“I Want to Hire My Competitor’s Top Sales Person …”

When a client who doesn’t know us asks us to help them find a sales person, we’ll ask the client what they think they’re looking for.

Hiring, Sales, Competitor, Competition,

Copyright: ra2studio / 123RF Stock Photo

A typical first response is “I Want to Hire My Competitor’s Top Sales Person.” And it’s often accompanied by, “And I want them to bring me their book of business with them.”

On the surface, this sounds like a perfect formula for creating an outstanding sales team. Find the best available people and bring them on board. Their loyal customers will follow them and revenue will skyrocket. Plus you will have weakened your competitor by taking away a key asset.

However, here is the reality.

If you have really good people working for you, you’ll do anything you can to have them stay with you. Having an employment contract or agreement is one way to document the responsibilities of both employer and employee.

In the case of sales personnel, you want to prevent them from leaving your company and harming your business.

One option is a non-compete clause. This basically says that, when an employee leaves your company, they cannot work for a company that is a competitor of yours. It sounds good in principle but the courts are not upholding these non-compete clauses because they can limit an employee’s ability to find alternate employment.

The preferred option is called a non-solicit clause. This type of clause does not prevent an employee from going to work for one of your competitors but, if he/she does go to a competitor, he/she cannot call on companies that are clients or customers of your company. This type of clause IS enforceable.

To get back to the original response to our question about what a client might be looking for in a sales rep, it IS possible to hire such a person.  However, if they have a non-solicit clause in their employment agreement, you cannot have them call on customers they had at their previous employer, let alone bring along a book of business.

Were you to attempt this, one possible outcome is that your competitor could sue your company. Another possibility is that they could sue your new sales rep and restrict his or her ability to approach customers through an injunction. This could render your new hire essentially ineffective while they’re tied up with lawyers.

Another reality is that customers tend to be loyal to reliable vendors, not the vendor’s sales person.  Companies have moved from having a single person making buying decisions to having procurement teams to reduce the personal influence a sales person can have on a buyer. Unless a vendor puts a totally inept person in charge of an account, the account will stay with the vendor as long as product quality and service are kept at consistently high levels and pricing is competitive. It actually costs companies money to change vendors – to put the business up for bid, to assess bids, to qualify a new vendor, among other factors – so companies avoid making changes unless it makes economic sense to do so.

Here are three things you should be doing.

1. Protect your sales team. Review your employment agreements with all your sales staff and add in a non-solicit clause to each one. This can make your top performers less attractive to your competitors to hire away.

2. Hire strategically. Hiring a top performer from a competitor can and does make a lot of sense in some instances. But you need to bear in mind that you will have to focus them on markets where they won’t have to call on customers from their previous employer – perhaps in a business development role. Or, if they are senior enough, you might consider assigning them to key accounts who are not customers of the competitor you hired them away from.

3. Consider New Talent Pools. While hiring from within your industry can save on training and capitalize on existing contacts, it may not be your best strategy for improving the overall caliber of your sales team. Industry studies suggest that only about 25% of ALL sales people are rated very good to excellent so, is your industry likely to yield the best quality candidates? Often what happens is that marginal performers make the circuit of employers within an industry, never really contributing much to any given employer.

Excellent sales people are excellent sales people because they have the discipline to consistently follow a process.  The process is independent of industry, product or company. Excellent sales people can be taught the technical attributes of a product and the benefits that make each product different from a rival product. Excellent sales people know how to research an industry to find the right companies and contacts.  They don’t rely on a Rolodex alone.

Bringing in an excellent sales person from outside the industry has other benefits. They bring fresh thinking, which could lead to new applications for an existing product, better ways of selling the product.  They’ll ask insightful questions that could help you become aware of attributes that resonate with customers that perhaps your staff had consistently overlooked or undervalued.

So, hiring from a competitor can be a good move.  But don’t expect sales people to have their customers follow them to you.

Keys to Employee Engagement: 12. Development

With this post, we’re reaching the end of our series on employee engagement.


As an older job-seeker, I frequently was asked how long I planned to continue working. While I think this was a way to side-step around asking me my age, I usually took it at face value.  My answer was that I’d continue to work as long I was learning something.

When I look back at my career, the companies where I stayed the longest were the ones where I was learning new things – and, coincidentally, where I felt I had the most fun.

engagement, development, growth, opportunityAt one company, it was learning how to compete effectively against a giant like Procter & Gamble. At Lawson Mardon, the corporate culture revolved around the study of management, leadership and strategy. When I worked for Plasmatreat, it was an introduction to nanotechnology and learning about a lot of leading-edge manufacturing processes in dynamic industries such as aerospace and medical devices.

