Hunters, Farmers & Self-Deceivers

In the business world, there are two main types of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers. Hunters go out and find new customers, and Farmers maintain existing customer accounts. However, there is a third type of salesperson, one that no one ever claims to be, and this is the Self-Deceiver. These Self-Deceivers claim to be Hunters, but don’t take the necessary steps to get there. Their intentions may be good, but they lack the commitment and follow-through needed to deliver
the results they promise. Hunters and Farmers are an integral part of the success of every company, but Self-Deceivers end up wasting the company’s time and money, as well as their own.


Hunters go out and find new customers. They don’t need anything to help them hunt; they survive merely on their own drive and initiative. Hunters find customers any way they can. What sets a hunter apart from a self-deceiver is that, when released into the wild, a self-deceiver will wonder how he’s supposed to hunt without a spear. The hunter will set out immediately to find his own spear.

The Hunter is an attractive role to most salespeople, because although it takes more effort to find new customers than it does to maintain relationships with existing customers, the payoff is much higher. If they can become a top
percentile Hunter, the potential is there to generate the highest revenue and earn the highest commissions.


Imagine your average car dealership. The manager, Tom, calls Meg into his office and asks her to describe her annual plans. “Meg,” he says, “tell me your plans for the upcoming year. Do you see yourself being a Hunter, or a Farmer?”

“I am a Hunter” Meg says. She knows bringing in new customers is not only beneficial to the company, but will also result in higher commissions. She is willing to do whatever it takes to hunt and kill to prove her commitment.

Meg leaves the meeting and spends the rest of the day devising a plan that will lead her along the path to success.
She maps out the necessary steps towards reaching her goals. She brainstorms and lists all the possible ways she could hunt.

She can call her friends and family and ask if they know anybody in the market for a new car. She can call fleet companies and try to build a relationship with them. She can go to networking events and meet new people, thereby creating new opportunities for potential sales.

Meg spends the rest of the year following her plan, even when it becomes difficult. She is rejected time and time again, but each time she feels the urge to give up, she reminds herself that if she veers off the path she will not be successful. Meg understands that she needs to fully commit to her plan or else
it will crumble. Her promise to Tom is important to her, and she plans on keeping her word.

At the end of the year, Meg has added several new clients to the company. Her hard work is rewarded in the form of higher commissions. She has been rejected more often than not, but never let that distract her from staying on the path to success. At the end of the year, Meg is looking forward to her annual review with Tom.


Farmers maintain existing customer relationships. Rather than going out and finding new customers, farmers focus on the customers that matter most to the company in the long term — key accounts. These are the customers that come back time and time again, and generate the most revenue for the company. For that reason, they require the most time and effort.

While Hunters are out looking for new customers, Farmers are building stronger relationships within their existing customer base. Farmers might use research to help them make repeat sales. For example, perhaps they find out that a customer who bought a sports car last year recently had twins. A Farmer could use that information as an opportunity to contact that family and see if they might be interested in buying a minivan. Farmers might send Thank You cards to their recent customers. They make it a habit to call customers to inform them of sales events. They call customers six months after a transaction, just to see how
they’re liking their new car. Farmers don’t just sit and wait for old customers to
come back or for key accounts to call in and order more cars. They take the initiative to create their own opportunities for success.


Back at the car dealership, Tom pulls Shannon into a meeting

similar to the one he just had with Meg. Shannon tells Tom that she feels most effective as a Farmer. Her best work is in forming close relationships with key accounts. If Shannon were to spend her time trying to find new customers, her relationships with the company’s most important clients would suffer. Key accounts need a salesperson they can trust, and Shannon feels she is the best person to fill that role.

She leaves the meeting and makes a list of all the company’s top accounts. She’ll have to invest a lot of time and energy into these accounts, but she realizes that both her and the
company will benefit tenfold. She makes a list of average accounts that she sees as having the potential to grow into key accounts. She hopes to encourage this growth by focusing
more of her time and energy into building stronger relationships with them. She devises a plan that will ensure these clients feel a stronger bond with the company by the end of the year.

Shannon also plots a strategy for non-key accounts. She does her research on them. She makes a list of past customers who she can send Thank You notes to with her contact information included. She makes a list of recent clients, and plans to call them to see if everything is working out well with their new car.

She sends out brochures advertising the latest sales event. When the plan is finalized, Shannon begins taking the necessary steps to stay on track and achieve her goals. At the end of the year, she hasn’t brought in any new customers at all
— but she never said she would. What she did do is bring in many past customers again, building their loyalty to the company. She’s brought some of those “average” accounts into key account status by paying them special attention and building a stronger bond with them. When it comes time for Shannon’s annual review, she is confident she has achieved everything she promised to Tom and more.


A Self-Deceiver is someone who has the intention of becoming a hunter but doesn’t put in the effort necessary to actually hunt. The Hunter is an attractive role to most salespeople, because of the potential for a higher payoff. However, the possibility of rejection is higher when “hunting” for new customers; it’s easier to call an existing client and discuss last night’s football game than it is to call a potential client and run the risk of being rejected.

