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Common Mistakes in Sales Management (Part 4): The Fiction of Hunters and Farmers

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn here.)

“In complex sales, Challengers absolutely dominate, with more than 50% of all star performers falling into this category [...]. At the same time, Relationship Builders nearly fall off the map entirely.”

Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, The Challenger Sale

One of the most die-hard myths in sales is the validity of the Hunter/Farmer model with Hunters suited for winning new business, and Farmers suited for winning repeat business.

In their book Dixon and Adamson define 5 types of salespeople with Hard Worker, Challenger, Relationship Builder, Lone Wolf, and Reactive Problem Solver

In highly complex sales Challengers and Lone Wolves account for 79% of high performers, Relationship Builders and Problem Solvers only for 11%!

However, countless B2B sales organizations are still built on the model, typically calling Hunter territories something like “Greenfield Accounts” and Farmer territories “Scale Accounts”.

Even if the two sales types existed, the model was still flawed. And here is why:

The purpose of sales is to influence buying decisions by understanding customer priorities, power bases, decision making processes, the ecosystem, and the competitors’ position. Sales must develop dependable, trust-based relationships with key members of the most influential power base to establish and communicate unassailable value propositions. In the Hunter/Farmer model this is the job of the Hunter but once they were successful, they are ripped out of the engagement and replaced with a Farmer.

All the trust that was built: gone. All the joint vision that emerged: lost. All the intimacy with the customer’s culture, organization, and processes: must be rebuilt from scratch again.

And what does the customer get in return? A friendly Relationship Builder or even just a Reactive Problem Solver managing a large installed base territory.

There is one more reason the model doesn’t make sense: It decouples the Hunters from the only relevant success measure in sales: sustainable and profitable revenue growth

Instead, sales management defines and measures all kind of non-revenue criteria, e.g., number of outbound calls, meetings, presentations, proposals, all tracked in a CRM system.

What’s wrong with this? It can be and therefor will be manipulated.

Want more calls: No problem! Want more presentations: Sure! Want to run more sales cycles: well, how about one for a PoC, one for a pilot and a dozen more for every rollout?

To sum it up: The Hunter/Farmer model doesn’t meet today’s customer expectations in B2B where the vendor must function as a change agent helping the customer improve their business. It disconnects sales from long-term customer success. And it discourages builders pursuing a Think Big idea.

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