Why it Pays to Poach: 5 Tips to Hire Your Competitor’s Best Salesperson

Eliot Burdett by

Does it pay to poach? At first glance, it may seem shortsighted to do so. Yes, it can result in a good hire, but it could invite risk as competitors look for payback when you least expect it.

While some leaders believe that lateral recruitment is controversial, many believe poaching from a competitor – if done properly – is ethically sound and a smart business move. Just as companies compete for clients, they need to be prepared to compete for top employees too.

A recent study on poaching by top professors at the Kellogg School of Management, echoed this sentiment. Their research concluded that poaching can increase sales revenue for both sides – the poacher and the poached – by transferring knowledge, best practices, and forcing firms to share the burden of maintaining a highly skilled workforce.

Moreover, the judicial system recently cast a vote to embolden competition for employees when a judge approved a $415 million settlement between several technology companies—including Apple and Google – and the approximately 64,000 tech employees they conspired not to hire from each other.

As the CEO of an industry leading sales recruiting company, we know that great salespeople are actively employed: hitting sales targets year-over-year, and driving profitable revenue for their employers. Given that “selling experience within the industry” consistently ranks as a top criteria by hiring managers, there is a strong likelihood that your competition already has hired the talent you’re looking for.

Here are 5 tips to hire your competitor’s best salesperson:

  • Never Contact Them at Work: Because many employers monitor in-office communication, the best practice is to reach out to candidates via their personal email accounts and mobile devices. If a Vice President is worried that their current employer is aware that they are job hunting, they are more likely to reject an interview opportunity. Simultaneously, if your rival finds out that you are trying to poach, it could start a hiring war. It is important to handle this with finesse.
  • Use Third Party Recruiters: This is a safe approach because it provides companies a healthy distance from the hiring process. Unlike the organizations they represent, third party recruiters have no unspoken pact that they won’t poach a competitor’s salespeople. The number one obligation for recruiters is to attract the most qualified, exceptional people for their customers — it’s only natural that they would reach out to high-performers from competing employers.
  • Become an Employer of Choice: Ninety-seven percent of sales professionals read online reviews about a company before they accept a job offer. An organization’s reputation as an employer is a significant part of attracting the best sales talent. This includes having a pro-sales culture, career advancement opportunities, world-class onboarding programs and market leading compensation. By providing desirable work experiences and environments, you will develop a reputation that will make hiring A-players that much easier.
  • Have a Strong Compensation Plan: According to SalesForce.com, 67% of sales reps do not achieve their quota. The takeaway there is that sales superstars do not grow on trees. The proven ones need to be courted and compensated handsomely otherwise they will stay put. To offer a competitive plan, develop On Target Earnings (OTE) which is the total salary, including base, commission and bonuses, that a sales rep will make if they work for you and reach their quota. Use online resources such as PayScale and Glassdoor as a guide. For example, according to PayScale, the national average for a Vice President of Sales is $124,193 per year. This allows you to have a better idea of what you need to offer.
  • Minimize Legal Liability: First step for recruiters is to ask if the candidate is bound by a non-compete clause. If they are not, the process can move forward as planned. If your ideal hire is bound by restrictive agreement, you may still be able to hire them. As Attorney Oberman Thompson summarized in a paper for the Employment Law Institute: “Very few job applicants for key positions show up without any competition restrictions. Hiring employers are recognizing that they may be able to make the hire and still avoid extensive and expensive litigation costs and risks; or that they have to take some risks to make good hires.”

Companies that want to recruit these salespeople need to weigh the expected benefits and potential liability of these hires. With the help of their legal team and or a third-party employment lawyer, hiring managers can minimize the chances of litigation.