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Tracking the Sales Hunter

We all know there are two basic kinds of sales reps—hunters and farmers. Hunters live to uncover and seize new opportunities, while farmers are better suited to cultivating an existing client base. Both are unquestionably invaluable to a company, but when it comes to surviving in lean times, it's the hunters who get hunted the most.

As a sales executive, you know it's imperative to cultivate an environment enabling the hunter to thrive, despite a challenging economic climate that presents fewer leads and has created slower sales cycles. But while experience and instinct have taught you what makes a good sales rep, it's not always easy to identify the characteristics that differentiate the hunter from the farmer.

Wonder no more: What follows are the top 12 traits of the hunter, accompanied by the pros and cons of each characteristic. You'll also find helpful tips on how to manage and retain hunters so they're working to their full potential—both for their careers and your bottom line.

1. Hunters like to solve problems on their own and on the fly.
Pro: The autonomous sales rep will close the deal with little handholding.
Con: Team collaboration can present a challenge.
Tip: Break down the responsibilities of the team to ensure the hunter is still able to own and drive part of the effort.

2. Hunters like to lead whatever projects are on their plates.
Pro: They will successfully lead and execute sales initiatives.
Con: They can present a challenge to the manager who is trying to lead the team.
Tip: Provide opportunities for the hunter to independently manage projects and ask them to demonstrate the results in a public forum to the manager and the executive team. This will allow the hunter to gain public recognition without usurping the role of the manager.

3. Hunters need to be around people because they thrive on the energy of others.
Pro: They naturally gravitate toward meeting new people and initiating cold calls, and are comfortable addressing a larger audience at the prospect's site. This trait is critical when a committee makes the purchasing decision.
Con: If this hunter works from home or is based in a small regional sales office, they will feel disconnected and are more likely to disengage.
Tip: Find a reason to bring them into corporate headquarters at least once a quarter and arrange for two full days of meetings with colleagues and executive personnel. Also, be sure to regularly check in with them on a personal level, as hunters appreciate and come to rely on their one-to-one personal connections.

4. Hunters like working on a lot of different projects at the same time.
Pro: They can successfully manage more territories and service more clients.
Con: They may interrupt existing processes and defined roles in their pursuit of juggling lots of activities simultaneously.
Tip: Provide a wider, well-defined territory so the hunter can tackle lots of projects without negatively impacting other staff.

5. Hunters like change.
Pro: They'll easily adapt to change, whether it's ushered in by internal or external forces.
Con: They will get bored with routine.
Tip: Change the hunter's role every 12-18 months for renewed enthusiasm.

6. Hunters have a strong sense of urgency.
Pro: They will instinctively and successfully complete assignments quickly.
Con: Their patience is tested when it comes to products and services requiring longer sales cycles.
Tip: Establish mini-milestones and rewards throughout the sales cycle, as opposed to the grand prize at the signing of the contract.

7. Hunters tend to bend the rules.
Pro: Hunters will creatively solve problems addressing specific customer requests, ultimately leading to more sales.
Con: this trait can frustrate those responsible for enforcing the company's administrative and business processes.
Tip: Provide flexibility in the sales process, as well as the administrative systems, and accommodate only those changes benefiting the company.

8. Hunters dislike completing sales forecast data.
Pro: They have an innate ability to hold a great many facts in their head, and this helps to support their primary focus on active selling.
Con: They can impede management's ability to properly forecast.
Tip: Schedule a verbal brain dump with the hunter, and utilize administrative support to capture and document the conversations with regard to sales status and forecasts.

9. Hunters want to be paid—and paid well—for their high performance.
Pro: Greater profitability for everybody involved.
Con: They demand to be paid immediately, and if not paid well, they will chase the money at another company.
Tip: work with your finance department and CEO to accelerate payment schedules while also creating an additional stream of sales incentives.

10. Hunters are naturally politically savvy.
Pro: They are superb at recognizing the power players inside of an organization and winning them over in the pursuit of their career, as well as closing the deal.
Con: They require visibility with senior leaders within their own company that may not always be available.
Tip: Establish mechanisms for the hunter to connect with senior leaders in your organization so that they are recognized publicly and privately for their efforts.

11. Hunters are systematic problem-solvers.
Pro: They are curious and ask questions, making them the ideal consultative salesperson.
Con: They don't like to be told how to do something, even if they or the processes are new, because they love the challenge of figuring something out on their own.
Tip: Make instructions and yourself available to answer questions as opposed to scheduling a formal training session.

12. Hunters love to learn and to teach others.
Pro: They are highly useful to colleagues, prospects, and clients in breaking down and explaining complex topics, and ensuring the team and client have all of the right information to either succeed in their job and/or make an informed purchasing decision.
Con: Since they tend to bend the rules and not follow processes, they can present a challenge to those who thrive on learning by the book.
Tip: Provide an opportunity for the hunter to supplement "textbook" learning through workshops and demos supporting their natural ability to share, demonstrate, and teach.

Will you ever find variables among hunters? Most certainly. By and large, however, the 12 traits above appear consistently in sales teams of all sizes and in all industries. While it's important to understand each sales force has its own identity, it's also crucial to recognize it's well within your sphere of influence to create and cultivate the most successful team possible.

Greta Roberts is president and CEO of Target Teams, a provider of online assessment tools enabling sales leaders to effectively identify, develop, and motivate top sales performers.