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View Full Version : Moral compass? Advise/Input Welcomed


Jack Bauer
11-04-2009, 11:02 AM
I work for a landscape company who added a fertilizing division last year. Prior to coming here to manage this division, I was a ditch-digger for one of the big franchises for many years humping out $1000 - $1100+ in production (residentials) everyday. I'm planning on approaching 400 of my previous customers to try to get them to leave the dark side...

I liked those guys (previous employer) and I liked working for them and feel only slightly guilty over trying to steal their customers. Is it "just business" and how aggressive should I get?

I've driven around retrieving addresses and used the internet to get names and phone numbers. I've written a nice letter on why I'm better (hands down better fert., customer service, I actually have conscience, etc). I'm planning on just knocking on the door and chatting (maybe mix in a Saturday as well).

I guess I'm asking if y'all think if it's acceptable to do this and if so, what other sales techniques or ideas to easier bring them over. Much appreciated.

cmhendricks
11-04-2009, 11:15 AM
If you are really providing better fertilizer and service, I say go for it. Just make sure you are really providing those benefits, so you do not have to worry about losing the customer after a year. Good Luck!

mdlwn1
11-04-2009, 11:20 AM
I work for a landscape company who added a fertilizing division last year. Prior to coming here to manage this division, I was a ditch-digger for one of the big franchises for many years humping out $1000 - $1100+ in production (residentials) everyday. I'm planning on approaching 400 of my previous customers to try to get them to leave the dark side...

I liked those guys (previous employer) and I liked working for them and feel only slightly guilty over trying to steal their customers. Is it "just business" and how aggressive should I get?

I've driven around retrieving addresses and used the internet to get names and phone numbers. I've written a nice letter on why I'm better (hands down better fert., customer service, I actually have conscience, etc). I'm planning on just knocking on the door and chatting (maybe mix in a Saturday as well).

I guess I'm asking if y'all think if it's acceptable to do this and if so, what other sales techniques or ideas to easier bring them over. Much appreciated.

All is fair in love and war.

Having said that. Your plan will likely fail. You will soon be amazed at how many of those customers you WONT get. Stealing customers as your only business plan is short sided at best and only successful when done by an expert in business. The upside is that you may get 5-10% of the customers. The downside is almost limitless. The damage you can do to your rep and all of your biz relationships isnt worth it. Stealing customers is a maneuver...a short term tactic or strategy basically an act of desperation when nothing else has worked. While I applaud you for posting here, your in deep do-do if you dont come up with a solid method for doing business.

MarcSmith
11-04-2009, 11:22 AM
If you are here on a website asking for us to be your moral compass, then I think you already know the answer....

You are using your company acquired knowledge of the customers and their locations to solicit work for the new company.....

LouisianaLawnboy
11-04-2009, 11:42 AM
Your going to tell your customers you have a conscience, while trying to steal them from your former boss who trusted you.
Posted via Mobile Device

Runner
11-04-2009, 12:13 PM
First of all,...if you worked for one of the franchises or big green companies, you better back up, check, and make sure there wasn't a no-compete agreement somewhere in your application of employment. These are there for a purpose, and have been used by these companies for many many years. I know someone first hand who did just what you did. After alot of work, time, and effort establishing a customer base, guess what....they put him out of business. Now,...this case was a little bit different. What this was, was a guy that worked for a big green company, and went to work for someone else (the guy I know). He went knocking on doors to all his old customers from the big company. It wasnt unil about a year or two later that he heard from attorneys from the big company.

Jack Bauer
11-04-2009, 12:15 PM
I realize the irony of my "conscience" comment...perhaps a little more background, as an example. Their program is six steps. The first one out of the gate, crappy fertilizer with no crabgrass control; obviously not all their customers take this application, but the ones who do then have their next app (crabgrass) pushed back. Many don't get the crabgrass control until the end of May or even the beginning of June. Their reward for being a full six-step customer is to have preemerge in June?

Another example: their "winterizer" application is non-slow-release super high nitrogen done mid-October thru mid-November. In fact, they don't use any slow-release fertilizers. Why? They have THOUSANDS of customers and using cheap fertilizers save so much money; who suffers? The customer. They are in it to make money, period, and will do anything to increase the bottom line. With these bigger companies it is always only about the numbers: get it done, get it billed at whatever the cost. Raining? Leaf-covered? Customer needs to mow? Irrelevant.

My "having a conscience" speaks to always doing the right thing for the customer. Which is why I posted the question in the first place: if I can use a better product applied at the correct rate at the correct time for the same or less money, is it not in the best interest of the client?