Self-Deceivers hate the rejection that comes with being a Hunter. Even with money as the incentive, it is human nature to put off any situation that might end in rejection. The problem isn’t the incentive; the problem is the willingness to commit. Rather than deal with the rejection and move on, Self-Deceivers will complain. They will complain that they can’t make sales because the company doesn’t place enough ads, or do enough marketing, or provide enough leads — any reason they can use to avoid having to explain why they’re not producing. But if you’re relying on your company to drag the deer over to you, you’re not really a Hunter.

Eventually, Self-Deceivers drift back to spending their time maintaining relationships with existing clients — in other words, being Farmers. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Farmer. The conflict comes into play when people proclaim themselves to be Hunters, then act like Farmers. This leads to a loss of integrity and an increase in stress. They have fallen into the trap of self- deception. They have betrayed themselves by choosing not to follow through on something they promised to do. The more this weighs on them, the more justifications they will create in their own defense. They become so vested in explaining their excuses and defending their intentions that it actually becomes who they are.

A common justification is, “It just worked out that way,” or “It just happened.” In other words, they didn’t choose not to sell to new customers, it just didn’t “happen.” But not making a choice is a choice! They chose not to take the necessary steps towards gaining new clients. This is like the smoker who always says he wants to quit but never does – he has made the choice to keep smoking. He has chosen not to quit. It’s easier to stay addicted than it is to take the difficult steps towards quitting. And it’s easier to talk to existing customers than it is to go out and actively hunt for new ones.


Tom decides to have his last meeting of the day with Michael. Michael is convinced he knows the answer Tom is looking for – he wants a Hunter, so Michael declares himself as one. He promises Tom he’ll spend his time hunting and killing, tracking down new clients for the company. Whatever it will take to
bring in more revenue and boost his status in the company.

Michael goes back to his desk and calls a new customer. He is rejected firmly and swiftly. He picks up the phone again, calling another new customer… with the same result. Frustrated, Michael calls Ben, his contact at an existing account, to see if he needs anything. “No, we’re all set right now,” Ben says, “But

how are the kids doing?” The next half hour is spent chatting with Ben. Michael wants to call more new clients, but doesn’t have the heart for more rejection today. He vows to get back on track tomorrow.

By the end of the year, Michael is dreading his annual review with Tom. He hasn’t been able to “kill” much this year. He did some hunting, but it was hard on him and wasn’t very successful, so he eventually gave up. He always had the best intentions of getting around to it “tomorrow,” but tomorrow never came.

Michael spent a lot of time thinking up reasons why he didn’t achieve his goals. How could he get new accounts when no one provided him with any leads? The company needs to do more advertising to bring more people into the show room. He called some new people, but they never called him back — was he supposed to just keep calling and calling? Michael thinks the company is expecting too much from him. Regardless of how many reasons he can find for his failure to deliver, Michael knows Tom will not be impressed.


In the above examples, each salesperson was presented with a choice. It was up to them how they would attain the goals they set for themselves. Both Meg and Shannon, though choosing opposite paths, committed to those paths and
followed through. Michael’s intentions were good, but he never made a full commitment to his goal or even devised a plan to help guide him along the way.

It is clear in Shannon’s experience that it’s okay to be a Farmer. The problem arises when someone says they’ll do one thing but does another. Michael is out of integrity because he promised to be a Hunter and instead became a Self- Deceiver. Once Michael realized what had happened, he got so anxious he began spending all his time thinking of excuses and justifications as to why he couldn’t complete the task he set out to achieve. In truth, he betrayed himself by not following through on a task he promised to complete. This led to a path of self-deception that brought unnecessary stress to his life.

Many salespeople, like Michael, seem to prefer to fall into the rut of being a lazy Self-Deceiver rather than just admit they’re Farmers. They’re under the impression that managers don’t like Farmers, that farming is the easy way out.
What they don’t realize is that while Farmers may not get the glory of landing new clients, they do something even more important to the company — they generate far more revenue overall than hunters. This is because, while the top few Hunters generate a huge amount of revenue, the rest (the Self-Deceivers) generate almost nothing. The difference is demonstrated on the graphs below:

Don’t be a Self-Deceiver; make a good choice for yourself. If you think you might have trouble sticking to the rigorous path of a Hunter, you’re probably right. If you think you’d be better off as a Farmer, then that is the right path for you. There is nothing wrong with that. But you still have to devote yourself to it; being a Farmer doesn’t mean you just sit and wait for leads to fall in your lap. It’s about taking the initiative to cultivate and maintain relationships within your existing customer base. In the end, you’ll be a far more valuable asset to your company as a
Farmer than you would be trying to fake it as a Hunter.

Saying you’ve made a choice means nothing in and of itself – in order to give your words meaning, you must make a choice, commit to it, and take the necessary steps towards fulfilling your goal. Be in integrity with your choice. If you’ve declared yourself a hunter, the only way to prove you’ve made the commitment is to hunt and kill. In order to achieve goals, you must have a plan, and you must be willing to commit to the plan until your goal is reached.


© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.

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