Sales Personality: Hunters vs Farmers

Personality Traits of Top Sales Farmers


Sales farmers and sales hunters are two very well worn terms that refer to different kinds of sales personalities. Obviously we all know what these two terms mean in regards to the sales function.   Hunters find and acquire new customers while farmers look after customers that have already been acquired.

Despite the widespread use of these terms, there seems to be very little consistency among even very experienced managers when asked to articulate their respective traits, let alone understanding why they go about their business in the way that they do.

In a previous article, ‘Hunters Defined’ we articulated the personality traits of ‘sales hunters’ in an effort to give some clarity and definition to their sales personality traits. This article is meant to, not only define the traits of ‘sales farmers’ but, as the title suggests, to specify the traits of the very best ‘sales farmers’. If you hire farmers, this article should provide you with an understanding of what motivates them and why they are successful in these roles.

Since we often talk about sales ‘farmers’ and ‘hunters’ in the same conversation I thought it might be helpful to compare and contrast their respective personality trait drives. You will of course see that they are distinctly different in certain key areas yet some of you might be surprised that they are also similar in other areas.

Below are 4 trait drive scales followed by a quick explanation of what the highs and lows on that scale mean in terms of motivational drive.

Assertiveness – Need for control, competitiveness, need to win, ego drive.

High levels of this factor mean that the individual is highly competitive, dominant, authoritative, assertive, take-charge, needs to “win”, needs to be in control and be recognized, thinks big, is risk oriented.

Low levels of this factor mean that the individual needs harmony, affiliation and belonging, seeks guidance and direction, avoids risk, likes to be a member of the team, is cautious and careful, helpful and considerate.

Sociability – Need for interaction with others, empathy and persuasiveness, extroversion.

High levels of this factor mean that the individual is very extroverted, sociable, people oriented, outgoing, needs lots of interaction, is very persuasive, empathetic, needs acceptance and recognition, communicates persuasively.

Low levels of this factor mean that the individual is very introverted, reserved, work or task oriented, analytical, technically oriented, is skeptical, a tangible or concrete thinker, communicates formally, factually or directly,

Patience – Need for stability and predictability, comfort with repetition and routine.

High levels of this factor mean that the individual is very patient, passive, reactive, unhurried, relaxed, calm, deliberate, tolerant, amiable, likes routine/familiarity, likes stability of repetition, dislikes change.

Low levels of this factor mean that the individual is very impatient, is restless and pro-active, thrives on change/variety, has nervous energy, deadline oriented, a multi-tasker, is bored by routine and repetition.

Dependence – Need for rules, structure, guidelines, need for approval and security, need for direction.

High levels of this factor mean that the individual is very dependent on the structure of rules, procedures and guidelines, is very perfectionistic and detailed, is compliant, has a strong fear of failure, and requires security.

Low levels of this factor mean that the individual is very independent, is very self reliant, dislikes rules, procedures and guidelines, is lax with details, is risk oriented, has little fear of failure, resists supervision, is incentive oriented.

Where do sales hunters and sales farmers differ?

The first area where they differ is in their degree of Assertiveness. Typically top ‘hunters’ have a very high level of assertiveness whereas ‘farmers’ tend to be quite low on this scale. The high level of assertiveness in the ‘hunters’ is where the ‘push’ comes from and this same trait drive gives them the ego to absorb the inevitable rejection by many prospects. ‘Farmers’, on the other hand, are much more concerned with harmony and helpfulness and tend to be very considerate, causing them to put the needs of other’s ahead of their own.

The second area where they differ is in their degree of Dependence. ‘Hunters’ tend to be very independent (a low level of dependence). This independence is why they tend to balk at rules and guidelines and why they resist supervision. This same trait drive is where their risk orientation, fearlessness, and incentive orientation derives from. Top ‘Farmers’ tend to be very dependent and therefore require procedures, guidelines and structure for direction. They also tend to be quite careful and thorough with the details of their work. They are quite risk averse so are not motivated by incentives in the same way as ‘hunters’.

Where are they similar?

The first area where they are similar is that both styles tend to be very high on the sociability scale, therefore being highly motivated by interaction with others. This means that they are both outgoing and people oriented with a natural ability to communicate with the listener’s needs in mind, making both styles very persuasive in their communications. Even though both styles are very outgoing and people oriented, a lot of their differences come about due to their accompanying degrees of assertiveness. Hunters can tend to be quite ‘pushy’ if necessary whereas farmers tend to be extremely amiable and eager to please.

The second area where they are similar is that both styles have a low level of patience. In other words, they are both impatient. Please note that we are not referring in any way to tolerance of others. When we say impatience we are referring to sense of urgency, need for variety and nervous energy. Both have a strong need for variety and change in their working environment and both tend to be natural at multi-tasking. Hunters have a real sense of urgency directed towards getting results. The farmer’s sense of urgency is directed towards helping and being of service to others-the customer, the boss and the team.

So the top ‘sales farmers’ are non-assertive, outgoing and persuasive. They have a sense of urgency and need for variety in their work and they are also quite dependent on rules and structure in order to give them direction. They are very altruistic and are therefore highly motivated by the desire to help others-the customer, the team. Their eagerness to please others means that they will be highly motivated by recognition and a pat on the back by the boss.   Because they have quite a fear of failure and risk aversion they will tend to follow the procedures carefully and will be reluctant to go beyond the guidelines without input from their manager. Top sales farmers will operate with seeming independence and seeming authority when they are on firm ground with regards to the rules and their comfort with the role. For this reason they may appear quite assertive and independent if they are highly familiar with the position.

What to be aware of when hiring sales farmers?

  1. Because they are very outgoing they have the appearance of being more assertive than they actually are. Do not mistake this high sociability for assertiveness and mistakenly put them in more of a ‘sales hunting role’.
  2. Farmers that are new to the role tend to require support and direction until they are on firm ground and familiar with the role. Once familiar they will operate with independence and with little need for direction within the parameters and guidelines. Please note that hiring an experienced farmer to fill the same role in your company will mean they likely have acquired the familiarity and comfort to operate without too much direction.
  3. In addition to needing the clarity of procedures they are highly motivated by altruism so they tend to go about their business by trying to help others (customer, company, boss, team). A pat on the back and the feeling of being valued for their contribution will be highly motivating to them.
  4. Bear in mind that two important reasons why they are effective is due to their sense of urgency and care with rules and details. They follow up well largely because they have a perfectionistic streak and an urgency to do so. The less effective farmers tend to be much more passive and lacking in this sense of urgency. As well the less effective farmers are not nearly as particular with the details. Consequently they are not as careful to follow the procedures nor to follow up as conscientiously. Be careful about these differences. FYI our sales personality test will quickly and accurately identify the differences.
  5. If you hire a ‘sales farmer’ remember to support them via the type of direction described-recognition, a pat on the back, clarity of expectations, support when they need assistance etc. When top sales farmers leave an organization the one most common reason they cite is ‘I did not get the support I needed from my boss’.

I hope some of the above is useful the next time you are thinking about hiring a sales farmer.

I look forward to your comments.

Welcome to the Blog


When I recently began to think about what I was going to say in this first post I have to admit that I was suddenly at a loss as to how to actually get started and what to write about. When thinking about it I thought it quite ironic that this month it will be our 30th year in business and yet here I am writing my first blog post. I like to think I have learned a thing or two about the issues around hiring, managing and motivating different sales personalities. That said I have never been the type to spend a lot of time writing about it until quite recently. We are living in the age of “content” so this blog is evidence of my having adapted to this new reality.

Knowing how so few blogs actually generate many visitors, I realize as I write this that it might be quite some time before someone other than me reads my posts. So I feel a bit like someone walking on a beach talking to myself. I have to say I can’t wait until I have my first visitor who posts a question or comment.   Who will be the first? What will the question be?

Going forward I intend to keep the subject matter quite broad. Obviously the main theme will be related to the focus of our experience with sales assessment testing and all things connected to this. That said I intend to post items that I believe would be of interest to our intended audience even if the connection to our business is somewhat tenuous at times. Since I can’t possibly create all the content for this forum I intend to post items from as diverse a range of sources as possible.

I would hope my writing skill develops with practice. Skills aside I will deal with subjects in a no BS way and will address any questions or subjects as honestly as I am able, even if the answer is not helpful to our business. It seems obvious to me that if visitors (if we ever do get any) can count on us to be informative while delivering our message in a straightforward and uncomplicated manner then they might ultimately trust us an authority in our niche.

Thank you and Welcome !

Dave Pearce