MarcSmith
11-04-2009, 12:30 PM
My "having a conscience" speaks to always doing the right thing for the customer. Which is why I posted the question in the first place: if I can use a better product applied at the correct rate at the correct time for the same or less money, is it not in the best interest of the client? But doing the right thing in general IE not screwing over a former employer, Is also part of having a conscience...And as others have mentioned, may be against any non-compete clauses you may have signed...


"stealing" customers from the competition happens every day, and there is no thing wrong with it. What you are doing is using information entrusted to you in good faith while you were an employee to assist in growing the customer base of a new employer. Kinda like a guy from pepsi giving coke pepsi's recipe...

You are trying to justify using your confidential information by saying you are doing whats best for the customer. While this happens the ex employer is being "hurt"...

TurfRyder
11-04-2009, 04:36 PM
We live in a capitalist society and if you offer a better service at competitive prices that's all that should matter. Having a master list of potential customers might give you a leg up but in the end its going to be the customer's decision and loyalty is hard to come by these days. Most want to spend less and get more in return. If you can offer them that than I say go for it!

KES
11-04-2009, 05:26 PM
It does not matter what the other company did or does. People will remember you from what you do or say. I agree with everybody else on here do not bet that you will get any customers from your old company. If that is your marketing plan you might want to rethink it.

Would you want someone to do it to you? What if you had a guy who worked for you and left and went door to door with your customer list?

Also, you never know when you might have to call them to see if they will hire you back.

tlg
11-04-2009, 08:10 PM
[QUOTE=Jack Bauer;3262944]I realize the irony of my "conscience" comment...perhaps a little more background, as an example. Their program is six steps. The first one out of the gate, crappy fertilizer with no crabgrass control; obviously not all their customers take this application, but the ones who do then have their next app (crabgrass) pushed back. Many don't get the crabgrass control until the end of May or even the beginning of June. Their reward for being a full six-step customer is to have preemerge in June?

Another example: their "winterizer" application is non-slow-release super high nitrogen done mid-October thru mid-November. In fact, they don't use any slow-release fertilizers. Why? They have THOUSANDS of customers and using cheap fertilizers save so much money; who suffers? The customer. They are in it to make money, period, and will do anything to increase the bottom line. With these bigger companies it is always only about the numbers: get it done, get it billed at whatever the cost. Raining? Leaf-covered? Customer needs to mow? Irrelevant. ........

While I feel your pain, you are so so wrong. Having access to a companies customer list and using it for your own personel gain is stealing. It makes no differenece if it's in your head or you walked off with a copy of it. Once you quit and solicit these customers and your old boss finds out ( he will cause the customers are going to call and cancel) he will be on the phone to his lawyer so fast your head will spin. Your judgement here is tainted. Your willing to take this underhanded short cut to get their customers while you have a problem with their underhanded way of doing business ( cheap ferts, poor service etc.. ). If you take the route youv'e plotted your no better than them. If you want to be in business for yourself ..... earn it.

Turfdoctor1
11-04-2009, 10:06 PM
i think i disagree with most everyone else.

If you did not have a customer list from the former employer, how would you go about getting new business? My guess would be by marketing your new company as a source of better service, higher quality product, etc., probably by using door hangers, direct mail, etc.

So, why would having a customer list from a former employer change the way you market yourself? Now, I would say that it might be unethical to single out specific customers. But, if they are customers that would have been targeted anyway by a mass mailing or something similar, how on earth are you to avoid it.

Business is business. Sell yourself. Don't discredit the other company specifically. Just point out what makes you the best. I see nothing wrong with it.

LIBERTYLANDSCAPING
11-04-2009, 10:18 PM
i think i disagree with most everyone else.

If you did not have a customer list from the former employer, how would you go about getting new business? My guess would be by marketing your new company as a source of better service, higher quality product, etc., probably by using door hangers, direct mail, etc.

So, why would having a customer list from a former employer change the way you market yourself? Now, I would say that it might be unethical to single out specific customers. But, if they are customers that would have been targeted anyway by a mass mailing or something similar, how on earth are you to avoid it.

Business is business. Sell yourself. Don't discredit the other company specifically. Just point out what makes you the best. I see nothing wrong with it.

I agree. But just because it OK with you personally, does not mean it won't get you in trouble.

I am an award winning former auto tech for a luxury car company & when I left I solicited car owners-not with a list, but out of the blue-I advertised the fact that I had XX awards & used to work for XX. That got me a cease & desist letter from their attorneys-and I had never signed any non-compete agreement. I could have fought it, but they had millions of dollars behind them:cry:

Whatever you do, don't look as if you have a vendetta against them-that is a definite turn off!

