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How to Recruit Your Competitor’s Top Sales Talent

How To Poach Salespeople

Appeal to these salespeople’s insatiable drive to advance their career, differentiate your company, and embrace the domino effect.  

Your competitor’s top salespeople are grounded in industry knowledge, know the pain points your prospects have and what decision makers to target, and have a proven themselves to be successful in selling environments similar to yours. Undeniably, these rival reps are a strategic addition to a sales team, ensuring that a company’s sales force keeps a competitive edge in the market.

The same momentum that pushes these top reps and managers to surpass quotas motivates them to take on bigger and better career opportunities. To recruit them from a competitor (or ‘poach’), hiring managers need to appeal to these salespeople’s insatiable drive to advance their career.

Through a discrete recruitment process and conversations that emphasize career advancement opportunities at a rival company, hiring managers can lure these stellar salespeople to their teams.

Use A Discrete Recruitment Process

Although some company leaders believe that lateral recruitment is controversial, poaching a competitor’s employees is ethically sound and can be a smart business move. Just as companies compete for clients, they need to be prepared to compete for top salespeople too and realize that not doing so can do more damage than good.

Ultimately, an unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” between companies not to poach each other’s reps is a detriment to the industry. When salespeople achieve their quotas year-over-year, they expect companies to actively recruit them. Without healthy competition between companies to attract these top salespeople by offering bigger accounts, better compensation packages, and better career paths, it can undermine a salesperson’s motivation to exceed expectations. In the long term, these agreements do little to further sales numbers and company company growth. In fact, it can damage a sales force’s morale. Recruiting from rival companies, however, does require more discernment than the traditional hiring processes.

Recruiters and hiring managers need to ensure that they use discretion when bringing in new talent to mitigate the risk of alienating their company or sacrificing goodwill between friendly competitors. Using these three methods for starting the recruitment process can shape whether the outcome will, indeed, be a smart business move. Each has advantages and disadvantages, so explore every option before making the first move:

Make Direct Calls

Direct calls are the most straightforward but controversial approach to recruiting a rival’s salespeople. Although they’re efficient and transparent, this tactic can also start a recruiting war and increase tension within an industry.

Because many employers monitor in-office communication, best practice is to reach out to personal email accounts and phones rather than to work accounts. Hiring managers need to be sensitive to the fact that reps don’t want their employers to know they’re talking to a rival company.

Use Third Party Recruiters

Recruiters offer 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 salespeople for their customers — it’s only natural that they would reach out to high-performers from competing employers.

Third party recruiters can also talk to reps about a job at another company while keeping their client’s name confidential. This extra step ensures that only interested and qualified candidates learn that the job is at a rival organization, removing extra controversy from the situation.

Ask for Referrals

Referrals are another way to add subtlety to the recruitment process. If hiring managers know the sales talent they would like to recruit, they can look for personal or professional connections on LinkedIn or Twitter. Sales and hiring managers also benefit from asking business partners, clients, or friends to connect them with reps at another company.

Similarly, casual conversations at conferences, trade firms, and social events can lay a positive foundation to create a candidate pipeline. Ideally, these friendly encounters take place in a neutral location, giving company leaders the opportunity to gauge interest while still using discretion.

Differentiate Your Company

To benefit from a competitive advantage in the labor market and successfully recruit reps from rival companies, hiring stakeholders need to be prepared to outmatch their competitors. From the first moment of contact, hiring managers must communicate the selling points of their company, emphasizing the opportunities for new reps.

As Bastian Bergmann summarized in the Harvard Business Review:

“You are trying to sell complete strangers on your idea and get them to leave well-paid, attractive jobs for something completely unknown. In order for the recruits to trust you, you have to master telling your story. Others will only follow you if you really leave them with the impression that you yourself are completely captivated by the opportunity you’re presenting.”

To make a convincing argument to a high-performing sales rep that a different team is a better place for their talent, focus on these four attributes:

Present Your Company as an Industry Leader

The prestige of working for an industry leader — as well as the resources and administrative support that accompany employment at these leading organizations — is a major motivator for salespeople to change jobs.

