The Flaw of the Hunter-Farmer Paradigm

I was recently at a lunchtime meeting when a stakeholder said to me “You are like me, you are a Hunter… not a Farmer”.  Now to those not aware of the meaning of this, you could be excused for thinking they were talking about a game on Facebook, but alas, these definitions stem back a little further.

Thomm Hartmann

The person credited with starting the concept of ‘Hunters and Farmers’, which has been adopted by some sales managers and many business leaders, was the American sometime radio talk show host and psychoanalyst, Thom Hartmann. He initially proposed the Farmer/Hunter metaphor to explain the origins of what we now know, as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD*) to help his own son, who suffered from ADHD.

The term Hunter has become a default term for new business development. It is not uncommon to hear sales managers describe Hunters as hard-selling, cold-callers who deal with buyers where benefits are limited to narrowly framed needs. Farmers, on the other hand, are often viewed as being more “customer-centric”, solutions-oriented and able to develop trust. If one listened to the “experts” Hunters are brutish, self-centred and uncaring, and Farmers are gentle focused, sensitive and trustworthy. If that wasn’t bad enough, many recruitment consultants conduct personnel assessments to identify if a candidate is either a Farmer or Hunter.

Hunters are best suited to:

  • Bringing in new business
  • Working in new sales territories
  • Focusing on prospect conversion
  • Sales that require minimal post-sales follow-up
  • Tends to sell best when on his / her own
  • Comfortable in pushing for a close

Farmers are best suited to:

  • Optimising sales in existing accounts
  • Comfortable in identifying additional buyers
  • Proactive in building relationships
  • Matches product benefits to diverse needs
  • Good at solving customer problems
  • Demonstrates attention to detail
  • Meticulous in fulfilling administrative responsibilities

The problem with this logic?

Hunters aren’t interested in solving customer problems and Farmers aren’t interested in closing deals; yet, in today’s marketplace, salespeople unable to help buyers solve problems and then offer solutions with some degree of confidence, aren’t likely to succeed.

Introducing the Trapper

The Trapper is all about client attraction through better marketing. He/she has developed a number of value-added tools to send to prospects, to push out on social media, and often works to establish a high-profile reputation in a target market. He/she has also developed a finely tuned way to communicate his/her value – in both concise and longer-form methods. For example, The Trapper has a client-centric LinkedIn profile that tells a good story and pulls people into their message. The Trapper is often an innovator who looks at ways to refine their traps (think A/B split-testing) for better results.

The effective Trapper has probably embraced the power of SEO (search engine optimisation), YouTube videos, creating great content, and is adept at generating various forms of social proof (such as testimonials and case studies). The less effective trapper may be weak with expressing their value and is often lacking a way to compel (move) people along in the “sales process.”

The problem with these definitions, of course, is that it siloes an individual into a stereotype. Any good business developer needs to appreciate there are variations of the above where a mix of the three may be reality; it all depends on the business and the individual.

In a day and age where relationship marketing is critical, the 1980’s Wall Street style shark (Hunter) is rapidly losing their efficiency. As society continues to soften its stance in practically every area (largely impacted by political correctness and social sensitivities), the Trapper will continue to become a more effective style. With people’s attention spans shrinking, it will be the storytellers that captivate and provide value that will continue to be the providers. Time is short, and value is in demand.

From a relationship-building perspective:

  • The Hunter is the guy that runs up to a girl at a club and asks her to marry him at first sight.
  • The Farmer is the guy asks his friend to ask the girl if she will dance with him.
  • The Trapper is the guy that demonstrates his value in a way that piques interest where the girl approaches him and engages.

Take a moment to give hard consideration to where you fit in with the above.



…and if you did, you fell into my trap 😉