Good luck!:usflag:

MarcSmith
11-05-2009, 07:01 AM
i think i disagree with most everyone else.

If you did not have a customer list from the former employer, how would you go about getting new business? My guess would be by marketing your new company as a source of better service, higher quality product, etc., probably by using door hangers, direct mail, etc.

Market yourself by all means... and sell yourself to potential clients. but when you target specific customers from a list that you have from a previous employer is when the morality/ethics kicks in...You are using "confidential" information( customer lists, pricing, what, when and how they where sprayed) that you gained from working at a company to further your own cause. Unethical, yep.

You have to look yourself in the mirror everyday and if you can live with yourself then do what you wish...

Turfdoctor1
11-05-2009, 07:16 AM
Market yourself by all means... and sell yourself to potential clients. but when you target specific customers from a list that you have from a previous employer is when the morality/ethics kicks in...You are using "confidential" information( customer lists, pricing, what, when and how they where sprayed) that you gained from working at a company to further your own cause. Unethical, yep.

You have to look yourself in the mirror everyday and if you can live with yourself then do what you wish...

Example: Yesterday a neighbor of a customer stopped me and asked for an estimate. She used "chain lawn care company." I knew nothing confidential from any former employer. However, I knew exactly the same information that I would have if I used to work for "chain lawn care company."

1. I knew her address--I was there.
2. I knew her name, phone number, email--because I asked for it.
3. I knew which company she used--I do the neighbors.
4. I knew ballpark what price she was paying--she told me my price was $3 cheaper after accepting my bid.
5. I knew when her treatments had taken place--because I asked.
6. I knew what she was unhappy with--because I asked.

My point is, that I could have worked for "chain lawn care company" for 10 years, and not known any more information about her or the lawn than I did after 5 minutes of talking with her.

I'm not saying, take the list, go to those specific doors and tell them why they should switch. I'm saying, design your marketing to point out the differences in you and "chain lawn care company." If people on that list call you, it is not your fault that you know what they pay for their current service. besides, all you have to do is ask, and they would probably tell you anyway.

MarcSmith
11-05-2009, 07:52 AM
Example: Yesterday a neighbor of a customer stopped me and asked for an estimate.

My point is, that I could have worked for "chain lawn care company" for 10 years, and not known any more information about her or the lawn than I did after 5 minutes of talking with her.


This is the KEY difference. She came to you. and she willingly provided you with information. As it is her information to decide to provide.

1. Address is fair game
2. I knew her name, phone number, email--She told yout
3. I knew which company she used... Fair game
4. she told me my price was $3 cheaper after accepting my bid.
5. I knew when her treatments had taken place--She told you
6. I knew what she was unhappy with--She told you

This is the the mark of a good sales man... You got her to give you the info you needed it was not taken from someone and then used.

If the Jack was blanketing a neighborhood with the info and trying to get new work i would not have as much of a problem. The fact that he's going to specifically target clients from a list that he has from an ex employer is were the ethics meter starts kicking in...

TD

lets say the Jack worked as a spray tech for you... for several years. Has a good route and has access to your customer database, prices, ect.

One day he quits and the next day you start getting calls from your clients that jack is trying to get their business for his own benefit....what is the first thing that goes through your mind

turf hokie
11-05-2009, 08:26 AM
It is ethically and morally wrong to take a client list from a former employer and specifically target those customers.

I learned the hard way as an employer that a non-compete is essential.

I had a former employee copy the route sheets during the course of the season. He then went after every single one of my customers. And I can honestly tell you the only ones he got were the slow payers, the ones that call you once a week with a complaint and the ones that only jumped ship because he was cheaper. He took the customers that I did not want anyway. If those are the customers you want to start your business with, then go ahead and steal away.

There are plenty of customers you can get the old fashioned way, earn them. Sell yourself/business. Market neighborhoods that you are in or want to be in.

Taking that customer list and using it to take customers away from them in my eyes is the same as walking into their shop and taking a pallet of fertilizer, it is stealing. It cost them money to gain those customers.

Before I went into business for myself, I interviewed with another company, the owner wanted me to bring X amount of clients with me if I were to get hired. I walked away, no way I'm working for someone like that. Keep in mind many of those customers you want to take will have the same mind set and NEVER want to deal with you because of how you approached them.

GrazerZ
11-05-2009, 09:49 PM
You know you have an unfair (unethical) advantage. Just put the shoe on the other foot and think of how you would feel if a trusted employee did this to you. Do you really want to be that guy? Saying that your former employer doesn't use this amount of fert or that is really a cop out to me. When you were servicing those lawns I'm sure you were took pride in the results you gave. Sure you, we, everyone could probably be more diligent, more through, buy the top shelf fert instead of the one that a little cheaper. But this really about who and what you want to be know as, not someone else. I'm sure you will do the right thing.

