Love the One You're With
by Michael J. Katz

According to my friends at the reference desk of the Reading, Massachusetts public library, there are more than 1.9 million professional farmers in the United States today. Interestingly, this same source couldn't find a single person in the nation categorized as a "professional hunter."

Frankly, this doesn't surprise me. Despite having slept through much of Mr. Schweitzer's 10th grade social studies class, I did learn that the people who grow food for a living are considered more anthropologically advanced than the hunter/gatherers of the world. And so it makes sense that in a highly developed country such as this, hunting as a career option has all but vanished.

What is surprising however, is that in the world of Western business, hunting - not farming - remains the dominant strategy for growing a company.

Cold calling; direct mail; email blasts; and most newspaper, TV and radio advertising represent hunting strategies. You come to work in the morning, look for your target, aim your weapon, and if you're good, you're eating by lunch time. This is the way most companies bring in business.

Farming strategies on the other hand - approaches that seek to grow the business by developing existing relationships - are considered optional add-ons by many companies. These tactics include things like electronic newsletters; loyalty, referral and feedback programs; customer events; and other proactive communications to the house list.

Although hunting has its advantages (results tend to come faster and are generally easier to measure), for my money, farming is a much better way to live.

Here's why:

  1. Farming is more targeted. Half the challenge in hunting is finding your prey in the first place. A farmer on the other hand, doesn't spend even a second wondering where the crop may have wandered off to today.

    In business as well, there is no more targeted a place to look for more revenue than within your own house list. All of the people who have bought from you before are by definition people who are likely to buy from you again, and no matter how good your segmentation research is, it's guaranteed to be less accurate a predictor of future behavior than working your existing relationships.

  2. Farming is self perpetuating. Let's say I go out hunting penguins and I catch five of them by the end of the day. Am I now more or less likely to catch any tomorrow? Who knows?! Every day is a blank slate, and today's success doesn't impact tomorrow (if anything it makes it harder, since I just thinned out the penguin population).

    When I farm however, not only do I eat today, but in the process of harvesting I gather the seeds for tomorrow's crop.

    Similarly, while direct mail, advertising, telemarketing, and other hunting tactics may be successful in creating leads in the short term, they cease to be useful the minute you stop doing them, and they get less effective over time.

    A relationship based approach on the other hand gets easier over time. Your list gets bigger, the customer connections get stronger, and the same effort yields more results.

  3. Farming creates an asset. You hunt for 20 years, and what do you have to show for it? Hunting skills. You farm for 20 years and not only do you have farming skills, you've got a farm to pass on to the next generation.

    Both approaches feed your family, but only one builds something of value that lives on.

    In business, your database of contacts is your farm. Cared for properly, it gets bigger, better and more productive over time. The truth is, for most of us pure service providers, our house list is the most valuable asset we've got, and by increasing its value, we increase the value of our business.

The bottom line: My point here is not to suggest that you fire your sales team and cancel your advertising. The great news is that these two approaches - farming and hunting - are in no way mutually exclusive. In fact, the two approaches complement each other well (e.g. a customer who already gets your E-Newsletter is much more likely to accept your telemarketing call).

I am recommending however, that you take it from me and Mr. Schweitzer and pay less attention to hunting strangers, and more attention to nurturing relationships with the people you already know. I'll be in study hall if you need me.

Michael J. Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development, Inc., ( a Boston area consulting firm that helps clients increase sales by showing them how to market to their existing relationships, and that specializes in the development of electronic newsletters. He is the author of the E-Book, E-Newsletters That Work (

Many more articles on Sales & Marketing and Customer Service in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2002 by Michael J. Katz. All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading