I recently saw the CMO of a high-profile company present at an international marketing conference. I was surprised to hear him talk about the fact that his company was now embracing specialist sales roles. The company had implemented a hunter/farmer model, whereby “hunter” salespeople were responsible for finding and closing deals, while “farmer” salespeople focus on retaining and growing business with existing accounts. The CMO said this “breakthrough” strategy was the foundation of the company’s sales and marketing plans.
But this type of specialization isn’t new. In fact, it was first adopted by the insurance industry in the 1870s. Nowadays, however, there are so many touchpoints in the customer’s buying journey that a standard hunter/farmer sales approach simply isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, we need to build specialist functions and individual capabilities that will allow us to effectively and efficiently engage with the customer at each stage of the customer-driven sales model. Specifically, prospecting and lead generation; managing the core, middle-of-the-funnel sales activities; and creating customer advocates and boosting referral selling. The days of the sales generalist are over. There is just too much expertise required in the various fields of customer engagement for one individual or one team to build expertise at a competitive level.
Just consider the following:
Customers are actively avoiding salespeople. The modern buyer journey sees customers using Google, visiting websites, sharing experiences and product recommendations in peer-level forums, studying analyst reports and reading expert product reviews. Vendor businesses therefore need specialized staff that understand where customers are searching for information. From here, they can build specific content and media strategies to get in front of these buyers.
Customers are harder to reach. Buyers don’t answer their phones, they don’t return calls and they don’t respond to cold emails. We therefore need sustained and expert effort to build relationships through various channels – social media, email, voicemail, text, phone and even old-fashioned snail mail! This lead development and nurturing is best done by a central team with specialized skills and the right data, tools and support at their fingertips.
The time spent with sales is decreasing. Business customers are time poor, and want to avoid working with salespeople. If they need to, they want the interaction to be as quick as possible. As salespeople, we need to be sure that all contacts with the customer are extremely professional, efficient and valuable, and ensure the customer continues the process. Customers don’t have time to talk about the weather or ask customers about what keeps them awake at night. Salespeople must deliver insight from the first discussion, negotiate effectively and close quickly.
More people are involved in purchase decisions. The rise of the buying committee has made the middle-of-the-funnel buying process even more complex. Salespeople not only need to be experts in convincing the customer of the need for change and selling the benefits of the solution, they also need to help buyers navigate the buying process within their own company and achieve committee consensus. There’s no way senior salespeople can effectively manage this process if they’re also managing prospecting activity and customer retention issues.
Customer experience, renewal and referrals are critical to ongoing success. There is a whole field of expertise focused on satisfying our customers in a proactive way. This goes beyond the traditional customer service function, which focused on reacting to customer issues. Customer experience (CX) and customer success is a proactive function staffed by experts in customer utilization, product renewals, product expansion, referral generation and, of course, great customer service.
Ultimately, with the massive empowerment of customers in recent times, we need to be as professional and as skilled as possible in each of these crucial stages. A team of specialists is the only way to achieve this. By contrast, relying on the hunter/farmer model – or, worse, having a single salesperson manage every single stage of the sales process – is ineffective and will fail to resonate with customers.
Steven Norman has more than 25 years of experience in consumer, small-business and enterprise sales. He is the founder of Growth Acumen, which helps companies implement world-class sales practices and leadership development, and the author of “Future Proof Sales Strategy.”