Hiring managers need to start by emphasizing their organization’s current rate of growth, record of success, and position in the industry. Although start-ups do not necessarily have the advantage of a being an industry leader, they can emphasize substantial funding and the support of high-profile advisors, and underscore how their solution is going to disrupt the market.
While speaking to a competitors salespeople, get specific about practical details such as the ease of access to administrative support and the opportunities to clinch high-profile sales at a company. These seemingly small attributes can motivate salespeople to make big changes.

Develop and Maintain a Strong Employer Brand

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, both online and among industry professioHow Many Candidates Look at Online Company Reviewsnals, is a significant part of attracting the best sales talent.

Develop a strong employer brand is more than just having a great online profile. The role of an organization’s culture play a major role in enticing happily employed, passive sales talent. We advocate for companies to bring attention to their on-boarding programs, the importance they place in maintaining their sales force’s work-life balance, and how they plan to invest in ongoing sales training and skills development programs.

Offer Market Leading Compensation

Top-performing salespeople know how much revenue they bring to a company, and they want to be compensated for their experience. To appeal to these star reps, offer generous compensation that surpasses competitors’. Here’s 6 compensation secrets that lead to great sales hires.

Research cited by Harvard Business School professor Doug J. Chung suggests that companies eliminate caps on commissions, which can be off-putting to top sales reps, and instead bolster overachievement commissions. When top salespeople at competing firms know that they’re rewarded for going above and beyond, they’re much more likely to switch organizations.

Provide Clear Advancement Opportunities

Craig Rosenberg, a co-founder at TOPO Inc., underscores how growth potential is a pivotal part of recruiting the best talent. “There are lots of salespeople and few managers so their internal growth opportunities are limited,” says Rosenberg. “I have met lots of salespeople who want to do a career change but then do the math on what they made with their biggest W2, and have trouble making the jump. That leaves them to try to advance, and in many cases, if they feel like they hit a wall, they have to jump.

When recruiters or hiring managers interview to top performers, they should inquire into a candidate’s long term goals and match these aspirations with opportunities at their organization. Offering a clear path to advancement can open an otherwise closed conversation for leading reps.

Minimize Legal Liability

Before recruiters and other hiring stakeholders start interviewing a candidate, they benefit from asking if a salesperson is bound by a non-compete clause. If reps are not bound by a restrictive clause, 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 through an intentional strategy. For example, companies might be able to tighten the terms of the hire so the activities of the job do not directly compete with the prior employer. Other firms may choose to include a contingency clause that only offers the position if the rep can perform his or her duties.

If hiring managers want to completely avoid risk, they can take a more creative approach altogether. Instead of directly recruiting current reps of a rival, managers can research past employees who left the organization for better opportunities elsewhere. Since the average non-compete agreement lasts two years, sales reps who have been working at other companies for two or three years could be cleared of the restrictive agreement.

Embrace the Domino Effect

According to a survey from Glassdoor, 68 percent of salespeople plan on searching for a new job in the next year, and 45 percent plan on looking for another position in the next three months. These statistics mean that even the most successful and satisfied reps are open to better opportunities at other sales organizations — they’re likely to follow the leader to another company.

If recruiters can successfully hire a top salesperson from a competitor, they can also encourage peers to reevaluate their choices, sparking a chain reaction among reps that can provide a steady talent pipeline for months. When allocating resources toward recruitment, concentrate on recruiting the best-of-the-best with the intention of further motivating other top performers to switch to a new organization.

Poaching Your Competitor’s Top Sales Talent Can Be Fruitful

These three practices — showing discernment while recruiting a competitor’s top reps, differentiating a company as an employer, and minimizing liability — ensures that companies maintain a strategic talent advantage in the field. These tactics not only bolster sales teams, they give a company inroads into their competitors’ clients, leading to further revenue down the pipeline.
*Note: none of the statements made in this article should be considered as legal advice and all recruiting activities should remain within the boundaries of the law.


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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.