Ironically, when Gallup analyzed the effects of the Q12 on four different dimensions – turnover, productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction – they found that giving employees the opportunity to grow and develop did not correlate with reduced turnover. Instead, they suggest growth opportunities are more strongly correlated with increased company profitability.

In our experience, while it’s true that employees switch companies to escape bad bosses or for higher salaries, it can just as easily be true that the employee has accomplished as much as they can hope to do with that employer and the only way to continue professional development is to move to another company.

One recruiter I know, who works in the CPG sector, moved people routinely from one kind of company to another: from Food to Personal Care products or Household Product; from large companies to smaller ones.  To some extent, the moves were induced to help the recruiter earn more fees; from the perspective of the employees, it gave them broader exposure – to different industries, competitors, channels – that would render them more highly marketable. The average tenure in CPG marketing was about 2 years – about the time it takes to go through one complete budget cycle and come away with demonstrable results.  I was placed by this recruiter multiple times and I can honestly say I benefitted from the exposure to different industries and corporate cultures.

What You Can Do

One thing you can consider doing is expanding the scope of each employee’s job so they experience new challenges.

Cross-training is one way of doing this, and it helps your organization by enabling employees to be more flexible and versatile so, when someone leaves the company or is on vacation, you have people already trained to fit into the vacant jobs.

This is easier to do in a larger company than a smaller one because there are simply more roles available to move someone into. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do in a smaller company.  In small companies, one way to create growth opportunities for employees is to promote them so they can take on more responsibility.

We tend to think of employee development in a managerial context, developing the proverbial mail-room clerk so he/she can become CEO. But not all employees are good at managing people and some simply don’t want to take on that kind of responsibility. For employees who have no desire to enter management ranks, consider developing a “professional” track whereby they can take on increasingly more challenging projects or become subject-matter experts without having any direct reports.  It’s a way to recognize their contribution to the company while allowing them to develop their professional skills. We had such a system in place at Esso, where you could find engineers who were experts on highly specialized topics such as fluid dynamics or catalysts.

Encourage your employees to acquire more knowledge. Have a program whereby the company provides some degree of financial support when an employee successfully completes a formal outside course.

Encourage your employees to achieve professional certification in their respective areas. This especially applies to employees on the professional career track.


Next week, we’ll wrap up the series with a summary.  We’ll be compiling all the posts in this series into a White Paper so you can have the entire series in a single document.

Keys to Employee Engagement: 11. Feedback

If you think, from the title of this post, that you’ve already got this topic covered off because you do annual performance appraisals, then think again.

If you’re only meeting with employees once a year to discuss their career progress, you’re not doing enough to truly engage your employees.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be doing annual performance reviews, but one problem with doing these once a year is that employees don’t have a lot of faith that the process is intended to help them in their careers and that the annual performance review is just “management’s” way of controlling salary increases.

An annual performance review is also very stressful for both employee and manager.  Employee’s hate to get them; Managers hate to do them.  Sounds like a process gone wrong.

The Gallup Q12 questionnaire has one question that addresses feedback: “In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about My progress?” Notice it’s not in the past year; it’s in the past 6 months.

feedback, engagement, employeeThe best managers I’ve ever worked for did things differently.

Sometimes, it might be as simple as a quick Post-It or note written on a document that said something like, “Great job!” or “You can do better than this”.  Note this isn’t used to only deliver positive feedback.

Something I used to do with my sales team was, when they landed a new account, I’d go see them, shake their hand and say something like, “Nicely done!” or “Way to go!”  Usually, I’d also ask them how they managed to win over the account and what they expected to see in sales revenue.

With either of these approaches, there’s no monetary reward or punishment, simply some recognition and honest feedback – and it’s done close to the time the action was taken by the employee.  I call it Management in the Moment.

The feedback doesn’t have to always be positive.  It’s OK to criticize, but do it constructively. You’ll be helping your employees correct behaviours or processes so they get things right sooner.  And you’ll see positive results in company performance.

Something else my best bosses did was periodically take me out to lunch.  Sometimes, it was to discuss a project I’d been working on or to talk about an issue at work. Other times, it might just be to have a friendly chat about how things are going.  What’s special about this approach is that it’s informal and done in a relaxing environment..  But it’s still Management in the Moment.

