Why Hiring Your Competitor’s Sales People May Not Be the Best Idea

I ran across this article from a strategic partner of mine, Mark Thacker, and wanted to feature it on my blog this week. I know a number of my clients and colleagues are in the process of hiring great sales people and here is some solid advice to keep in mind.

Why Hiring Your Competitor’s Sales People May Not Be the Best Idea

We have all been enamored with the idea of hiring the competition.  It seems to make sense, right?  Be careful, because this hiring strategy is littered with potential downfalls. 

Initial questions you might ask yourself are:  When did the competition begin building a better sales organization than my company? What do I like about the way my competitors do business? Or more importantly, what don’t I like?

Careful thought and consideration should be given as to how you answer these questions.  You want to reduce the time spent debating with your new recruit over the best way to do things as he or she struggles to break long-formed habits.

The decision to hire a salesperson away from a competitor is often based on our weakness, rather than the salesperson’s strength.  We love the idea that this new salesperson will “hit the ground running” and won’t need any training.  We are focused on the short-term gain, but not on the long-term goal.  We want instant opportunities from the new salesperson’s “rolodex,” and we don’t want to spend time training them.

We also believe that our industry is so complex that we must hire a salesperson from within it.  If we restrict our selection to the best that we can find in our industry, are we really gaining access to the top salespeople available?  For sake of argument, let’s say you can get the top 20% of salespeople in your industry to take notice and consider your company.  Wouldn’t you want access to the top 20% in the country, not just your industry?  These top salespeople, who are not reliant on bringing clients across, can actually sell.  Wouldn’t this be a better long-term option for your company than to hire a mediocre salesperson from a competitor?  After all, even if they can bring over some clients from your competition, if they are not a true sales performer, how will they reach their target in year two?

The concept that they are “going to bring a book of business with them” is often flawed.  Consider these four points.

  1. Despite what they tell you, it is extremely difficult to move clients. The pain of change is not one that is easily resolved with clients. It is rare to find a sales person with the degree of influence necessary to overcome this issue.
  2. Remember, the salesperson doesn’t own the client relationship, their employer does. While non-compete agreements don’t usually hold up in court, client list protection does. You want to avoid this type of headache.
  3. Your new salesperson would find themselves in a difficult position when telling a client:  “I know I said that ABC & Co’s product was the best in the market, but XYZ & Co’s product is really the best in the market now.”
  4. Don’t think for a minute that the salesperson you hire today will one day retire with your company. They will leave someday and will likely want to take your clients with them when they go. Consider what you offered the salesperson to encourage them to move from a competitor to your company.  Whatever it was, how long will it be before your competition offers an even better deal?  Your salesperson has already told you they will move for better conditions, so what’s stopping them from moving to one of your other competitors when they receive the next recruiter call?

Hiring salespeople can be a daunting process for companies of all sizes. The key is to have a profile of your ideal sales candidate and then interview the prospects against it. This will help you find the right talent for your sales team.

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