Stop ex-employees from stealing your customers

A key employee jumps ship to work for your competitor. Over the next several months, you lose some of your best customers to the competition.

Unless your former employee signed a non-solicitation agreement, there’s little you can do.

As you know, today’s employees are more likely than ever to change jobs, and a non-solicitation agreement can keep them from taking big chunks of your revenue to competitors.

Advice: Ask all your employees who deal directly with customers—not just salespeople—to sign non-solicitation agreements. Why? Because they all have relationships with your customers and can easily steal them.

Here’s the rundown: Non-solicitation agreements differ from non-compete agreements, which prohibit former employees from working for competitors, often in certain geographic areas. Instead, non-solicitation agreements allow departing employees to work for competitors but prevent them from directly or indirectly recruiting customers for a specific time period, usually one year.

The rub: Non-solicitation agreements can’t prevent former customers from soliciting your departed employee. Nevertheless, you stand a good chance in court if a former employee signs a non-solicitation agreement, denies soliciting but lands several former customers not long after leaving.

Advice from attorneys

Your non-solicitation pact should:

-Specify that former employees may not use any lists of your customers to solicit them by phone, mail, e-mail or personal meetings. The last category is important because some salespeople befriend clients and continue relationships with them through social activities.

-Prohibit contact only with those customers that the employee had contact with or could have known. Reason: Courts are less likely to enforce agreements that ban contact with all of your customers.

-State that it applies to employees who leave voluntarily, as well as those who the company dismisses for any reason.