The characteristics of a sales “hunter”

Traditionally, it was a common approach for sales teams to be split between two key functions: sourcing new business and retaining existing business.

The functions were often split between different members of a sales team. Those tasked with sourcing new business became known as hunters, whilst those tasked with retaining existing relationships became known as farmers. The distinction is relatively clear, hunters are always on the lookout for a new opportunity, whereas farmers worked on cultivating what was already there.

Whilst both roles are vital for any business, the demands and skills required were always unique and thus required very specific character traits in each role – which is why splitting the functions between team members worked so well.

In recent years, however, we have noticed a growing trend of the two functions being absorbed into a single role. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this approach, and from a business perspective it’s a great way of saving an additional salary.

Nonetheless, the skills and mindsets of the two groups are very different. To be a truly successful hunter you need to think and act in a particular way, and vice versa for a farmer. The risk with combining the roles is that you end up with a fairly average salesperson. To borrow a famous saying: you have a jack of all trades, master of none.

A true hunter is a bloodhound that sales directors send out to win brand new market share. As a cold calling training skills provider, we tend to work with hunters the majority of the time. Simply, farmers have traditionally been far less concerned with winning brand new customers through activities such cold calling, and instead are much more concerned with cultivating existing relationships. They tend to be long-term focused for obvious reasons, whereas hunters tend to short-term focused.

And whilst we’re more than happy to provide training to roles with combined hunter and farmer functions (there’s plenty to teach both sides), sales people tend to naturally gravitate to one function more than the other. Aspects of one side will appeal to their characteristics, attitudes and traits. In practice, this usually means that having seperate people to fulfill each function works best.

So what should you look out for in a hunter? What makes a hunter great at their role?

They love the chase

The thrill of the chase isn’t for everyone. You can put a lot of time and effort into your attempt to win a new client, and ultimately it could all be for nothing. But that’s what hunters love, the risk and the reward of landing a new client or securing a deal.

It’s a lot of hard work, to first identify a new prospect and then take them all the way through to a sale, but it’s that process which hunters thrive on. And ultimately, to a hunter, the pay-off at the end makes all the hard work worth it.

They’re thick-skinned

In a sales role, the majority of the time you’re going to be told ‘no’. This is a constant truth, regardless of how good a salesperson is, so being able to both handle objections and deal with rejection is vital for a hunter.

Similarly, a good salesperson will always ruffle a few feathers along the way. This is where being thick-skinned comes into it. Being able to take any criticism or negative feedback on the chin, learn from it and move on, is another core part of the hunter’s character.

They’re extremely competitive

Sales can be a dog-eat-dog world. Companies have a big part to play in this, facilitating an environment where the highest performers are rewarded better. And that appeals to the natural sense of competition within a hunter. Being better than the rest is a huge motivator for a hunter, and seeing someone else at the top of a sales leaderboard spurs them on. Those without a natural competitive edge tend not to make very good hunters, although they may possess other skills which would make them a great farmer instead.

Final thoughts

The characteristics of a good hunter are naturally ingrained. Whilst certain skills and techniques can be taught, a good hunter will show elements of each of the traits outlined above. As with any role, they are then improved further through training. For anyone looking to hire a hunter, we recommend looking for these traits first and foremost.