If you’ve worked within a sales team for any length of time you’re probably familiar with the concept of “hunters vs farmers.” The simple breakdown is this: your salesforce can be viewed in terms of your Sales Reps (who go out and get the kill) and your Account Managers (who sow the seeds and water the plants).
While both types of salespeople close deals, the mindset required for each role is completely different. Sales Reps close deals by selling the potential of your product; Account Managers close new deals by delivering on that promise through exceptional service. For Sales Reps, closing a new account is the end-goal; for Account Managers, expanding deals to different departments and product up-sells come as a byproduct of exceptional customer service and relationship-building over time.
Recently, a trend I’ve seen is for SaaS companies and startups to try to get the most out of their salesforce by combining these two roles. I’m going to henceforth call this hybrid role the “Hunter with a Shovel.”
The hunter with a shovel is an inefficient salesperson, always trying to till the soil while keeping an eye on the horizon for food…and then breaking into a full sprint, shovel in hand, when an opportunity arises.
Let me give you an example of how this works in practice: I’ve seen SaaS companies that have sales reps that handle new accounts in the morning and then shift gears into account management for existing accounts in the afternoon. Or maybe they’ll focus on new accounts Monday, Wednesday and Friday, reserving Tuesday and Thursday for account management.
There are two problems with this.
First off, it’s incredibly difficult for the same sales rep to shift their mentality from seeking out, selling and closing new accounts to building the relationship and exploring new departments that might. One’s a drag race; the other is the indy 500.
Secondly, your customers are wholly unaware of the schedules of your sales reps. If an existing account decides to call in for help on a Monday, they don’t particularly care if your team is focused on new accounts at that time. Likewise it’s difficult for a sales rep to turn down a call from a potential new sale that they’re incredibly close to closing, just because it happens to be the afternoon and they have scheduled a phone call with an existing account at that time. What you end up with is missed appointment times, dropped customer service and lost potential clients.
So how do you build a sales team that maximizes its strengths while minimizing its weaknesses?
Play to your strengths.
There’s an old saying, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” But in reality, sales teams are made up of individuals and each individual has their own set of strong and weak links. Rather than trying to remove your weakest link, why not build on your strongest links while minimizing your weaknesses?
The solution is to play to your strengths.
Babe Ruth wouldn’t be Babe Ruth if he had spent most of his time working on his pitching.
You can spend the 20% of your time developing your individual team member’s inherent talent and you will see an 80% improvement in results. Alternately, you can focus 80% of your time improving upon individual weaknesses, only to see a 20% improvement that takes your right up to about average. If you develop on the talents of your hunters, you’ll see an exceptional return on that investment. If, on the other hand, you try to develop your hunter into a part-time farmer, you’ll end up with a hunter with a shovel that’s average at everything and exceptional at nothing.
Acknowledging that sales people have different skill sets and strengths/weaknesses is the first step to developing a sales team that plays to your greatest strengths and minimizes your weaknesses.
Identify the hunters and farmers from the start.
If you’re being honest with yourself, you know that sales reps tend to fall naturally into one of these two groups fairly early on. Very few sales reps have the necessary skills (or desire) to be both a hunter and farmer simultaneously. Someone who thrives off of high-energy interactions, challenges and the thrill of closing the deal isn’t necessarily going to have those same thrills building rapport with an existing client. Likewise, the sales person who is great at making connections with people and fostering relationships that lead to upsells and reduced churn won’t necessarily enjoy the high-stakes pressure of trying to close the first big deal with a brand new client.
It’s well understood that the cost of keeping an existing customer is far less than acquiring a new account. That said, it’s shocking to me how many sales teams neglect account management by trying to have all of their sales reps multitask and get everything done all at once. The allure for this is simple; in the short term, it saves the company money. But in the long run, forcing a square peg into a round hole will only increase the likelihood of losing already-acquired customer accounts, the cost of which will quickly negate any short-term savings from consolidating your sales team.