Friday, January 16, 2009

What is wrong with the Hunter / Farmer Metaphor?

Putting the right person into the right sales role is one of the key responsibilities of a sales manager. The Hunter / Farmer metaphor is frequently used as guidance to fulfill this demanding task. Is this still a valid concept today with informed self directed buyers?
I have assisted many heated debates about the usefulness of this Hunter / Farmer concept. The Hunter role was rarely put in question. There are even suggestions, that in these challenging times, hunter qualities are required more than ever. The debates were mostly around the question, whether the Farmer role, usually associated with the role of an account manager, does exist in a pure form, or whether an account manager does not also need traits of a Hunter though maybe to a lesser degree.

I found that the image people had of a Farmer was often the cause for these debates. If a Framer is primarily seen Harvester, then indeed it is probably not a good analogy for what an account manager does. Before a Farmer can harvest, planning the use of the land best suited to the quality of the soil, according fertilizing and sowing the right crop are prerequisites for success. These activities are analogies to understanding the customer, building the right relationships and positioning the right solutions. Thus for me the role of a Farmer is a good metaphor for the traits, attributes and qualities needed to be a successful account manager.

From these discussions, I conclude that there is a third role to be considered; the one of a Harvester. Particularly today, with the Internet empowered customers and the frequently observed trend for marketing to reaching further down in the sales funnel, the role of the sales person risks to be reduced to that of a Harvester, harvesting what Marketing has sown. The value a Harvester can add in such situations is to assure that the client is buying the solution best suited to the need. Salespeople being in a Harvester role already today, risk to be made obsolete, if sophisticated buyers do not need this assurance and therefore can accept to do their purchasing exclusively through e-channels.

Orientating the salesperson's role on how the customer wants to buy, is not a new concept. Research undertaken by the industrial psychologist Robert McMurrry let him conclude already In 1961 that a 'true' salesperson should not sell to anybody. The increase of customer's negotiation power makes us however more aware, that the days of manipulative selling are probably definitely gone.

In this context, the Hunter metaphor is probably the most debatable. Yes a Hunter has to find the animals first before being able to kill them. This killing aspect for me is though too close to the yesteryear's mindset where selling is about fulfilling the salespersons need instead of those of the customer. The set of traits, attributes and qualities of an Explorer seems to me to be the more appropriate analogy for a practitioner of business development; the ability to win new customers in uncharted territories.

Should you think this discussion about the Hunter is splitting hair, there are more and more sales experts emphasizing the salesperson's right mindset as a primary prerequisite for success.

I am also convinced that Framers and Explorers with the right mind set and focusing on the clients that need and appreciate the added value they can bring to the relation, will run a lesser risk to become Harvester or even obsolete. However the time to upgrade the set of skills needed for success in those roles is running out fast.


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