What makes a successful social media program? Awards? An engaging Twitter presence? Scores of Facebook fans? Lots of coverage in Mashable and speaking gigs on the conference circuit? Maybe. Many argue he (or she) who drives the most sales wins. Unless yours is a nonprofit, business, is still about having a healthy profit margin and even nonprofits need capital to fulfill their mission.
Even though neither metaphor does much to explain how food is produced these days, the hunter and the farmer is still widely used in sales departments to explain how tasks involved in the sales process are divided into those that support acquisition of new accounts, and retention activity focused on growing an existing account.
Peter Chee asked me about my thoughts on the hunter-farmer model a few weeks ago, so thanks to him for the inspiration to write this post.
The Hunter and the Farmer
Many sales departments have segmented the hunter and farmer responsibilities in ways that make logical sense:
- Hunters find prospects, land appointments with decision makers and focus on closing deals.
- Farmers grow relationships with potential customers through a consultative approach, provide service, etc.
Now, you might jump to the conclusion that anyone using social media should immediately adopt the role of the farmer, or that those who fulfill the role of farmer should use social media. Is it really so simple? Can a kinder, gentler sales approach make quota?
It’s true that those who engage in social media should listen and share first and allow customers, clients, stakeholders, etc. to discover you in a way that makes them want to buy — not because doing it any other way is wrong, but because this is the model that has been proven to gain the attention of others within these social networks in almost every scenario.
However, once you learn the rules of personal engagement, don’t think that’s all there is to this business of social media. If it were only so simple…
Networks are complicated and the path is anything but linear. Many in sales hardly think the hunter/farmer metaphor is apt for their own function within today’s economic environment.
Shortcomings of the Hunter-Farmer Sales Model
From Ann Bares’ summary of a report from Harvard Business Review report by Jerome Coletti and Mary Fiss:
- Assumes selling to new customers is transactional rather than consultative (easy to “hand it off”)
- Assumes skills required for the hunter and farmer business development roles are fundamentally different
- Assumes there is more business to be had from new, rather than existing customers
- Trivializes the cost of the hand-off from hunter to farmer
- Disregards that the hunter may leave “loose ends” since they don’t have to deal with the consequences of on-going customer relationship
One could also argue that these assumptions are harmful when you take the approach of flipping these statements to imply the opposite with your social media presence. In social media should one never ask for a sale? Should transactional relationships be avoided even when they may benefit both parties? Is it easy to hand off a social media connection to other departments within your organization? Should it be?
What About the Buying Process?
Are hunters and farmers starving equally in a world connected via social networks? I love this comment from Andrew Rudin (scroll down to the comments) where he explains the problem with traditional models in this new space:
Ever since I’ve worked in the selling field (over twenty years) we’ve approached selling problems in a fundamentally consistent way:
“Find out the pain points.”
“Learn what keeps the customer up at night.”
“It’s about finding problems, and providing solutions for them.”
Good advice that works–but not always. When I review my own wins and losses, and consider the ones that I’ve analyzed for others, I’ve learned that many selling activities fail on not clearly understanding the buying process–more accurately, not understanding the social networks that facilitate buying processes.
What I believe Andrew is saying is that focusing on the buying process misses a lot of the circumstances, scenarios, behavior and individual demands that lead up to the buying process. If we’re only focusing on the buying process, we may be skipping over the first five chapters of the story.
Maybe in the past, the first five chapters in this story that led up to the buying process were boring exposition — today, they’re chock full of important data.
I’ve always maintained that the mechanized approaches to communication no longer work as well as they once did. Although there is still an important role for those mechanized, traditional approaches, we need to also make room for the new approaches that are more improvisational, more adaptive, proactive and iterative to stay relevant and competitive.
How Can Social Media Help Sales?
This question still matters. Is it about augmenting the popular hunter-farmer sales model with social media communication, or is it simply time to change the way we define the buying process altogether?
Photo Credit: Natalie Maynor