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How sales “hunters” stalk their prey

As featured in ERE Daily

You buckle into your business class window seat, primed for a 5-hour mental vacation.

And then this guy settles in next to you.

His wife practices family law, specializing in custody issues; their 11-year-old’s a little ADHD, but made the travel team; they’d like more children, but may need in vitro; he’s returning from helping a client upgrade their aging CRM solution.

And you?

You find yourself sharing that your daughter was just refused admission to Holyoke, your alma mater – in spite of the big donation you made; your husband insists on playing recreational hockey, even though he’s 44 and recently suffered a sports hernia, and, come to think of it, your CRM solution is a bit old in the tooth as well.

As you reach cruising altitude, you find yourself revealing that your CRM solution isn’t accessible via mobile, and doesn’t play well with social – which is thwarting your ability to launch and monitor new marketing campaigns.

On the way to baggage claim you vow to set up a web conference between your seat mate and your CIO and grease the skids that action is needed on the CRM front.

You’ve just been ambushed by a Hunter – a sales professional specializing in new business development. Sometimes known as Rainmakers, Hunters are treasured for landing huge deals, frequently from unexpected places. They are also recognized as more adept at winning business than cultivating it, which is the province of account managers, better known as Farmers.

Over the course of assessing more than 500,000 sales professionals, our research has identified 140 success-related attributes as they apply to 14 discrete sales roles. Let’s examine, in order, the 6 attributes top performing new business development specialists AKA Hunters have in common.

1. Interpersonal Networking

Hunters are non-stop networkers who thrive on taking the lead in social situations. They’re comfortable sharing personal aspects of their lives with total strangers and stimulating conversation with questions some might regard as a bit cheeky – anything to break the ice and accelerate intimacy and trust.

In a public setting, Hunters are masters of working the room, moving from group to group to discover contacts with the most promise, exuding enthusiasm and a glass-half-full outlook on life.

Not surprisingly, prospects find Hunters charming and don’t need to have their arms twisted to reveal business issues and needs. So, many times impromptu discussions rapidly segue into a full-blown sales cycle.

In contrast, other salespeople rely on a more structured approach to opportunity identification.

2. Problem Solving

Hunters are genuinely interested in what prospective customers are up against and eagerly accept co-ownership in resolving problems.

In their zeal to arrive at a solution, Hunters may engage in out-of-the-box thinking to overcome barriers to the sale. Perhaps their employer’s product offerings need to be customized in a novel way. Or service and delivery standards need to be tweaked.

Sometimes this results in sniping from their business unit bosses to “sell what you’ve got.” However, if one customer is best served by a renegade solution, then there may be many others. Employers are wise to value Hunters as agents of necessary change.

3. Opportunity Qualification

As personable as they may be, Hunters will not allow their time to be consumed by prospects that don’t offer business potential.

A series of artful probes determine whether a prospect has a relevant need, available budget and decision-making authority - and alerts the Hunter whether an opportunity demands attention or should be tactfully dropped as a distraction.

Meanwhile, other salespeople are more likely to get bogged down in “comfort zone” opportunities that offer comradeship and ego gratification at the expense of business potential.

4. Work Effort

Hunters thrive on hard work and are driven to succeed. Since they are able to springboard even social and recreational interactions into sales opportunities, they are never off duty. Distractions that would present most salespeople with an excuse for underperformance are shrugged off in an all-out focus on goal achievement.

In spite of their extemporaneous prospecting methods, Hunters are highly self-disciplined and eager adopters of sales planning and productivity tools.

5. Closing

Contrary to popular opinion, you won’t find Hunters pursuing a go-for-the-throat, take-no-prisoners, closing approach.

Quite the contrary, the Hunter gets to closure by following a logical, step-by-step process, with periodic checks to ensure the buyer is on board. The Hunter is also sensitive that the buyer will require ammunition to socialize the purchase decision and associated costs across their organization.

Hunters are particularly skillful in presenting options to pilot a solution rather than confronting the buyer with a costly, bet-the-ranch scenario.

6. Opportunism

Hunters are action-oriented and quick to exploit unexpected opportunities and circumstances.

They are comfortable operating outside of their comfort zone and experimenting with out-of-the-ordinary approaches. They see the bright side to even obstacles and reverses and are more concerned about making the most of an opportunity than avoiding mistakes.

Questions You May Have

Q: Don’t all salespeople need to be Hunters?

A: Some more than others. In particular, territory reps may require Hunter/Rainmaker qualities if winning new accounts is part of their job.

Q: Isn’t there an unfortunate loss of continuity when the Hunter moves on to the next opportunity?

A: Not if there’s a skillful transition plan with the Account Manager.

Q: How do we train our reps to be Hunters?

A: Sorry, you can’t. More than most sales roles, Hunter skills are hard-wired. Sometimes Hunters spontaneously rise up out of the ranks. Or you can recruit Hunters using the attributes described in this article as a guide. A sales talent assessment will confirm whether a candidate has Hunter DNA.  (Note: beware of so-called sales personality tests. They have been largely discredited in making sales hiring decisions.)

Q: How do we prevent Hunters from being recruited away?

A: Cater to your Hunters by challenging them to develop new markets, find new product beta sites and establish competitive beachheads – and relieving them of nanny duties with current accounts. You’ll also want to run interference for your Hunters internally by supporting even semi outrageous demands for product enhancements, third party content and service workarounds. And don’t let jealousy from their sales peers prevent you from providing your Hunters with the compensation and recognition they deserve.

Q: Aren’t Hunters becoming Dinosaurs?

A: You might think so if you perceive Hunters as undisciplined, sales bullies. But our research shows that Hunters don’t slay customers, they charm them.

The Hunter’s disciplined, problem-solving approach is much in keeping with today’s focus on a more consultative brand of selling. And their social networking gifts make for more BFFs than a Facebook account.

The web may have made information-sharing sales reps redundant. But the Hunter’s gift for engaging with customers is unlikely to ever go out of fashion.

Ed Shineman

Ed Shineman

Co-founder and CMO at SalesGenomix
Ed Shineman is a lifelong sales and marketing executive with experience in both headquarters and field leadership assignments. Contact Ed at eshineman@SalesGenomix.com.
Ed Shineman