"My Top Sales Rep is About to be Poached. What Now?"

How to hold on to a terrific employee who you know is looking elsewhere

Written by Advisory Board

Welcome to Advisory Board, a weekly department in which a panel of experts—made up of entrepreneurs and professionals—answer questions you have about how to run your business better.

This week, a reader asks:
“I saw my best sales rep having coffee with the CEO of a rival company. Neither of them saw me. How should I handle the situation? I really don’t want my rep to be poached, but I don’t want to make any assumptions, either.”

Here’s what the experts have to say:

“Don’t jump to conclusions. Start from a place of trust and be transparent. It is not unusual for someone to court a superstar. If your best rep is out talking to the competition, you might as well get it out on the table and find out why he was there. Ask him, ‘By the way, Joe, I saw you speaking with one of our competitors. How did that go?’ You might learn something about your competitor and you might learn something about your rep. There could be a very good reason why your rep is looking elsewhere, if in fact that is what is going on—for instance, he might want more attention. But I wouldn’t start with that assumption. Seek first to understand, ask questions, and then go from there.”
John Wilson, founder and CEO, CEO Global Network, Toronto

“You should talk to him immediately. Notice that I said ‘talk to’ and not ‘pounce on.’ Understand first what the coffee was about, and then, from there, assess your options. I am not a fan of begging people to stay when they already have a foot out the door. If in fact the coffee was to explore other opportunities, and the reason they would be willing to go is fixable, then you should first try to fix it. If it isn’t fixable, it’s best to know that sooner than later.”
Shannon Bowen-Smed, president & CEO, BOWEN, Calgary

“In this circumstance, it can only benefit you to be direct. Good talent will often be approached by headhunters or the competition. If you are aware of it, you have an opportunity to open up dialogue to find out if what you are offering is satisfying enough to retain top performers. Take your sales rep for lunch or coffee. Let him know you oversaw the encounter, and ask if he minds sharing what it was about. Be open to understanding, and use this time as an opportunity to check in and see if he his happy. There are many factors that play into an employee’s decision to stay or leave a company: salary, opportunity for growth, learning and development, vacation, company culture, life balance. Keeping an open dialogue around this will help your employees understand you are invested in them and working with them towards their goals both personally and professionally.”
Jennifer Maloney, co-founder and principal, Yulu Public Relations Inc., Vancouver

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Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com