Farmer vs Hunter: The Sales Growth Conundrum

Can't-miss advice to help MSPs and VARs find the sweet spot between account management (farmers) and new sales (hunters).

For any typical IT service provider – or any aspiring MSP (managed service provider) – the question of growth is often a balancing act between searching for new leads, closing on the ones they acquire, and providing high-touch, quality care for the clients they already have.

The good news is that despite recent events the managed service industry will continue to grow,  with the market forecasted to reach $356 billion by 2025. But innovative technologies alone won’t be enough for these companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

One obstacle remains before riding the wave of growth: the conundrum of providing high-level services versus acquiring new customers. To avoid being mired in a state of stagnation, MSPs need to find the sweet spot between account management (farmers) and new sales (hunters) that are focused on new client acquisition… So how can they achieve this?

The distinction between farmer (account manager) and hunter (new client acquisition)

To best understand how to find the balance between bringing new customers in and providing a premium experience – and streamline both – MSPs first need to make a clear distinction between account managers and those looking for new clients.

Both roles involve elements of sales, strategy, and highly developed client communication, but the responsibilities of each vary. The hunters are sales representatives, whose primary objective is to grow revenue by closing new business. Farmers nurture client relationships post-sale. They are clients’ advisors, looking to navigate long-term, strategic plans to minimize churn and upsell additional services.

In the typical MSP, many employees wear multiple hats, so these roles are usually combined (at least in the beginning). However, if you are an MSP that wants to grow at some point you must split out the new sales and account management roles.

Why does the differentiation matter? Well, successful MSPs realize that we’re living in an era of customer experience. It’s not just about bringing new clients in, but also about having capable client service that will encourage them to stay. With team members having defined roles since the beginning, they can focus on ensuring that each client is taken care of end-to-end.  Simply put you cannot grow new business and grow client business with the same individual.

Balancing leads and care

Once that distinction is made, MSPs need to look at how to best drive the potential of both farmer and hunter. Whether it’s garnering interests from new leads or maintaining a high level of service for current clients, close communication is key. However, this can often manifest differently in each stage.

In the sales process, hunters should focus on higher quality leads and relevant proposals. MSPs always need to be perceptive of the client’s needs, identify their challenges, and effectively set expectations – and tailor their proposal around it. Apart from that, they also need to take the time to understand their prospects’ IT environment and get a sense of ongoing issues to identify the best way to complement these structures.

For example, if a client is looking to switch providers, MSPs need to make sure to collaborate with the former provider that may ask the client to pay a one-month overlap of service to ensure a smooth transition.

When it comes to client services, account managers should follow clear processes to promote ongoing communication, fast resolution of any issues, and keep projects brief and to a strict deadline. Even when clients’ lips are seemingly sealed, account managers should reap their soft skills to focus on the subtle cues to help understand their business inside and out. In short, having a customer-centric approach is key: After all, it is commonly known that it is five to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Cultivating the customer journey from the beginning

When Bain & Company asked organizations to rate their customer service, 80% said they were delivering a superior experience. This is compared to only 8% of customers who believed they were receiving a great customer experience. To bridge this gap, MSPs need to design comprehensive customer journeys and align both the account manager and account hunter role within them.

It all starts with a good transition plan from sales. Once MSPs earn a new client, they need to kick-start the nurturing process. Account hunters need to have the tools to advance a seamless hand-over of the client information, introduce the client to the rest of the team, and centralize all sales assessment notes and documentation.  This process is important to ensure that account managers (after onboarding) have all the information they need – once the client is using the MSPs services.

Every MSP knows that the first couple months of collaboration present the best opportunity to “wow” the client. Developing strategies that ensure quick, yet impressive wins will help boost the customer experience, so MSPs need to make sure that the account managers have all the information, and a great starting point for them to work their magic in developing a technology roadmap (and more billings).

Many MSPs already have enough on their plates, but investing in a clear distinction between account managers and new sales certainly pays off. This way, both can easily split the prospect and client-facing duties to ensure that new clients keep coming and receive the best care – which is the true recipe for growth.