Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hunters and Farmers

When I ran a sales force, I noticed that some members of the sales team were really motivated to sell to new clients. They were interested in "bagging the elephant" as the saying goes, and had little interest in hanging around after the sale, penetrating the account and offering account management. We called these folks the "hunters". Likewise, there were a number of sales people who preferred account management, doing the little things to win new work in existing accounts. These individuals were called the "farmers". A well-balanced sales team has a mixture of new account types who enjoy winning over the new accounts, and account managers, who excel at growing existing accounts. Makes sense, no?

So, why am I telling you about the structure of sales teams on an innovation blog? Well, I believe there's a corollary to innovation in the sales team mixture as described above. In most firms, there is a preponderance of people and effort expended on making the current organization run. Just about every process and every person is focused on near-term results and keeping the existing model "whole". In other words, the vast majority of the people in any organization are focused on existing product and service management. They relate closely to the account managers in a sales organization, who seek to carefully grow existing opportunities. The place where the analogy breaks down is in finding a corresponding match for the "hunters" in the sales force in the rest of the organization.

In most firms, few people are concerned about bagging the next elephant when it comes to creating a really innovative new product or service. Sure, there are a few people tucked away in some corporate strategy team who ponder the long term future, but at a product or service level the vast majority of people are responsible for ensuring we don't mess up what exists today. Even the "new product development" people in most organizations are simply forecasting the incremental model changes and product roadmaps, so they aren't really big game hunters.

If a balance in the sales force between hunters and farmers is appropriate, and both are very necessary, isn't there also a need for hunters and farmers when it comes to product or service development and management? The vast majority of people I interact with from an innovation perspective are very comfortable with growing existing opportunities or perhaps considering the next incremental innovation, yet virtually no one is out on the tundra, the veldt, the dark forest (insert your own "heart of darkness" metaphor here) where the rules are a little less defined, the stakes are higher and the risk is greater.

Shouldn't every product line or service area have at least one hunter - someone who is actively tasked with identifying the next big opportunity and who does not have day to day operational responsibility? Who within your organization is actively considering the products and services that should be delivered in 3 to 5 years, and what impact those products and services will have on the market? Can that person or team work outside the existing thought processes, culture and bureaucracy to envision something completely new and different?

Where are the hunters in a product or service development in your organization? What are they hunting, and what weapons are they using? Have you considered the appropriate mix of "farmers" - those who carefully grow the existing products and services and "hunters" - those who identify and bag the next big opportunities? Certainly the model is heavily weighted to farmers, but does your model leave room for the hunters?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:26 PM

6 Comments:

Anonymous Venkat said...

Good piece there Jeff. I have been really pushing hard with my peers to recognize the role of sales/marketing in a holistic view of innovation.

Venkat

8:00 PM  
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Anonymous Elin Hansen said...

I understand your point to be true in education also, but if those who advocate for the removal of tenure have their way, we will no longer have both Hunters and Farmers, but only one or the other. With the advent of NCLB we have already lost much.

I have been an elementary education teacher for 22 years, before this I was in sales as a sales representative.

Years ago, when in sales, I read the book entitled, "In Search of Excellence" Lessons from Americas Best Run Companies. I think we have few of these companies left today, they've gone the way of the dinosaur, along with education after NCLB.

If I had my way, I'd get rid of NCLB today. It is destroying both the creativity of teachers and our students.

I am also in opposition to the views of Michelle Rhee.

More time I'd write more, but I'm off to a teacher's appreciation tea.

11:08 AM  
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