Landscape Poet
11-05-2009, 10:57 PM
Here is my thoughts - will this customers not remember you? You serviced my lawn at any given point and then approach me about switching , and you start to tell me that the company you used to work for did not use the correct supplements or used low grade products and/or applied at improper times etc etc etc.......why if you knew this then and allowed this to happen to my lawn all this time.....why should I trust you now?

DA Quality Lawn & YS
11-05-2009, 11:53 PM
Don't do it.
It just looks bad, and per chance did you sign some sort of non-compete clause when you signed on with your former employer?? That could mean bad news for you.

cmhendricks
11-06-2009, 08:42 AM
Customers don't give a crap about you taking them as customers. The customer is not going to think "hmmm... this guy is using previous employer knowledge which makes him immoral." Come on. That is ridiculous.

Yes, it would suck if an employee of mine did it. Guess what it happens all the time. It happened to our company about 5 years ago. 90% of the customers came back to us the next year. (We do about 800k in business for credentials)

It takes a certain amount of knowledge to be able to provide these services, but it is a whole new ball game when trying to run a business. If it was so easy, every employee would be doing it.

If you can take the customers and provide a better service, you will retain the customers for the long term. If this is your only plan for getting customers, then you are in for a long road ahead. I would guess you are not that stupid.

Give the customer the better deal and you don't have to worry.

As far as a moral issue, it is not like you are going in and stealing their computer. If the knowledge is just in your head, and you didn't print anything or physically take anything it is not stealing. I can't copyright your brain.

I could do the same thing by driving around and looking for their flags.

Am I supposed to avoid canvassing those neighborhoods because their is a previous employer customer there?

Everyone keeps bringing up the non compete clause. Well, what about when that runs out? Is it still an issue to target those customers?

drobin
11-08-2009, 08:01 PM
I would be up front with your previous employer and tell them you are going out on your own. Dont try to steal your former employees business. There is enough business to go around especially when it sounds like you really know what you are doing. tell your former employer that any customers that you have that eventually cancels -you will give them the lead and would appreciate the same courtesy. It sounds like you dont have peace about the decision, I think thats Gods way of saying -don't do it.(just my opinion)

lawnsaver
11-09-2009, 05:16 PM
Because you stated the current employer just recently added fert to his company's work load then I'd suggest sitting with current employer and see if you cant work out something with him. He might be more than willing to sub the fert work to you.
worth a try?

MikeT
11-11-2009, 09:05 PM
1.There's a reason this troubles you.
2.Capitalism is great as long as its exercised with virtue.
3.Let your superior service and product sell itself.
4.Will your current employer ever trust you if you do this?

SimonCX
11-11-2009, 09:27 PM
Just remember what goes around comes around and the recieving end sucks.

Rayholio
11-12-2009, 10:05 AM
It's the employers fault not yours.. They allowed you to become intimate with the customers thru your management position.. and probably their pricing.. They also hired someone who was untrustworthy.. again their own fault..

But then again.. Maybe you're Not untrustworthy.. and your just a guy who can't stand working for a company that isn't taking good care of the customers... then maybe they DIDN'T allow you to become intimate with their customers.. in which case this plan will definately fail.. No one is going to quit a company they're happy with for a rejected 'ditch digger' or disgrunteled middle management.. whom they've barely met.. just how they'll see it..

So either way.. GO FOR IT! No fate but what we make :)

Heidi J.
11-12-2009, 05:35 PM
I say go for it too! Just make sure you are targeting others as well. Just not your old customers. The other thing, don't mention your old company. Don't bad mouth them in any way.. that's where you will get in trouble.

We got slapped with a $75,000 lawsuit a few years ago, but had done nothing wrong. They did it so we would cease and desist. The thing is, we did everything properly, and kept good documentation. The same goes with no competes. You are a licensed professional. They can't keep you from going to work for another firm or going on your own. That is how you make a living. They can't take that from you, but they can hurt your pocketbooks with all the legal crap they can tie you up in.

Just like a hairstylist would do, send some business cards out to your clients. Also, enclose an agronomic schedule and a short letter letting them know you would love to give them an estimate on their lawn care. DO NOT mention the other company just talk up how great your new digs are (locally owned or top notch customer service).

