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Can Hunters and Farmers Help You Build a Strong HR Pipeline?

Cristina Rotari
4 min. read

Recruitment marketing runs on the idea that effective talent acquisition in the modern talent market requires recruiters to borrow strategies from traditional marketing. This winds up including a lot of social media content creation, as well as the adoption of automated workflows that can save users time and energy. But where else might recruiters profitably look for new ideas and techniques for winning the war for talent? Is it possible that the sales world, for instance, might have some useful techniques and insights for the modern HR department?


Today, we’ll sit down with Cristina Rotari, SmartDreamers’ Sales & Strategic Partnership Manager and talk about the sales concept of hunters and farmers, and how those ideas might relate to HR and recruitment. Hopefully, this will provide all of our readers with new insights into how recruitment and hiring are changing, as well as some of the new and innovative strategies they can use to bolster their talent pipelines.


Q: For starters, what are hunters and farmers in the sales world?


A: Hunters are typically thought of as “the doers” within direct sales departments. They aim to close as many deals as quickly as possible, typically focusing heavily on deal quantity. This usually means seeking out and exploring new areas. To succeed in a role like this, you really need to be target driven and goal oriented.


Farmers, by contrast, are focused on developing long-term customer relationships. This includes members of customer success teams and other account development folks. Salespeople with this approach aim to create a lasting business impact by maintaining and developing additional revenue from existing contracts. This requires a proactive approach and project-oriented mindset.


Broadly speaking, you can map these concepts pretty easily onto most modern HR departments. People on recruitment teams tend to work more like hunters, seeking out the right person (whether that’s internal or external) for the right position and making it happen. These folks spend their time advertising jobs, sourcing potential employees and screening them, doing preliminary interviews, and coordinating meetings between candidates and hiring managers so that they can make a final decision.


This leaves those who work on employee training and career development, those who work on employer branding, and anyone responsible for employee relations in the "farmer" role. Though the hunters select candidates based on their qualifications, these are the people who are ostensibly in charge of making sure that companies actually get value out of their employees by onboarding them effectively, managing any conflicts that may arise, and generally giving them to the tools to succeed.


The issue is that while these functions are often treated as separate, they’re really inextricably linked—with each one having an ongoing reciprocal impact on the other. This is why we’re proposing something of a hybrid approach.


Q: Can you talk a little more about this hybrid approach? Why is it necessary? How might it play out in practice?


A: If we’re looking at “hunters,” i.e. direct sales people, their procedure for building a sales pipeline is partially based on inbound efforts, including everything from digital marketing to word of mouth, PR content, testimonials, events, marketing resources, etc. This occurs in combination with outbound activity and direct hunting, i.e. sales outreach via email, LinkedIn, phone calls, meetups, etc. Even though these inbound and outbound processes are thought of as separate, they’re used across multiple functions for the same goal.


In HR departments, what often happens is that an HR business partner has a mission to find “the perfect candidate.” This ostensibly happens through outbound campaigns, but the task also involves creating employer branded content in the form of job posts and ads, to say nothing of other content once the target candidate is already in the pipeline. From there, our HR associate also needs to “close the deal” through the interview process and actually make sure the candidate is transforming into a fully onboarded employee. This already combines sales, marketing, and lead nurturing—thus, it’s already a hybrid approach.


From here, people management personnel need to help promote that employer brand internally to new hires, but they also have to acquire testimonials and other collateral from employees that can be re-leveraged by the “hunters.” The trick is to identify this existing hybridity and embrace it. This means creating a more fluid dynamic between functions that have historically been kept separate, and empowering people to think of talent acquisition and management as a holistic process, rather than several separate-but-related ones.


Q: Are there any difficulties or hurdles that an HR department would be likely to face trying to adopt this model? How can these hurdles best be overcome?


A: Often, what can happen in instances where HR departments are trying to take a hybrid approach is you end up with a “one man band” phenomenon, in which individuals or small teams, seeing the chance to incorporate elements from other areas in their tactics, begin to take on way too much. Instead of collaborating more effectively, they create even more silos. In the example above, for instance, it’s hard to pay attention and perform at high levels while spreading yourself across 3 distinct areas of activity (sales, marketing, recruitment).


Many HR departments right now face a lack of resources, lack of time, lack of expertise, high budgets for initiatives that don't yield clear ROI, and high costs for acquiring and hiring new candidates. This state of affairs exacerbates the challenges above. Something’s gotta give, and when you’re in this position you need to either rope new people into the process who can take on some tasks, or you need to find another way to offload some work.  


My advice right now is to be disruptive. Try to embrace technology that automates as much of the HR process as possible and helps HR departments make true recruitment marketing feasible. By putting forth technological and data driven approaches, businesses can help recruiters to fine-tune their approach and more effectively deliver the right message to their target audience. Giving people the right tools so that they can work with a view towards the entire talent acquisition and management process is the key to jumpstarting a strong talent pipeline.


Q: How does this advice relate to recruitment marketing more broadly?


A: As talent management goes digital, the lines between marketing and recruitment will continue to blur. The rise of social media, the shift in workforce demographics, and easy access to information have transformed how candidates approach employment prospects, and that transformation needs to go both ways. Recruitment marketing applies the same strategy a company uses in developing a brand to drive hot prospects into the sales funnel. The more these different processes (sales, marketing, talent management, etc.) come to look like one another, the more they need to be thought of together and ultimately connected technologically.


Candidates are making a big decision when they hit the “apply” button. They’re not buying a pack of gum or a box of tissues—they’re potentially reorganizing their whole lives around a new career. The best way to acknowledge that fact is to give your talent pipeline the resources necessary to combine talent attraction and talent management into one holistic process.

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