Updating the Hunter-Farmer Sales Model for Today’s Nuanced Sales Landscape

May 7, 2020
Author: Collin Stewart

The hunter-farmer sales model has long been an accepted way of looking at the different roles that exist, primarily, in the Account Executive world. 

You, likely, know them well: the hunter is the lone wolf salesperson focused entirely on getting new deals, while the farmer grooms their well-known territory to grow accounts. Despite these tropes existing for years now, they are still, for the most part, accurate. 

But, according Sean O’Shaughnessey, Chief Revenue Officer at Agile Stacks, they have expanded. Sure, hunters and farmers are still around, but in our varied and changing sales landscape, more nuanced classifications are needed.

Enter Sean O’Shaughnessey and the “Trapper” sales model.

The traditional hunter-farmer model is too simplistic in our relatively complicated world. I’ve always sold fairly complicated products, with long decision making times. That’s my experience.

Furthermore, salespeople usually don’t say they are farmers – they say they are hunters. And I’ve seen people lose deals because of that hunter mentality.

Expanding our definition of salespeople

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

Let’s look at each in more detail:

Hunters – this is the lone wolf salesperson, entirely focused on closing deals. They are driven by “the kill” and are comfortable in high-volume, highly-transactional sales environments. They shoot at everything and, as a result, miss a lot. But, they’re volume players; 

Farmers – farmers, typically, have their plot of land, and they put a lot of work into it to cultivate it and put good seed down. More of the account manager type. Servicing their accounts or their territory, primarily through upsells. This is akin to a Customer Success role;

Gatherers –  gatherers are similar to farmers, but they bring back lots of new stuff. They are more proactive than farmers, they really know their territory, and, generally, have really good relationships with high-quality companies. They are constantly trying to grow that account and are known as trusted advisors.

Trappers – this is also a closing-focused role, similar to the hunter. But, instead of shooting in every possible direction, the trapper understands exactly what to shoot at, and they know how to strategically place their traps.

“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.

(Editor’s note: we had Karan Singh on the pod a while back to chat about taking a data-driven approach to go to market planning. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here)

What does a good trapper do? 

A critical reason for this persona expansion, says O’Shaughnessey, 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, but 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 less accounts). One such tool, says O’Shaughnessey, 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, says O’Shaughnessey, 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.

For more on O’Shaughnessey’s thoughts on the importance of expanding sales personas – as well as his views on how to celebrate those all-important big wins – check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.