Is Your Sales Team Hunting or Farming?

Headshot – AJ by

When you’re putting together a sales development team it’s important to align them philosophically — how they go about getting your executive sales team leads is important not only for team continuity, but for your own pipeline forecasting and projections. Sales development teams need to be well-oiled machines, and the easiest way to do that is to gear these teams towards the same sales strategy. The two most popular strategies can metaphorically be described as hunting and farming.

Hunting

When a sales team focuses on hunting for leads, it conjures up images of early-age humans fighting for survival. If they don’t hunt, they don’t eat — and your sales team will assuredly go hungry for certain periods of time. They’ll also feast if they hit an upswing of luck, which means it could very well be worth it. We call this approach lead marketing, meaning they focus on calling as many leads (or prospects) as they can, hoping a few of them will convert. Playing the volume game basically equates to playing the law of averages — if you do something enough, eventually you get the desired results.

The problem with this method is it’s feast or famine, either your SDR’s are successful and they produce a ton of quality leads or your funnel dries up and your sales team has no deals to close. Sometimes this method can be justified, other times it can’t — it all depends on how you want your sales function to operate.

Farming

On the other side of the spectrum you have farming, or what we can more colloquially call Account Based Outbound. Farming conjures up images of stability, sustainability and patience — all things we can attribute to an Account Based prospecting model. In this case your sales development team focuses on not just finding immediate opportunities, but nurturing accounts that aren’t quite ready to move forward in the sales process. This allows your SDR’s to have a steadier stream of leads coming in, even during the natural dips of the sales year, while also passing over the immediate opportunities they find to your sales team.

This model limits both the ability to feast and famine — you’re always going to have ebbs and flows in the sales cycle, but by farming your leads you guarantee that the dips aren’t as low and the peaks aren’t so high. Some teams handle consistency better than they do the potential volatility of the sales world, regardless of how high the peaks can get.

Quantity or Quality

Ultimately the path you choose is the path your SDR’s will follow, and that path will determine the types of leads your sales team is receiving. If your team is hunting then you can expect a high volume of activity and leads, but the quality of those leads might dip. If your team is farming then expect the quality of leads to increase, but don’t expect as many of them.

When it comes to lead marketing the key input is volume, or the amount of activity your reps are putting into each account. It can take some digging to find the right people to speak to and through techniques like phone mapping and double-dialing those activities add up quickly. By keeping the activity level high it’s easy to take an advantage of an upswing in the market – the hardest part about passing a lead to the sales team is getting an initial conversation on the books. Once that’s out of the way — and your SDR’s will have a lot if they’re hunting correctly — any and all leads will start to move through the funnel.

Your sales team won’t be short on conversations and interested parties, but they will have to sift through the opportunities they’ve been handed. Your SDR’s are focused on passing as many leads over as they can during this beneficial time-frame, so a bit of the qualification process gets pushed to the wayside. If you can live with your executive sales team putting in some extra effort during these time periods, than hunting could be the strategy for you.

If you prefer your sales team to take only the most qualified opportunities and focus on closing, farming might be a better strategy. Account Based Outbound relies on the personalization your SDR’s bring to each account – they cultivate a relationship with the prospect and act as more of a consultant than a salesperson. By spending more time on each account and doing the right research beforehand you can see the activity levels drop for your SDR team, but the quality will surely go up. Leads get passed after multiple conversations and meetings, not just one, so when they do get put into the hands of your executive sales team you know they’ll move forward quickly.

When your SDR’s farm for leads you’ll definitely notice a dip in the quantity passed to your sales team, but they won’t have to do much to push them through the funnel. Alleviating that burden on your sales team allows them to focus on closing when the leads do come in. If you can live with a lower volume of leads while knowing they have a higher chance to close, farming is the strategy for you.

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  • AJ – excellent overview of each business development approach. I’d like, however, to expand a little on the drawback of ‘order-taking’.

    While pursuing easy sales sounds like a smart thing for sales teams to do, there is a huge risk involved without some degree of balance between sales from the existing customer base and new customers. Sales might be strong in the short-term, but will suffer in the long-term as the sales team looks for low hanging fruit and becomes reactive rather than continually staying ahead of the competition and regularly bringing aboard ideal customers that can contribute to long term growth and profitability.

  • Another approach to hunting is targetting very big prey (which can work, but has its downsides)

    The following post draws out the analogy with references to Marc Andressen and Suster posts and also to Moby Dick and David and Goliath – In one the hunter is consumed by their passion, in the other the unexpected underdog becomes a reluctant Biblical hero.

    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140730200834-127491437-make-sales-hunt-wales-and-live-to-tell-tales

  • Stop Islam

    I believe that hunting is looking for new companies with whom we should do business. I believe that farming is building relationships with our current customers. Both are needed.

  • Very well said, AJ. Hunting or farming has been an old debate in sales. In my opinion, these two should be both valued equally. In this time, salespeople should learn how to hunt and farm at the same time – your hunters should know how to farm, and your farmers should know how to hunt.

    -Brooke Harper, Tenfold