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Hunters vs. Farmers: Guide to MSP Sales Personas

Hunters vs. Farmers: Guide to MSP Sales Personas

Just as organisms need different kinds of care at different stages of development, so do businesses. The marketing and sales strategies that help a startup see success, may not work for a more stable business that’s been in the market for a while.

Different marketing and sales strategies need very different skill sets. Sales success depends considerably on matching the right skill sets with the right strategies. The story is not any different for MSPs.

Hunters and Farmers: A Basic Difference

The hunter and farmer differentiation is one of the most basic categories of sales capacity. Hunting skills are different from farming skills. Applied to marketing and sales, these differences manifest themselves in contrasting sales approaches.

The fundamental difference between the two approaches is easy to understand. A hunter does not hunt the same prey twice: hunting is about a new target every time. Farming, on the other hand, is to get the same plot of land to yield a harvest year after year, or even a few times a year.
Applied to marketing and sales, hunting skills relate to the ability to generate new clients. Farming, on the other hand, refers to the retention of existing clients and the ability to generate revenue out of them on a continued basis.

A number of characteristics determine whether a salesperson is more of a hunter or a farmer:

Characteristics of the Hunter Type

Hunters are prospectors who derive pleasure from looking for a new kill. The bigger the prey the higher is their pleasure. In business parlance, hunters typically are good for business development.

Accordingly, the skills of the hunter type of salespeople are:

  • Self-motivated and independent
  • High on initiative and result oriented
  • Good at identifying potential clients
    Enjoys chasing, i.e. good at following up till a deal is closed
  • Has considerable skills in persuasion
  • Good networking skills
  • Has the tenacity to get over rejections and look for new prospects

On the flip side, hunters are:

  • Impatient to move on to the next new target
  • Often poor team players
  • Not good with onboarding of customers after a deal gets closed
  • Prone to getting demotivated unless there is space to try out new approaches

Characteristics of the Farmer Type

Farming is about patience. It is about understanding a plot of land well enough to optimize its yield time and again. In business terms, farmers are the accounts executives who help retain existing clients for recurrent deals. The skills of this type of salespeople are:

  • Keen and efficient team players
  • Customer-centric approach
  • Strong interpersonal communication skills
  • Good at maintaining and strengthening relationships
  • Skilled at selling more to fewer people
  • Proactive in seeking customer feedback
  • Solid and dependable

Farmers also have a flip side, of course, which makes them:

  • Ineffective unless there is an established customer base
  • Likely to get flustered unless they have enough time to invest in customer relationship building
  • Disinterested in the idea of pursuing anything with the aim of the immediate influx of big clients.

Further reading MSP Voice Episode 13: “SALES!” with Jack Mortell from StratX IT

There is No Good/Bad Dichotomy Involved

This is an extremely important point to remember. It is wrong to impose a value judgment on the hunter/ farmer classification of salespeople. Neither type is better than the other. They are just different. Each type excels in a suitable role.

An MSP needs the hunters to develop new business. But with only hunters in the sales force, an MSP is unlikely to ever create a reliable client base that will remain stable over a reasonable period of time.

On the other hand, no customer base of any MSP will continue unchanged indefinitely. No matter how broad and stable the current client base is, some clients are bound to drop out over a period of time. The reasons can be completely beyond the control of an MSP.

So, the need to generate new business is never entirely over. The term “business growth” would become meaningless otherwise. The bottom line, then, is that all MSPs need both types of salespeople in the team.

Further reading How to Build a Successful MSP Business

But the Proportion May Vary

There is no walking away from the fact that MSPs, like any other business, need both hunters and farmers in their sales team. But the proportion of each type may well need to vary, depending on the position of the MSP in the market.

For a startup, it is more about sourcing new clients. That automatically means a new MSP needs more hunters in the sales team than farmers. However, it will be wrong to imagine that the sales team needs no farmers at all during the startup phase.

Without one or two farmers in the team, proper onboarding of new customers will remain a challenge. Unless an MSP wants to remain in a perpetual startup mode, it is important to have some farmers in the sales team right from the beginning.

Conversely, an MSP that has been in business for some years is likely to have built a more or less stable customer base. That is when it is necessary to have more farmers in the sales team. To continue getting recurrent business from the existing clients, an MSP needs these customer-focused sales executives.

But again, it will be wrong to throw out all the hunters in the team. The need for sourcing new clients is never entirely over. That would mean the MSP is stagnating and stagnation is the beginning of the end for sure.

The final point, then, is that a new MSP needs more hunters and fewer farmers in the sales team. The reverse is true for an established MSP that has already developed a fairly stable customer base.

MSP Sales Team Management Guide
Essential tips for scaling out your MSP sales team and process

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The Categories Are Not Watertight

Very often, a new MSP may not afford to have too big a sales team. A startup MSP is often just a few people who have to multitask and play multiple roles to get it off the ground. This entire discussion about hunters and farmers may well be irrelevant in such a situation.

There is good news for such startups. The two categories are not watertight. They are not mutually exclusive either. There are people quite capable of shifting from one mode to the other as per need.

After all, human beings as a species transformed from the hunting stage to the farming stage. We all retain both the traits, though they vary in strength. In other words, one may be more of a hunter than a farmer and vice versa. But it is wrong to presuppose that one can never play the role of the other.

There are even scholars who declare that the hunter/farmer categorization is no longer applicable at all. Lead articles in recent times in noted business webzines like Forbes and Amex have been propagating this line of thinking.

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This school of thought argues that it is not just possible, but necessary to switch from one role to the other as per need. An efficient sales team can and does wear both hats. It is more about knowing which hat to wear when.

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It All Boils Down To

There may certainly be people who are happier chasing new clients and those who feel better to work with established ones. But there is absolutely no reason to take it for granted that the same person cannot do both.

On the contrary, modern business gurus argue that with good training, a sales team will adapt well to wear either hat. What is most hopeful for a startup MSP is that entrepreneurs are naturally multiskilled. They excel in multitasking and adapting to different roles.

If yours is a startup MSP involving two or more partners, it is most likely that you are together because of complementary skills. Focus accordingly and you may not even need to bother about whether the hunter/farmer binary is obsolete or not.

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MSP Sales Team Management Guide
  • 6 steps to hire the best sales talents for your MSP
  • How to grow your current employees into sales roles
  • Which sales KPIs to track
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