BETHESDA, Md.—On a normal Monday morning, Winchester Homes' four division sales managers (DSWs) meet to review prior week sales contracts. But today, Vince Mendel, a nearly 20-year Winchester veteran, has another obligation. He leaves the other DSMs to paw through the orders from the 23 communities the builder has peppering the metro Washington, D.C., area.

8:55 A.M. In his office, Mendel pulls out a chair from underneath a large wooden worktable, which has been pushed into a corner to make room for a second desk. For the past year, Mendel's been co-shepherding a project to identify what he calls Winchester's “areas of pain,” the company's risks and vulnerabilities. Because the task required immense amounts of collaboration, Mendel invited his colleague to share his office. But when the local housing market headed south, Mendel was summoned back into sales.

The challenge now is to motivate and improve the performance of all his community sales managers (CSMs) during these more difficult times. He worries little about his top third performers, and he believes that he can whip his middle third into shape with some extra coaching. Of the lower third–all he can do is throw his palms to the ceiling. This group hears what he says but doesn't listen; their strategies fail to change. “It's like candy to them,” Mendel says of the things he tries to teach them. “It tastes good going down, but it doesn't fulfill you.”

He himself is back in the sales game in a big way. He's returned to working a salesperson's schedule, working weekends so he can see his CSMs in action. He's right in the community sales centers trenches, modeling good sales techniques. “I've got to show them it can be done,” he says.

BB061101070L1.jpg Being in the field also gives him insight into what's holding today's buyer back from signing on the dotted line. Understanding whether it's a question of affordability versus a contingency sale helps him to prepare his CSMs to counter those concerns. “You don't know until you get live ammo shot at you,” he says.

10:40 A.M. Mendel is running behind for the marketing meeting. He grabs his red portfolio and memory stick–he always travels light–and takes off down the hall, his pinstripe suit jacket flapping open. The other DSMs and the vice president of sales have just filed in behind the marketing folks when Mendel arrives, bringing the meeting's headcount to eight.

When the conversation shifts to Realtor reward programs, he bristles. Unlike some builders that cut out Realtor commissions when the market was booming, Winchester has maintained its 3 percent commission in good times and bad. However, now that the market's faltered and builders are back to scrounging for sales, some of Winchester's competitors are offering commissions of anywhere from 4 to 7 percent. Realtors consequently are steering would-be buyers to competing projects because they know they stand to make more cash on a sale. And they're pushing Winchester to up its ante.

“What really bothers me is a Realtor with a hand out,” says Mendel. “But we should reward repeat business.”

The group agrees on a tiered reward system that will award a Realtor a 3 percent commission on a first sale, 4 percent on a second, and 5 percent on a third.

12:35 P.M. Mendel's heads to Clarksburg Village, a 774-acre development in Montgomery County, Md., where he's scheduled a “planned encounter” with the sales and production staff.