A Distributor Asks: A much larger competitor contacted our list of sales reps to recruit them to sell for their distributorship. We currently list our reps on our website and assume this is where they found our reps’ information. We, of course, removed that list. I would like to know your thoughts on this practice. Are there any standards for ethical recruiting in our industry? How, as a distributorship, should we respond?
Melinda Gleghorn, MAS
Regional Sales Manager
Victorinox Swiss Army, Inc.
The best insurance against losing an employee to a competitor is prevention. Employee-retention programs are effective tools for end users and invaluable to distributors and suppliers, as well. Good salespeople can be hard to come by, and recruiting is a fact of life. If it’s not being done by your competition, the salesperson is sure to be contacted via LinkedIn or other networking groups.
The regional associations with whom I’m associated strongly discourage competitor recruiting at their networking events and tradeshows. If there is an industry-wide standard, I’m not aware.
Again, I’d like to emphasize employee satisfaction. Those shown appreciation for a job well done, fairly compensated and fully engaged will make difficult targets for your competitors.
Our industry is built in such a fractional way that there will never be standards for ethical recruiting. Unfortunately, the reality is that you should expect poachers and other aggressive recruiters to grasp for anything that appears to be better than what they have. In fact, I believe you will see more of this as larger companies feel pressure to show bottom-line performance. In addition, in today’s world of high connectivity, many industry professionals are interconnected on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., and you will never be able to keep your employees under the radarscope no matter how hard you try. Here is my advice to protect your investment: 1) If possible, implement (or refresh) a non-compete agreement with your sales reps. 2) Do your best to keep your employees happy (for example, provide a fair compensation plan, provide a fun and productive work environment, keep teaching and mentoring). 3) Repeat step two.
Murray Siegel, CAS
While this is a nagging problem, and you have my sympathy, it is impossible to regulate this type of behavior in our industry. There are many people who are paid a bounty for recruiting, so they will use all means necessary to acquire leads. Your response is to do your homework, learn what to do to keep your reps happy and make them see that the grass may not be greener on the other side. But remember, the grass just might be greener, which means that your sales reps might eventually seek out other opportunities and eventually leave anyway. You also need to weigh if the benefit that you gain from publishing the rep roster on your website is greater than the risk of losing the reps.
If you are doing your job as a business owner, your team will want to stay with you. It is unfortunate that there are people in our industry who are not creative enough to build their own teams and have to cherry-pick. Anyone on my team who wants to work for a company that practices business this way may not be a good fit for my culture or my team. Remember that the people on your team can work for anyone they wish. Make your place to work a place at which people choose to work.
Gary M. Murphy, CAS
Take the high road and write to this individual or company. Merely inform them that you are aware of their misguided practices for recruitment and, in the same breath, thank them for acknowledging the fact that your personnel are so creditable they’d like to employ their services. Possibly sarcastic, this is reality, and you morally don’t appreciate their waning ethics for recruitment.
Cathy Kyle, MAS
I rate the practice of recruiting salespeople from their current distributorships somewhere between disturbing and despicable. It’s a lot like shootin’ fish in a barrel. It’s disappointing that the very services we pay to use also provide a platform for other distributors to recruit from our ranks. Sadly, no one thinks anything of it anymore, as it’s the way of the world.
Many large distributors push the ethics envelope in their thirst for new blood. As an independent, I don’t mind being asked to consider changing (I am contacted on a regular basis.), but if I knew information intended for clients was being used by headhunters I would not be pleased. Some corporate entities that have a presence in both the supplier and distributor arenas may be using “find a distributor” links to craft their recruiting lists. They know who they are, and they feel that it is okay as long as they can get away with it.
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A Supplier Asks: Last year we introduced a new fashion product to the industry. A distributor said its client, a well-known celebrity, was interested in adding our product to the client’s retail line, so we sent random samples and designed numerous virtual images for the distributor. After following up, we didn’t hear from the distributor again and never received an order. Recently, we saw the product for sale on the celebrity’s website, using a slightly modified version of the layout we created. When we called the distributor to ask what happened and why we didn’t get the order, we were told: “Oh, the client really beat us up on the price, so we went direct to a Chinese factory.” What would you do?
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