I was having a discussion today with a client about lead generation and was pointing out that they were missing a lot of sales opportunities with their existing accounts. The client was praising his account managers but, as far as I could see, they are doing little more that order-taking combined with resolving the day-to-day issues arising from their accounts.

I think there is a common misconception as to the nature of the ‘farmer’ role. To me a farmer should not just be nurturing but also sowing and reaping too. Instead of just ‘managing’ an account, the farmer should be taking a leadership role in developing the account to its maximum potential and also getting referrals into new accounts.

I am not advocating that the farmer should start behaving like a hunter – aggressive, focused, and no time to stop and develop deeper relationships. What I am saying is that the farmer should be expected to pro-actively seek new business, just in a different way to the hunter. It should be more of a soft sell, but there should be a focus on both maintenance and development.

So why do so many account managers fail to expand their reach beyond their existing contacts and effectively end up as order takers?

In my experience, the real reason is discomfort with asking. Its closely related to problems they often have with closing the sale. If the hunter’s shortfall is not taking time to develop the relationship, the farmer’s shortfall is a fear of damaging the relationship. The reality is that the accounts with the best relationships are the ones most likely to want to help. If they do not then, perhaps, it is actually good feedback about the strength of the relationship.

The risk of not developing an account is far greater than the risk of asking about new opportunities, introductions, and for referrals. Without extending the contacts within an account, the existing business becomes vulnerable to a change in management. The more extensively an account is developed, the more secure it becomes.

I decided to demonstrate the point with my client by asking him for the opportunity to develop his account manager to become a more productive farmers – I am pleased to say he agreed!