Sales Hunters, Andrew Stein, SteinVoxThree trends are driving sales hunters to extinction. Sales Leadership is changing, just like every other role. Transparency in today’s social media world changes the sales process. Social transparency uncovers the organizational damage left behind by sales hunters. You may know them as heavy hitter, sales hotshot, sales guru, or lone wolf. Yes, Human Resources people are probably watching.

The negative fallout does not leave CEOs and COOs unaccountable. C-level executives that tolerate this type of negative sales culture are discovered and revealed through social transparency.

Economic factors are forcing change in business culture and management style in companies across many industries. The trends parallel shifts in management practices recently outlines in Inc. Magazine. The first trend is a change in the sales tool set and increase in complexity of the sales process. The second trend is a change in customer engagement style. And, the third trend is a change toward collaborative team leadership.

Sales Hunters and Farmers Merging

Everyone knows the “hunter” and “farmer” analogy. Go-To-Market Strategies of Seattle offers these definitions:

“The Hunter […] gets their sales energy off of the “hunt” for the new opportunity. […] They are networkers. They are independent. They generate buzz and excitement. And, they are not always good at follow-through and focus.”

“The Farmer […] builds and cultivates relationships and opportunities […]. Farmers […] turn a customer from good to great by the nature of their relationship and the loyalty they gain from their efforts. They nurture. They collaborate. They are team players. […].”

Under pressure, Farmers typically rely on the collaborative strength created by working with others. Hunters, when under pressure, become the kind of people neither customers nor coworkers want to be around. The poor economy of late has driven many Hunters to be toxic and destructive within organizations as they struggle to win big deals that are more scarce.

Sales Tools And Process

Social Media and technology has changed the entire sales tool set. The entire lead generation, prospecting and qualification capability provided by social media platforms like LinkedIn have complicated and ignited the process. Never before have customers known so much about the people and companies selling to them, and sales people about their customers.

Marketing materials have become digital. Formerly, the “sales bag,” would have a collection of brochures, technical specifications, a logo pen or other branded gift and many such “leave behinds.” Field marketing teams (and promotions budgets) were whiplashed by demands to have new things to leave behind for every customer visit. The web now provides everything, up to date and fast. Tim Handorf writes “Sales professionals are using the iPad while in front of their customers to have a conversation”“The New iPad is the New Sales Bag” on the BigMachines blog. Marketers have introduced interactive online pre-sales experiences to initiate the sales process exceeding the effectiveness of any leave-behind item.

Companies today cannot survive without a customer relationship management system, or CRM, to support sales processes. The transition from prospect-to-customer involves so many people that it must have a CRM to measure success and learn from lost sales. The days of a sales person “owning a rolodex of customers” are over. Companies consider their CRM, sales process, and customer database a critical asset owned by the corporation.

Customer Engagement

Customers do not make a single transaction, consume a product, and move on. Companies realize that customers are to be engaged, nurtured, and served for the long-run. Emmet C. Murphy and Mark A. Murphy in their book “Leading on the Edge of Chaos” noted that acquiring new customers costs as much as five times more than satisfying and retaining current customers. April Dunford in RocketWatcher, says there are 5 customer retention tactics including:

  1. Regular communicationwith customized content
  2. Customer servicethat delights beyond expectation
  3. Listen(and then talk) in order to have an interactive conversation
  4. Loyalty programsthat deliver rewards for participation
  5. Community among and between customers in a market ecosystem

We learned from the definition of Hunter and Farmer that Hunters often fail to deliver after the close, and also fail to maintain long-term relationships with a customer after the close. The five tactics above are impossible to deliver as an individual. Customer engagement requires the “hunter” to evolve and learn to work together and serve the needs of a cross-functional team.

Collaborative Leadership

The old Hunter model is one of a lone-wolf. Like a big game hunter, he stalked and landed his deal like an unsuspecting game animal, collected his trophy and reward. The hunter then moves on to the next prey only to let someone else perform the laborious task to satisfy the promises made to the customer. Operating in isolation, expectations often are missed.

Today, the Hunter and Farmer approaches are merging. Farmers have always been team players, and understood the bigger business ecosystem and the effort required to deliver. In the current environment, Hunters either become extinct, or evolve to collaboratively participate with Farmers. Together they collectively win larger and more valuable accounts. Together they set and meet customer expectations. This is the future. As products become more complex, in particular technology products, it takes a team. Working together and building customer confidence accelerates the approval process required expenditures.

Case Study

Recently, I watched as one company’s CEO put faith in a heavy-hitter sales guru. This person did not deliver a single sale over many quarters. This is failure by most measures and should have been corrected in the second or third quarter.

