Prince William Home Improvement in Woodbridge, Va., sells kitchens, baths, decks, patio enclosures, windows, and siding. The company is organized into three divisions —kitchens and baths, siding and windows, decks and enclosures — and reps, with few exceptions, sell within those divisions.

Companies in which reps specialize in a single product line have reasons. Prince William's general manager Greg Sliger says it's so that reps can focus on and master the specifics of what they're selling. Salespeople, he points out, need to know their product and their product category thoroughly enough to convince a prospect that what the company's selling is worth the price, even if that price is high relative to other estimates.

“I want our salespeople to be consultants,” Sliger says, and to that end, construction experience and computer skills are sought in hiring reps. continued on page 34

At Bloomfield Construction, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., on the other hand, the three sales reps — that includes owner Jeff Petrucci — sell windows, siding, and additions, as well as the company's core product, roofing. His reps, Petrucci says, need to be able to “talk about how a window should be flashed and how the siding goes in after it.” That broad-based knowledge, he points out, can lead to an expanded sale.

Cross-Sell, Upsell Owners aren't blind to the benefits of having reps adept enough to sell two, even three products, provided they can do so knowledgeably. For instance, two of the seven salespeople at A Cut Above Exteriors in Portland, Ore., sell only windows. Two sell siding. The other three are what owner Mark Tiffey calls “combo reps.” That is, they're versatile enough to sell both windows and the cedar or fiber cement siding that is the company's signature product. But it isn't easy to do both.

“After they've been here a certain amount of time, we will allow them to cross-train,” Tiffey says. For reps, the most complicated part of cross-training, even those with previous siding or window sales experience, is absorbing the particulars of wood siding, with all its grades and profiles. At Bloomfield Construction, new reps first learn how to sell a roof, then move to other products. They learn by shadowing salespeople, reading product literature, and by taking advantage of any product education offered by suppliers.

Single Line Switch Companies where reps are used to selling one product have their work cut out for them when they expand the menu. A few years ago, Gold Seal Roofing and Construction in Tampa, Fla., set out to transform itself from a roofing company to a construction company, with 50% of its volume in roofing. Gold Seal took on windows, siding, and sunrooms. Roofing reps had to learn to sell it all, general manager Nick Nicholson says.

It takes time and training. At the moment, three of the company's six salespeople can sell windows and siding, in addition to roofing. And sunrooms sales proved a challenge, for want of a knowledgeable rep.

“Their primary job is to sell roofing,” Nicholson says. Of home improvement product lines, “roofing is the most detailed, and it's where you can get yourself in trouble the quickest.”

So far, he says, the key to managing the situation is handing off the “hot” window and siding leads to those most capable of walking away with ink on paper.