Hunting vs. Farming in Sales

It’s easy for organizations to fall into the habit of seeking sales growth only through existing customers. Even though the sales force is typically best placed to find and approach potential clients, individual reps may shun the uncomfortable task of cold-calling in favor of selling to customers they know well.

One large distributor of auto parts tried tackling this problem by separating these activities. Its sales leader designated some reps as “hunters,” who focused exclusively on finding new prospects, while “farmer” reps concentrated on existing customers. The model succeeded initially but later foundered as hunters became discouraged by the time and effort required for their relatively scant wins, as well as the perception that they were second-class citizens compared with farmers.

As attrition rates among hunter reps grew, the sales leader changed tack. To demonstrate the importance of finding new customers, he designated one day a month as a “hunting day,” when all reps would exclusively chase new prospects. The rest of the time, they could focus largely on existing customers. The result was astounding: in a single day, the company signed up as many new customers as it normally did in two months. Setting aside one day a month for hunting new business is now an ingrained part of the company’s sales practices.

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