This piece was contributed by John Bumgarner, GM, solar and storage, at Mosaic. It was originally published in the Q3 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Subscribe here (for free) to ensure you receive the Projects of the Year issue.
Fifteen years ago, when I sold solar at the kitchen table, I had to convince people that solar power actually worked. That time is over. People now understand the benefits of clean energy — which lets solar professionals today focus on optimized customer experience and getting more projects energized.
Communication is one of the most important tools for your business. Effective communication can mean the difference between satisfied, referring customers and poor reviews.
No contractor is immune to permit delays and other setbacks. Friction points occur in the solar sales process from the day of signing to the installation to getting permission to operate (PTO). Communication is pivotal at every step along the way.
Here are a few tips for an effective sales process.
Customer acquisition is the starting point of any solar sale. One of the most important conversations you can have is how your business can source potential customers. Your path to acquisition should be a deliberate and consistent strategy.
If you choose the direct-to-consumer approach, or door-to-door, you need to optimize your sales team for that method. Your strategy will change if you intend to buy leads or if you plan on capitalizing on a trade association. Referrals have the highest close rate with the lowest cost of sale, but are not usually abundant enough to rely on as a main tactic.
Every strategy comes with its pros and cons. For door-to-door, contractors have the advantage of site demographics, but you will spend a lot of time and resources on getting refusals. For trade association or buying leads, you may save on labor costs and have a more targeted audience, but the cost per lead can be a barrier.
Once you find an acquisition strategy that works best, you can shape your business around it and best understand your consumers. Building strategy into training programs will set sales teams up for success when it comes time to close.
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Meet your customers
Most solar professionals would agree that identifying possible customers is only the beginning of the sales process. It’s best to keep the pitch simple and present the value-propositions that keep customers most engaged. As a salesperson, you need to determine where customers are in their process and deliver a set of solutions that are based on the size of their family, home location and usage needs.
Whatever the scenario, meet customers where they are. Ask questions so you can understand where they are in their solar journey. For example, are they simply at the information-gathering stage? Or do they already have five bids from your competitors? