‘You can teach a hunter to farm but you can’t teach a farmer to hunt’ is an expression I’ve heard many times over the years. Like a lot of old expressions, whether in the ‘world of sales’ or in everyday life they often contain a lot of truth. Hiring managers who’ve used this phrase have usually come to believe it through hard earned experience and their fair share of hiring mistakes. The sales assessment testing we have conducted with hunters and farmers over the years definitely bears out their view. Rather than just accept this expression I wanted to add some of the ‘why’.
Not wanting to go over the previously traveled territory I covered in this article about Hunters and Farmers, I will very briefly summarize their key trait similarities and differences. The two styles differ in both their levels of assertiveness and of dependence. Hunters having high assertiveness while farmers have low. Hunters have low dependence while farmers have high. The similarities are that both tend to be very extroverted and both tend to possess a sense of urgency.
Just to be clear, it is rarely a good idea to have contradictory criteria in any sales role. This previous article about sales testing covers this subject. The essence of the article being, that traits can be likened to two-edged swords. This means that the person’s traits, or sets of traits, that create certain sales strengths also create corresponding sales weaknesses. It normally follows then, that one should make sure that the sales role and the sales person being hired for that role are completely in sync. Unfortunately this is not always possible, so this article is meant to shed some light on a fairly common sales hiring dilemma.
Why you can’t teach a farmer to hunt
The reason you cannot teach a farmer to hunt and why if you do try, you are setting every one up for failure, boils down to the simple fact that the change of personality required to pull this off is so dramatic that it is virtually impossible to achieve.
Changing or adjusting one’s traits to successfully perform one’s job is achievable only if the change/adjustment required is relatively minor. In fact, a slight alteration in one’s style for work is actually quite common and can be pretty positive. When the change becomes too great however, as is the situation we are addressing here, then it is a recipe for disaster. Specifically, the expectation is that the person will elevate their level of assertiveness from very low to very high and simultaneously lower their high level of dependence to very low. Either one or the other of these adjustments is a very tall order; successfully making them both will just not happen. Naysayers and others who disagree with the above will bring up training, sales tracking software and other tools as a remedy. These will very likely make a bad situation less bad, but the heart of the problem is that you are fighting a losing battle because the issue is not skill, nor anything else that might be taught. The fundamental issue is a very poor personality fit.
Why you can teach a hunter to farm
The overriding reason why it is more realistic to teach a hunter to farm is really quite simple. Firstly, the degree of change required in the hunter’s personality traits is more limited and therefore a more realistic change. Secondly, the available sales tools and necessary skills that need to be taught for these more service-oriented activities are more likely to actually work. There is another practical reason as well; in most instances management’s primary need is for the rep to open accounts (hunt) and as those accounts are opened, to service and maintain them (farm). In other words, the key sales activity at the very least initially, is to develop new business.
If you need to hire a hunter but you also need him to farm, here are a few quick suggestions. First of all, put in place tools and procedures that while helping the rep, do not make him feel controlled nor require too much of his time, otherwise he will be quite demotivated. When ‘selling’ the idea of these tools to the rep and any training you need to provide him, always relate the benefits to what’s in it for him i.e. money, opportunity and independence. If the rep buys into the connection between the farming activities and his individual success, then this will be highly motivating and the rep will be far more likely to succeed.
I hope this has been helpful and I would invite your thoughts and comments. I would especially enjoy hearing from you to discuss your challenges regarding sales hunters and farmers and would be pleased to share some of what we at SalesTestOnline.com have learned over the past 3 decades.