Hunting vs. Harvesting: Which Method Describes Your Customer Acquisition Strategy?

Hunting vs. HarvestingI’ve written about this idea of hunting vs harvesting before for this site, but in conversations I have with small business owners, over and over this question of “what’s the difference?” comes up.  So let’s dive deeper, because it’s a growing issue to tackle for companies trying to break out and get to that next level.

Imagine you are out on a camping trip. You didn’t pack any food with you and you’re hungry.  You’ve got two choices:

  • You can pluck a nice juicy piece of fruit from a nearby tree;  OR
  • You can take your rifle out on a journey and try to hunt down your next meal.

Now, remember: you’re hungry. You’re tired. You’re not looking for adventure or sport. You just want to eat!

Most of us would choose the meal dangling from the fruit tree in a heartbeat. But that’s not the choice most small business owners make every day.

When it comes to acquiring new customers, most business owners go hunting instead of harvesting. And that’s a shame. Because hunting for new customers is tough work that causes most small businesses to go hungry. And many, many of those businesses end up starving to death.

Not only that, but hunting for business is tough stuff, even for those who manage to make a living at it.  When you’re in “hunting” mode, you’re dialing for dollars; you feel resistance at every turn; rejection is common; you get “price shopped” against competitors so margins are thin; and you waste tons of time working with prospects who simply aren’t ready to buy.

Sounds about as much fun as a major root canal without the anesthetic, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, when you’re in “harvesting” mode, you’re working smart and scooping up sales left and right. You’re like the fisherman with the irresistible bait, drawing your prospects to you. You can spend your time closing deals on the phone with hot leads or go out on the golf course because you know your prospects will call you when they’re ready to move forward.

So, the big question is How can you spend more time working with hot leads and less time-even no time-with the cold leads? How can you actually make the shift from hunting to harvesting?

To understand how to do this, you need to know about a fundamental business problem at the heart of nearly every company on the planet. Here’s the problem:

  • They have a “lead generation department” (marketing); and
  • They have a “lead closing department” (sales); BUT
  • They don’t have a “lead warming department.”

To make the shift from outbound hunting to inbound harvesting, you need a lead warming function in your business. Simple as that.

Lead warming is about communicating with your prospects from the moment they express interest and then if they don’t buy right away, that’s OK because you then don’t let them slip away and instead breadcrumb them with information they’ll find valuable about your product, service or company. You time that campaign that sends them messages over email, voicemail or direct mail — whatever your combo choice — and you do that in an automated way that doesn’t require an employee to have to remember.  This way, none of those warm leads slip through the cracks.

When that prospect is ready to buy, whether it’s one week, one month or one year later, they want to buy from you, and not your competitor.

Another way of looking at it is you have people that have filled out a form on your website, whether it’s a newsletter, or downloaded an ebook, or attended a demo they’re saying, “hey I’m mildly interested in what you have to offer.” Your job now is to stay in front of them with relevant information so that when they are ready to buy, they buy from you. Most companies fail to do anything with those warm leads that expressed interest but didn’t instantly buy from you. They forget about those prospects and move on to the ones that are hot at that moment.

So, let me give you five tips to help you make the shift from hunting to harvesting:

  1. Arm yourself with an arsenal of “information magnets” that will attract prospects to you.
  2. Send relevant, valuable information to every prospect regularly.
  3. Communicate with prospects efficiently, not in the normal, time-consuming, one-on-one methods.
  4. Log all communications between you and the prospect in an organized, accessible fashion.
  5. Track the progress of each lead through the sales pipeline so you always know where every lead stands.

The good news is that it’s actually very easy to do all of this and you can have it done for you effortlessly with an automated system.

When you make this shift, you’ll enjoy your work more, you won’t dread pounding the phones, and you’ll have more freedom because your prospects will call YOU when they’re ready to buy.  In short, you’ll be plucking ripe fruit from a tree instead of trudging through the wilderness, hunting for your next meal.


Clate Mask Clate Mask is Co-Founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, a fast-growth software company that helps small businesses convert more leads, save time and manage more with less with its web-based software. He also is co-author of the New York Times best-seller Conquer the Chaos: How to Grow a Successful Small Business Without Going Crazy.

18 Reactions
  1. Best post I’ve read in a long time. Thank you.

  2. Clate,

    Your post here immediately had me thinking about email autoresponders and I know that InfusionSoft does a lot of that. Are there any other email autoresponder solutions out there that you’ve seen deliver good results?

  3. Having just read the book “The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing” by Eric Groves this weekend, this article fits right into my train of thought right now. We do spend a lot of time trying to find leads and we always seem to fall down when we have difficulty having a direct conversation with those leads. An email drip system, combined with an active follow-up system is perfect for warming up our leads and finally starting a relevant conversation. My project over the next month is to develop this drip system, capture the leads and implement the process.

  4. Planting many seeds for future harvest is how I interpret online marketing and off line strategies as well. Great article post here.

  5. Clate Mask: Pluck the day is a favorite phrase! I believe in the harvesting strategy and your right to keep the fruits of your labor. As a experienced purchaser I am bit “allergic” to pushy salespeople trying to “hunt” me down with “bait & switch” tactics.

  6. Great post…

    I consider myself a hunter when I have to be.

    A harvester, most of the time-still learning.

    A lighthouse almost always.

    The Franchise King

  7. Nice post, Clate. Certainly a compelling message to implement a great lead warming process!

  8. Hi Clate !

    We build sites with several mini-actions where the site visitor can start to engage in her own time and at her own pace.

    Examples of mini-actions are downloading a case study, using a cost calculator, designing a customised product online.

    All of these help the visitor to know and trust the site and the company before she takes the plunge and starts a business relationship.

  9. This is the best system to be implemented in your Business.
    Where there’s a Sales & Marketing Department, it would be advisable to also have a Retention department as well.
    We live in the age of Information today, and customers are attracted to you based upon the value of your content.
    The way is to carefully build systems that can efficiently harvest your prospects in the long term.

  10. Great post Clate.
    I think that for most small businesses they forget that it take a number of touch points to create a customer ready to buy and therefore they’re not in the mindset that you’re suggesting in this post. The internet has really opened up the door to FREE which most customers are expecting these days before they would ever consider buying something. So the actual lead time for sales is getting longer and businesses will need better CRM systems to keep a track of customers as they are ‘warmed up’ through to the eventual sale.
    I read a very good book on this last year called Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah. That book is right in line with your blog post and would help many of the readers

  11. Thanks for the comments, folks!

    Robert–You’re right that autoresponder technology is a good way to accomplish some of this “harvesting” work in your business. is a good autoresponder solution. These days, most of the basic email marketing solutions provide autoresponder capabilities.

    Stephen, Andee and others alluded to the importance of CRM in your lead warming strategy. I agree wholeheartedly. While email autoresponders are a decent way to stay in touch with your prospects and customers, you need to incorporate CRM software and strategy to execute your lead warming function. At Infusionsoft, we call this Email Marketing 2.0. It differs from traditional email marketing in that EM 2.0: 1) integrates the customer database to enable smart email marketing; 2) employs automation to free up the business owner; and 3) incorporates other communication media (beyond email) such as letters, postcards, fax, voice, tasks, etc.

    In the new decade, I believe we’ll see Email Marketing (un-intelligent, manual, email-only) morph into Email Marketing 2.0 (smart, automatic, email-plus communications).