When I had a sales team, I promised I would take them out to lunch every month that they collectively exceed quota. The business portion of our lunch was simply saying, “Way to go, everyone. Thanks for exceeding quota.” and an unwritten rule was that we wouldn’t talk business over this team lunch. It was really a team building exercise because everyone got to go to lunch, and nobody wanted to be the one who was below quota. I think we only missed a few lunches in my time, and never two in a row. I think this was part of the reason our Division was the top performer in our company.

One of the best people I know who used lunches effectively was a colleague, Misha Sivan.  When we were working on a data warehouse project together, if we had a stretch goal, Misha would say to the development team we’d take them out for lunch if they delivered on that goal.  That project was completed inside 16 weeks from concept to live and the lunches were not just ways to rewarding goal achievements, they also served as a way to build team cohesion and spirit.

The underlying principle through all of this is the delivery of feedback on a regular basis, not just once a year. I think most people appreciate acknowledgement of their efforts and achievements and sometimes it’s the little things, such as those notes or lunches, that they appreciate the most. And, when the time comes to do the annual performance review that HR wants on file, there should be no surprises because feedback has been delivered.  It’s just a matter of collecting and summarizing in the performance review report.

What You Can Do

  • Get out of your office on a daily basis to interact with your staff. It also signals you’re approachable if they need help.
  • Catch them doing things right, and let them know you’re pleased with the job they’ve done.
  • When an employee has done a nice job on a report, send back a copy with a handwritten note or even just some comments written in the margins.
  • Even if the report isn’t great, write in some comments to show where they could have done better and maybe suggest other ways they could have done things.


Giving informal feedback on a regular basis has two very positive effects: you reinforce good behaviours so employees keep doing them and you help them change negative behaviours sooner than if you waited a year for their next performance review. By making your employees feel they are valued, you really help them become engaged in their work.

Keys to Employee Engagement: 6. Development

We’ve been focusing lately on factors that can really motivate people to perform their best.

The sixth question in the Q12 is “Is there anyone at work who encourages my development?”

In our last post, we described how employees want to feel their managers care about them as individuals. And, as individuals, each employee has his or her own expectations of what their career can be.

I don’t think anyone wants to work in a repetitive role or task.  Some are more Employee Developmentcomfortable with the status quo and don’t have lofty ambitions to progress further.  Others see careers as ladders, to be mounted one rung at a time, and expect to be in the job role for only a short while before moving up to the next level.  The majority are probably somewhere in between.

Most managers associate the term “employee development” with identifying and promoting employees through the ranks to senior management, But development doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to promotion up the ladder.  It’s more about helping employees realize their potential.  From a manager’s perspective, we need to ensure our employees are developed to the point where they are able to optimize their contribution to the organization.

We should identify courses that can help develop skills and/or knowledge in particular areas.  We also should be thinking about projects and other work assignments that can enable employees to gain experience beyond their current responsibilities.  There could be opportunities for job rotation so employees get a feel for how other jobs relate to the ones they’ve been doing.

But a central principle is that there needs to be ongoing dialogue with the employee to discuss their goals and potential so that, as managers, we can help them realize those goals.  An annual performance review is simply not adequate for achieving this.  With an ongoing dialogue, it’s analogous to reviewing progress and getting feedback from the employees in real time. And this ongoing dialogue can be perceived by employees as a way that managers can demonstrate how they care about their employees.

Some companies have defined development paths for employees. I don’t think the Executive Track needs much explanation. Some companies have implemented something like a “Professional Track” whereby employees can become subject matter experts in their fields – engineering, sales, IT and so on.  People on the professional track don’t necessarily take on responsibilities for managing people.  Some of them recognize they don’t have a talent for leading others; some just don’t want to assume that type of responsibility.

Progressing along a professional track might mean specialized courses to increase depth of knowledge in a topic area.  It could also mean working on progressively more challenging projects. It also allows employees who follow this track to realize increases in compensation as they move from one level of expertise to the next. This can help retain employees with such valuable knowledge: they feel they are being recognized for their expertise and are being rewarded for further developing their expertise.

When employees feel their employer cares about them and helps them realize their potential, they’re much more likely to remain with that employer. The result is reduce hiring costs because the need to hire replacement workers is reduced and employees who are motivated to help their employer to succeed. The latter will manifest itself in improved productivity, innovation and customer satisfaction.

Keys to Employee Engagement: 2. Resources

In our last post, we discussed the importance of ensuring employees have a clear understanding of the company’s expectations of them in their jobs.  It sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many companies don’t do this right.

