Most CI businesses have a single salesperson. That same salesperson is usually the owner, operating a business model one of my mentors calls “Santa & His Elves.” The owner (Santa) is the center of the universe and has to make work for his team (the elves) to do. Santa can’t take a day off lest the elves run out of work. This isn’t as much a business as a lifestyle or gilded hamster wheel. It’s no surprise that most owners get tired of existing this way after a few years and try to scale their businesses beyond having them in the middle of everything. This often involves hiring additional salespeople, installers, accounting staff, project managers, and system designers. Often the hardest role to backfill is the role of big game hunter.
Oftentimes the company owner is well connected in the community and responsible for any large jobs coming in the door. Replacing that isn’t easy. Unfortunately, most salespeople have their best day during their job interview convincing their new employer they can hang the moon and bring in all kinds of new business. Over time, reality sets in. More times than not, owners find they’ve hired farmers who said they could hunt. Maybe the farmer thought they could hunt and just couldn’t self-identify as anything other than a rainmaker. Whatever the reason, it’s very common to find farmers masquerading (sometimes unknowingly) as hunters during their job search.
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I used to find this phenomenon maddening and couldn’t understand why my new salespeople couldn’t just get out there, shake a few hands, and bring work in the door. Thanks to many mentors and a few years’ experience under my belt, I stopped resenting our farmers and began to appreciate their strengths. Farmers are amazing at nurturing relationships and making clients feel appreciated. Hunters can be a tricky bunch, where there’s often a lone-wolf mentality that comes along with being a top outside salesperson, whereas farmers are generally very team-oriented and appreciate the camaraderie found inside a vibrant culture.
One of the ways I’ve gotten over my resentment of farmers who told me they could hunt is by changing the way we keep score. We now ask all our salespeople trending below $1 mm in annual sales to join a trade association (NARI, NAHB local chapters, etc.) while serving on a committee. We also mandate they belong to a networking group (BNI, etc.) and attend weekly meetings. When a farmer shows up to a trade association committee meeting or a BNI meeting, they’re put in a position where they’ll naturally pick up leads and qualified referrals. We call this “hunting for farmers” approach “funting.” Instead of crying about how we wish the world were different, we’re embracing the world as it is and playing to their strengths.
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I’m guessing you have more farmers than hunters on your team. What are you doing to leverage the strengths of the sales team you have vs. the one you want?
Stay frosty, and see you in the field.
Henry Clifford is president of Livewire, an integration firm in Richmond, VA. He also serves on the CEDIA Business Working Group and writes a bi-monthly blog for Residential Systems.