Ad-libs: Hunters and farmers

Ad-libs: Hunters and farmers

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

I was talking to Kirby about the makeup of the ad team he manages. “A big key is to match personalities with job tasks,” he said. “For years, I’ve heard that salespeople can be categorized as either hunters or farmers.”

These terms are self-explanatory. Hunters live for the thrill of the chase. Ask them to find new prospects, and they’ll be out the door in an instant. They love to attend networking events, find people who have just opened businesses in town, and make presentations to new prospects. On the other hand, farmers are at their best when they are providing customer service and working with clients to move them to the next marketing level.

“It’s important to have both types,” Kirby said. “In industries like real estate and automotive, it’s fine to have a lot more hunters than farmers, because they’re always dealing with new prospects. But in the media business, where you build long-term marketing partnerships, you need more balance. Hunters keep the sales pipeline filled and get new advertisers started in the right direction. And farmers strengthen existing relationships.”

In other words, hunters provide width and farmers provide depth. Hunters specialize in bringing in new advertisers. And farmers specialize in helping those advertisers develop, analyze and tweak their marketing campaigns.

One is not better than the other. They’re simply different.

By nature, hunters need the stimulation of newness. New prospects. New contacts. Instant results. Get a contract today and start looking for the next one tomorrow.

Farmers take a longer view. Plant seeds and help them grow. What did they learn from the last marketing campaign? How can they build on that?

“Obviously, it’s not always practical to have one group for new business and one group for existing accounts,” Kirby explained. “That’s why the best managers become matchmakers with account assignments. In addition to making the right hires, they have to figure out how to make the best use of the talent on their staffs. Along the way, it’s part of their job to help hunters become better farmers and farmers become better hunters.”

Kirby’s comments are right on target. In general terms, many hunters need to work on providing better customer service – an area which does not produce the instant gratification of a new contract. And many farmers need to cultivate prospecting skills which require a higher level of assertiveness.

Kirby also had some observations about sales managers. “A lot of managers have risen through the ranks,” he said. “They became sales managers, because they did a good job as sales people. It’s human nature for managers to want to surround themselves with people like them, but that can be a mistake. They have to be flexible enough to cultivate personalities that may be the opposite of theirs. They shouldn’t approach management like they approached selling. Now, their success depends on helping others perform at their best.”

Hunters and farmers. Effective ad departments have both. And effective managers know how to develop both.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2014 by John Foust. All rights reserved.