeople need to establish themselves as a trusted advisor, someone the customer believes will contribute to their success and always be there for support. The ability of a salesperson to sell themselves in this way can even overcome product deficiencies and company issues.

The trapper role excels in this area. Trappers know their customers inside out and are able to build trust, overcome objections, and use social proof to close the deal. What makes them so effective is an in-depth knowledge of their target market. 

If you need help understanding your ideal customer, click here to book a free call with our coaching team to learn how we can help.

What Does a Good Trapper Do? 

A critical reason for this persona expansion is the account for greater consistency.

For instance, let’s look at the potential downfalls a farmer could suffer: if they get caught in a drought, or bad rain storm, they could go starving. Sure, farmers close deals, but they can have good and bad years.

Conversely, a hunter sees and shoots – that’s what they do. It’s a wonderful inclination. But, what if they don’t find something? The hunter has to have lots of targets, or they too can go hungry.

So the advantage trappers have is a more strategic mindset. For example, in a complicated sales cycle, there is always a decision-making timeline. There are a lot of steps before a decision is made in a complicated sales process.

A trapper, therefore, wants to enter the sales cycle as early as possible, while still being able to control as much as they can.

To do so, they need to build tools and techniques to help this process because the longer the sales cycle, the more costly it is (salespeople are able to work fewer accounts). One such tool is sending a newsletter to stay top of mind.

What Does a Great Salesperson Do?

Of course, across the spectrum of sales personas are core principles that every salesperson should understand.

Namely, is the fact that every salesperson sells three things: their product, their company, and themselves. But, of those three, it’s selling themselves that is of paramount importance.

Why? Because a salesperson will always have to compete against a product that, more or less, does what their product does. So, they’ll always have to be able to sell it. And, moreover, a salesperson will always have to be able to sell their company because companies, like products, tend to be similar.

So what’s left… is the salesperson themselves. Can they establish themselves as a trusted advisor? Can they become the kind of person that a customer believes will always be there for support?

If so, then they’ve likely got a closed deal on their hands.

“If those are all ties, then you are selling yourself. You are selling the fact that you can be trusted, and depended upon,” says O’Shaughnessey.

Salespeople win the deal because the salesperson made the prospect comfortable that they will make them successful. That ability is huge and overcomes product deficiencies and company issues as well.

Can You Change Sales Personas?

Both trappers and the traditional hunter-farmer sales model have a place in sales. Most people will naturally gravitate toward one of these personas, but with proper coaching, a salesperson can work to improve their weaknesses and build on their strengths. 

One can be successful in any one of these personas; the key is to find the right mix for your organization. Hire different persona types that complement one another, and learn from sales leaders who may follow a different model than your own.

To hear more of O’Shaughnessey’s thoughts on expanding sales personas, check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

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