The recruiter referred to the guy as a “walking paycheck” that he could place anywhere. Good looking, executive suite presence and a history of sales leadership positions easily garnered a quarter-million-dollar base salary from the unsuspecting CEO. The long-term failure can be traced back to three factors that should have been discovered before hiring. First, the CEO was enamored with the persona. Second, references were not checked. Finally, basic technical competency was not measured to ensure that this person could understand the complexity of the product he would be selling.

Many quarters after hiring the big game hunter, his team had quit, marketing had been decimated, and engineering had been demoralized. While the lone wolf complained that he needed a larger sales team, or blamed weakness in the product, the development team, the infrastructure, the marketing, the tradeshows, the economy, and so on, others were able to close sales by working with the customer.

The damage the Hunter inflicted affected many areas of the company. Productivity of others around him declined dramatically. Many good employees quit over conflicts that the CEO didn’t address. Financially, revenues did not meet the expectations. Other sales people closing deals were demoralized as they saw a big gap in compensation-to-results ratios while the guru was for selling nothing. Competitors closed a two year innovation lead while the CEO refused to recognize the issue, and take action. This company won’t be around long.

Expert’s Indicators

David K. Williams and Mary Michelle Scott on the HBR Blog Network wrote a piece called Four Secrets to Selling More. Their number one secret is, “Pass on hiring hotshot sales gurus.” They point out that these types of hunters resist bringing in others on the team to win a deal, and are focused on their own commission, instead of the good of the company. CEOs and COOs must be cautious about having lone wolves on the sales team resulting in detriment to the company – and their own leadership career. When management holds these gurus up as the example to other hard working sales executives, it is demotivating, demoralizing and ultimately sales productivity will decline overall. And, if they leave, the company is left with a potential revenue and customer service gap to deal with that a well tuned team otherwise could absorb.

Paul Speigelman in the Culture Gap column of Inc. Magazine wrote about 10 Leadership Practices to Stop Today. He wrote that old-school practices have been replaced by new-school practices. After reading the list, it’s clear that the implication is that Management and Executives are behind – the new school practices have been around a while. In his list, #5 points to the balance sheet performance being a function of people working together to drive the business and generate customer loyalty. And #10 indicates that old-school incentives are replaced by rewards based on being valued by the organization. These two alone further drives the high-paid (high cost and high maintenance) sales superstar to evolve as a team player, or become extinct.

To Ponder

At a minimum, hunters are evolving into collaborative hunters working with Farmers in the mutual interests of both their company,and the customer. This is not unlike how prehistoric man worked together to hunt herds of roaming game. No longer can the Big Game Hunter successfully deliver everything the company needs with one rifle, alone in the field. The collaborative sales team of Farmers and evolved Hunters will always win and out-produce the lone wolf Hunter.The customer will feel the rich experience and support that comes from an engaging team.

In today’s new business environment, the concept of providing exceptional service levels to  customers throughout the customer experience lifecycle requires a team focused on Farming.

Image credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

3 Responses to Three Trends Driving Sales Hunters To Extinction

  1. […] Sales roles and processes are changing. Transparency driven by social media uncovers the organizational damage left behind by sales hunters of the past.  […]

  2. […] new ways of creating a relationship with customers.  Andrew Stein writes in his blog article ” Three Trends Are Driving Sales”, “Social Media and technology has changed the entire sales tool set. The entire lead generation, […]

  3. JT Pedersen says:


    Great article and one that I concur with.  The evolution in sales, in customer relationships, is not terribly different than what we saw reflected in this week’s elections.  Entire demographics are changing and, while many are better and quicker at adapting, no one has really figured it all out yet.  Selling to customers is a process, relatively stable for decades, that leaves us feeling like there’s sand under our foundations.

    I can relate to organizational damage stemming from hunter.  We had one ‘hunter’ that routinely strong-armed customers–especially around end of quarter–when quotas needed to be met.  Over the years, this person’s approach became less effective, clearly damaging relationships.

    Years later, I inherited one of this person’s accounts.  A very large client, they had physically had him escorted from the building for his last visit.  Only after -5- years, were they willing to consider talking with us again.  For the next six months, whenever we met with them, we had to spend about 30 minutes listening to them as they berated the person.  We bore penance for the hunter’s actions for a very long time.  These are not isolated cases either.

    While we all have horror stories to share, the crux of your article is what is important.  Various forms of media make it possible for us to know more, much more above any level of engagement we wish to investigate.  It behooves us to bear this in mind, and to seek out ways to leverage this new reality.

    Good piece.

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