Today, we’re going to talk about another principle that’s at the foundation of employee engagement.

The second question in the Q12 is “Do I have the tools and materials to do my job effectively?”

Toolbox to represent resourcesIt’s hard to imagine a carpenter building a house without lumber or basic tools such as a hammer or saw. To bake a cake, a chef needs flour, eggs and other ingredients as well as mixing bowls and an oven in which to bake the cake.

In a modern work environment, a person such as an accounts receivable clerk would need a computer or terminal to obtain and record credit information. They’d need a desk to sit at, a chair to sit on and maybe a pad of paper to take notes. These are pretty obvious.

As employers, we owe it to our employees to give them full opportunity to perform to their best abilities. If we don’t provide them the tools and materials to do so, we’re severely limiting what they can do.

When the Q12 was developed in 1998, the focus was (we feel) too much on the tangibles – physical tools and physical materials.  We’d prefer the broader term “resources” be used instead – primarily to help employers focus beyond the tangible and consider intangible resources employees might need.

My background is in sales and marketing.  I’ve seen considerable turnover in sales teams during my career – and not just in the companies I’ve worked for.  Often, companies fire sales people because they aren’t generating an expected level of sales.  If a company is struggling financially, the sales team often gets the blame for not bringing in enough business.  Sometimes sales people ARE the root of the problem and should be moved out.  However, I often see that the people who place the blame and do the firing have never worked in the field to understand exactly what challenges the sales people face each day.

If we think about sales people, a number of tangible tools come to mind fairly easily: briefcase, samples, car and cell phone.  To this we could add brochures, fact sheets about products, specifications – pieces that help the sales rep educate the buyer.  And this is often where employers feel their responsibility to outfit the sales team ends.  In most companies that existed prior to 2000, the sales team was the last to be enabled with computer technology.

In our previous post, we referred to ISO 9000 as a source of business processes.  I’ve found very few companies, however, who have a clearly defined sales process – a recipe for sales success – for sales personnel to follow. If company leaders can put themselves in their customers shoes, they can probably develop a sales process that works well for their industry and product type.

When I worked for Plasmatreat, we had a very easy to follow sales process. First we obtained samples from prospects to see if our process could work on them in our development lab.  If that was successful, we could then go on-site to demonstrate the process on our customers’ production lines for a real-life test. On success, the customer had a choice of purchasing one of our machines or they could rent it to ensure the process worked properly over an extended period of time.  Over 90% of the time, customers who rented purchased.

A frequently overlooked example of an intangible resource the sales team really needs is a compelling value proposition that defines why a customer should buy from the company.  Too often, the value is offered in the form of price concessions.

When Marketing puts together sales literature, they have plenty of photos, specifications and details how the product works.  But they leave it up to the sales team to figure out how to quantify the benefits of the product to the customer. While some sales people are pretty good with Excel, most are not proficient in developing ways to show the customer how the product they’re selling adds value to the customer’s business. When Marketing takes on this kind of competitive product comparison, they have the skills to not only do the analysis but also to make the data presentable.

What a sales person needs now is a good corporate website with compelling content to create leads, a CRM to interact with customers and provide technical support after the sale, a laptop to be able to research customers and to maintain contact with the inside staff, and intelligence about the market, customers and competitors.  That’s a long way from a briefcase and samples. Note we haven’t listed brochure among these: sales people now expect the company website to give the customer an overview of the business.

If you short-change your employees on resources, you’re really setting your company up for failure. Without the right resources – tangible and INtangible – your employees just won’t be able to deliver your expectations for quantity, quality and timeliness of their outputs.

These first two questions are what Gallup considers the Base Camp of a successful campaign.  It may require some work, internally, to get processes defined and to consider the intangible resources needed, but doing so will put you way ahead most of your competition who think it’s too much work for them.

What younger workers really think of older co-workers

One issue we hear discussed in the media is how different generations behave with each other in the workplace.

Mostly, what I’ve read has focused on the negative reactions the generations have towards each other.

Older co-workersI thought that, as opposed to citing scholarly studies, I’d try to go as directly as possible to the source, and so I tried researching in Twitter what was being said by real people in real time about their older co-workers.

I expected to find many negative comments but, instead, found something very different.

So, here below, are 12 real tweets by real people in their own words (and in 140 characters or less) about their older co-workers:

 Corey Robb ‏@CoreyRobb8  Apr 7, 2015

I love just having older co workers because they give me the best advice about anything

Eiffel Tower❤ ‏@Lady_Littlejohn  Apr 6, 2015

My older co-workers really preached to me tonight, but definitely put things into perspective.

