Business Opinions: Hunter vs farmer. A sales tale

Imagine that about 10 000 years ago a caveman that just got home to his cave after a week of hunting a mammoth with his tribe. Whatever the result he is exhausted. A week or more of running, fighting, barely anything to eat and drink and almost no sleep can do that do a man. Best case scenario they were successful and got their mammoth. In this case they have food for the tribe for maybe a month but after this month they have to go out hunting again. I don’t even cope with the idea of them not getting their food because at this point they are exhausted and in a very bad spot not providing their families with food. Unless you have a good hunting ground, filled with animals and the best hunting tools hunting big game might not be the best solution for you. And the alternative is berries and mushrooms.

    I believe that one of those cold nights in the cave our prehistoric friend decided he was not going to last long doing this again and again and started to look for some alternative solution. Of course the first step must have been traps in order to outthink the target and reduce the effort. But at some point he understood that he can reduce the effort even more and maybe not even get out of his comfort zone around his home.And for the next 5000 years all around the globe something extraordinary happened – various cultures developed farming skills. They learned about crops, about taming wild animals for help in the field or meat. But in time they had an easier and stable source of nourishment for their families. They were no longer dependant of the success of the hunt.

    Coming back to our days imagine a modern sales man, he just got back from a business trip where he had meetings with a big prospective client. He gets back to his downtown penthouse, tired and a little frustrated. If that client signs the contract he will be a super star in his company, but if the client says no he might get fired.He likes the adrenaline of the hunt and he couldn’t change that even if he wanted. He loves a challenge, the bigger the client and the greater the risks the more he likes it. His big ego makes him hard to control but he loves the independence. Every start up wants him and he is going to get the job done but usually after getting his “pray” he wants to move on and find the next thrill. His tools are simple but effective: he is persuasive, aggressive and wants to expedite discussions. Every morning he wakes up and goes hunting to provide for him and his family, but most of the time he is single.

    The difference between our prehistoric hunter and the modern sales hunter is, even if they both hunt to survive, the modern hunter can do something different to survive but he enjoys the thrill of the hunt, the success it brings and the feeling of building the business.

    At the same time, in the suburbs, another salesman comes home. He is more relaxed and calm. His day was a normal one, talking to 5 or 6 of his best clients that he knows for years now. Not all of the discussion had business as a subject. His relationship with his customers is more than that. He is a farmer, taking care of his clients, understanding their needs and predicting future business together with them. He knows exactly where the best ground for farming is, what “seeds” to plant, the right “fertilizers” and “water” amounts. He takes care of his “crops” for a long period of time and he has the patience a hunter doesn’t. The farmer knows his customers, offers personalized solutions and always respect his promises.

    For as long as people did sales and the hunter and farmer types were recognized we had a battle started from the question “which one is better as a sales person?” Arguments from both sides were right and from time to time one of the groups looked like winning the battle. Depending on economic situation, market changes or internal organizational changes the abilities of the two groups can make one of them look more successful. Keep in mind the fact that sales persons are rarely 100% hunter or farmer but they are definitely influenced by the personality they have and in time they will get closer and closer to 100%.

    But which one is actually better? After 10 years of sales or sales related activities my conclusion is that they both have an important role. You need both even in the same company because if you can build a functional team with both hunters and farmers you increase your chance of success. Sometimes companies complain because the sales department doesn’t perform but you have to get together the right team. If you only have hunters in the team, you will get a lot of new customers but no one will implement a loyalty strategy because the hunter brings you the pray and goes after another.

Another mistake is rewarding all of the sales team the same. Remember hunters like risk so they love being paid on commission seeing big rewards if they deliver, on the other side the farmer plays safe and likes better a stimulating salary and lower commission percentage. Farmers build relationships with your clients and partners and they want to be treated the same by the company they represent. Hunters bring new business, big clients usually and they expect their share of the business they brought.

Using hunters and farmers the right way also depends on the product or services you create, on the market you reach for, on the moment in business life cycle your company is and future strategies you implement.

    I was from the beginning identified as a hunter; I liked taking risks, working for 3 months or more to catch a big “fish” knowing that the rewards will be worth the fight. The closest I got to become a farmer was when I had a very big and demanding client, worked only for that client for almost 2 years but it was like taming a wild horse. Every day I had to get in there and fight for the next project they put on the table. I know now I am not a farmer, and is not because I don’t have the skills, the knowledge or don’t want to work hard on building a relationship with my customers because I do all that. I am a hunter because I don’t have the patience required to plant a seed and wait for a long period of time for the reward I want.

    Farmer versus hunter is a fight on the sales battlefield that will never have a winner in my mind. Start a business with hunters, bring some farmers alongside and find a way for them to work together and you will have a successful team. Pick one side and assume the fact that you will either get big deals from time to time or a couple of loyal clients that may not be there forever and might even disappear when a hunter from your competition will take him in his sights.

*Mihai Chiratcu is an opportunity creator, trainer and free man. After 10 years experience in sales and businesdevelopment, he is using the knowledge gathered trying to bring a new approach in training and business consultancy. He brings you every Thursday special information and gives advices through the section “Business Opinions”. For more information, you can find Mihai at

One Comment

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