Reeling ‘Em In (vs. Shooting ‘Em Dead!)


By Dave Fellman | May 16, 2018 << Back to Articles Reeling ‘Em In (vs. Shooting ‘Em Dead!)

In the sales community, we often refer to salespeople as hunters and farmers. Hunters find new customers, while farmers maintain and service existing customers. It’s generally assumed that one salesperson can’t be great at both tasks―and that’s often true―because hunting and farming require different skill sets and attitudes. Of course, it’s also true that what we refer to as hunting is really more like fishing, but let me come back to that in a moment.

Birth, Health, and Growth

I have a problem with the hunter/farmer analogy in the first place, starting with the idea that hunters kill and farmers grow. What would be a better analogy? How about obstetricians and pediatricians? One is responsible for the birth of a relationship; the other is responsible for its continued health.

Growth is another story. In my experience, most of the salespeople who are categorized as farmers don’t do much growing. Sure, sometimes the accounts grow because the sales person does a good job of nurturing the relationship, but I don’t see enough cross-selling or account penetration. Very few salespeople sell a wide range of products to their current customers or get to all of the decision-makers in the customer’s organization. In other words, there’s order-taking and customer service going on, but not true selling.

In agriculture, farmers plant seeds and cultivate them. That’s what we want them to do in selling, too. So let’s reset the terminology and hopefully agree that hunting is about developing new customers, farming is about maximizing those customers, and the whole service-and-maintenance process is not a sales activity.

Fishing vs. Hunting

As I noted earlier, in sales, hunting is really more like fishing. It’s all about reeling ‘em in―not shooting ‘em dead. Think about that. Sure, I get the concept of the thrill of the hunt. In fact, that’s the part I like best about selling. I love the process of identifying a target and pursuing it, overcoming all of the obstacles and objections, and eventually winning the sale. To be perfectly accurate, however, I think of it more as a game than a hunt.

Most buying decisions are made on the buyer’s timetable, not the seller’s. A new business developer is better served by the patience of a fisherman than the aggression of a hunter. And remember, new business development is not limited to gaining new customers; it also includes gaining new sales from established clients. So maybe we should be talking about fishermen to reel ‘em in and farmers to maximize ‘em, and leave hunting as its own sport.


It turns out there’s another kind of salesperson, and this kind is especially important to today’s industry. I call this one the missionary, and the job definition for a missionary is to convince customers and prospects to come along with us as we add new products, many of which involve new technologies.

The skill set requirement for a missionary is very similar to that of a fisherman or farmer, and includes questioning, listening, and negotiating. But the missionary skill set also includes an intellectual component that not all salespeople have. To put it bluntly, a missionary has to be smart enough to understand both the technical aspects and the improvement potential of what he is selling. And then, a missionary must have both the patience and the creativity to develop and sell a complete program, not just a relationship or a product.

A missionary also should be patient and committed to the concept of return on investment. A true missionary is almost always selling something that costs more than the status quo, which means his negotiation position will almost always be: “Yes, it costs more, but it’ll work better and therefore be a better investment in the long term.”

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that not all salespeople are created equal. Some are better suited to a particular kind of selling style than others. If you need a fisherman, you aren’t going to get the results you need with a hunter or a farmer. If you need a real farmer, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for with a service/maintenance type. And if you need a missionary, you need someone with a combination of patience, product knowledge, and creativity.

About the Author.

Dave Fellman is the author of “Listen To The Dinosaur” which Selling Power magazine listed as one of its “10 Best Books To Read in 2010.” Contact him by phone at 800-325-9634, by e-mail at [email protected], or visit his Web site at