Tori ‏@HisANTicipation  Mar 10, 2015

I love da fact everybody older than me , co-workers , managers an some strangers see my potential an tell me how bright of a future I have

☀VICTORY☀ ‏@DatNicety90ACE  20 Nov, 2012

My first meeting of the day is helping one of my older co-workers set up a Facebook page to communicate w/ our intern alumni!

Caleb Fong ‏@geekosupremo  1 Nov 2012

Just showed one of my older and non US-born co-workers how to use amazon. I forget sometimes that this stuff is kinda new.

Mark. ‏@TweetItOrBeatIt  29 Oct 2012

I hate when my co-workers talk crap about my other older co-worker. It makes me sick but I can’t say anything..

Tamraa ‏@tambeeniee  28 Oct 2012Wichita, KS

I love having older co-workers , they tell you how they got through tough times without sounding holier than thou

Amanda Taub ‏@amandahstaub  4 Oct 2012Portland, OR

How do we preserve the info of our older co-workers before they retire & that info is lost?

11.17.2012 ‏@Mzz_Proper21  19 Sep 2012

So grateful for the wisdom of my older co-workers. They really know how to put things in perspective.

Jackie Flecker ‏@jackieflecker  10 Aug 2012

I love conversing with my co workers because they are a lot older then me and their outlook on the world seriously fascinates me

Ashleigh ‏@ashjacquelyn  29 May 2012

One of the most humbling/flattering things: older former co-workers asking to use you as a reference. Respect speaks volumes.

Nick Deal ‏@nickmdeal  Apr 2, 2012

@oneNovaScotia “There’s an opportunity for ‘reverse-mentoring’ that transfers technical know-how to older employees within an organization.”

Subsidize Your Workforce Training with Government Grants

Are you training your workforce? 

Subsidize it by 66% with Government Grants

TrainingIn a recent survey of over 800 businesses across Canada (CME Management Issues Survey 2014), 56% stated that they face immediate labour and/or skills shortages. 50% of respondents also noted that their workforce training budget will increase in the next three years. Although many businesses identify the value of workforce training, the financial investment required limits their ability to implement comprehensive training plans. This leads to inefficient workflows, lowered employee satisfaction levels, and increased turnover within businesses, furthering the labour and/or skills shortage issues.

The Canadian federal and provincial governments have partnered to tackle this issue through government funding support. The Canada Job Grant was created to subsidize workforce development training focused on skills development and/or career advancement, covering up to 2/3 of eligible third party training costs.

Is your training eligible for the Canada-Ontario Job Grant? 

Launched in 2014, the six-year Canada Job Grant program provides up to 66% of eligible training costs in grant funding to a maximum of $10,000 per trainee.  This is a scalable program that businesses can apply for throughout the year for any employees interested in training to support career advancement and skills development.  Eligible trainers include third party training programs within Canada provided by a product vendor (such as HIRE GRAY MATTER), university, public college, registered private career college, union based training centre, or school board. Eligible expenses include:

  • Tuition or other training fees;
  • Textbooks, software, and other required materials;
  • Mandatory student fees; and
  • Examination fees.

Is your business eligible for the Canada-Ontario Job Grant?

Businesses must apply on behalf of the trainees; trainees can’t apply directly for funding.  Eligible businesses must be incorporated and operate within Canada.  Owners are not eligible for training subsidies, however upper management without ownership are eligible to take part in training. 

Please note that businesses must be approved for the Canada Job Grant before they can commence their training project. Application turnaround time is approximately 1 month. P lease note that training being carried out by Canada Job Grant should lead to as many of the following impacts as possible:

  • Promotion of job title;
  • Promotion of job role;
  • Salary/wage improvements;
  • Job creation; and
  • Business impacts.

If you plan to train your employees this year with third party support, including training by Hire Gray Matter, please  register for the upcoming informational training grant webinar on February 24, 2015 from 11:00-11:45am. 

If you are unable to attend on that date, please be sure to check Mentor Works’ Business Funding Workshops and Webinars Page  regularly, as they add more time slots and funding topics. You can also contact a Mentor Works Government Funding Expert for more info on training grants or other business funding programs.

About the author

Chris Casemore, Mentor Works Ltd.

Chris is the Director of Client Management & Development at Mentor Works Ltd., specializing in strategic planning through customized funding approaches. Mentor Works has helped hundreds of businesses across Canada discover and leverage funding to optimize their growth plans.

Contact Chris by email at