Pam Fry shocked her colleagues last July when, on a 90-plus degree day, she walked into the offices of Mr. Rogers Windows covered with sweat and grime and wearing a Mr. Rogers shirt and khaki capris. They were astonished because Fry, the company's top salesperson, always dresses professionally, in suits and heels.

Nothing Casual About It

Fry wasn't trying to go casual on them. Beginning at 7 a.m., she'd spent a long day installing windows at a job she'd sold. Owner Gerry Rogers had decided that each salesperson at the Hampton Roads, Va., company would spend two days working with an installation crew. Fry was first up.

“I learned I can install a window,” Fry says. “It would take me five days to do just one, but I can do it.” She chiseled out old window stops, bent aluminum wrap, inserted windows, caulked, insulated, and cleaned up. The experience changed her point of view, she says — exactly what Rogers was shooting for.

“I used to tell customers, ‘We're just going to pop that window out,'” Fry says. Not anymore. “We work our guts out installing.”

Hands-On Experience

Now that Mr. Rogers salespeople have hands-on experience, Rogers says, they can explain window installation more clearly to customers. They also appreciate the installers more. “Too often it's sales vs. production,” he says. An exercise like this melds the two departments into a team.

“I've always been good about buying them a Coke or Gatorade,” Fry says, but working with the crew made an essential difference in their relationship. Not only does she appreciate her production people more, Fry says she's proud to have earned their respect. At the end of her second day with the crew, one guy told her, “You're a stroker” (meaning someone who works hard). That high opinion, she says, will translate into the crews' making a point of doing a good job and ultimately will bring referrals from satisfied customers.

After all the salespeople have put in their installation time, Rogers will either repeat the drill right away or give them a refresher course in a few months. Either way, their education isn't finished. He's planning a series of plant tours so salespeople can see the manufacture of windows step by step, from sand to glass to finished product.