Besides, working to build your business is more satisfying then the cheater way :laugh:

LouisianaLawnboy
11-12-2009, 05:44 PM
I say go for it too! Just make sure you are targeting others as well. Just not your old customers. The other thing, don't mention your old company. Don't bad mouth them in any way.. that's where you will get in trouble.

We got slapped with a $75,000 lawsuit a few years ago, but had done nothing wrong. They did it so we would cease and desist. The thing is, we did everything properly, and kept good documentation. The same goes with no competes. You are a licensed professional. They can't keep you from going to work for another firm or going on your own. That is how you make a living. They can't take that from you, but they can hurt your pocketbooks with all the legal crap they can tie you up in.

Just like a hairstylist would do, send some business cards out to your clients. Also, enclose an agronomic schedule and a short letter letting them know you would love to give them an estimate on their lawn care. DO NOT mention the other company just talk up how great your new digs are (locally owned or top notch customer service).

Besides, working to build your business is more satisfying then the cheater way :laugh:

This is good advice. You can market to anyone, but don't mention the other co at all.
Posted via Mobile Device

Heidi J.
11-12-2009, 05:58 PM
This is good advice. You can market to anyone, but don't mention the other co at all.
Posted via Mobile Device

Thanks.. you live and you learn:)

tlg
11-14-2009, 11:04 AM
I say go for it too! Just make sure you are targeting others as well. Just not your old customers. The other thing, don't mention your old company. Don't bad mouth them in any way.. that's where you will get in trouble.

We got slapped with a $75,000 lawsuit a few years ago, but had done nothing wrong. They did it so we would cease and desist. The thing is, we did everything properly, and kept good documentation. The same goes with no competes. You are a licensed professional. They can't keep you from going to work for another firm or going on your own. That is how you make a living. They can't take that from you, but they can hurt your pocketbooks with all the legal crap they can tie you up in.

Just like a hairstylist would do, send some business cards out to your clients. Also, enclose an agronomic schedule and a short letter letting them know you would love to give them an estimate on their lawn care. DO NOT mention the other company just talk up how great your new digs are (locally owned or top notch customer service).

Besides, working to build your business is more satisfying then the cheater way :laugh:

While I would agree with a market to the masses campaign to cover yourself from legal problems. The bottom line is you still may find yourself in some sort of litigation with the former employer if they want to make your life hell. Non compete agreements are designed to intimidate and prohibit employee's from going into business with your customers. They can be challenged as well as enforced. It pretty much depends on how much money you have to fight IMO. I might add that a hairstylist, to my knowledge, in most cases is an independent operator. They pay a percentage to a shop owner. Their clients are in fact " their " clients. In this case the clients here are in fact customers of the employer. To give a business card to these " clients " without targeting all prospective customers would be singling out the employers customers. This would surely open the legal can of worms. I don't want to discourage anyone from going into their own business. It's his right to do so. You really need to consider all the ramifications before you act. A lawsuit when you first start out is no way to begin your venture.

Heidi J.
11-14-2009, 03:48 PM
While I would agree with a market to the masses campaign to cover yourself from legal problems. The bottom line is you still may find yourself in some sort of litigation with the former employer if they want to make your life hell. Non compete agreements are designed to intimidate and prohibit employee's from going into business with your customers. They can be challenged as well as enforced. It pretty much depends on how much money you have to fight IMO. I might add that a hairstylist, to my knowledge, in most cases is an independent operator. They pay a percentage to a shop owner. Their clients are in fact " their " clients. In this case the clients here are in fact customers of the employer. To give a business card to these " clients " without targeting all prospective customers would be singling out the employers customers. This would surely open the legal can of worms. I don't want to discourage anyone from going into their own business. It's his right to do so. You really need to consider all the ramifications before you act. A lawsuit when you first start out is no way to begin your venture.

True, you could be caught up in legal BS if you do it the wrong way. But just because you sign a no compete doesn't mean you can't work in the industry. It simply means you cannot bad mouth our actively solicit the companies active customers. As long as you can prove you are also soliciting others, no problems. You can also not use any trade secrets you learned from the company.

I don't want to make it seem like it is okay to do. I make my guys sign a no compete as well. I have had this happen to me. I had a trusted manager try to steal my customers as well. Karma came around and bit him in the a$$, no doing of mine..:laugh:

Some hair dressers, at least most of my friends, don't do the rent a booth. But I can see what you mean.

I totally agree, starting a new business and having to deal with legal issues.. not cool. But big companies should also know they can not intimidate their ex-employees with out good reason.

JMO

phasthound
11-14-2009, 06:18 PM
I had a trusted manager try to steal my customers as well. Karma came around and bit him in the a$$, no doing of mine..:laugh:

Karma is a great equalizer!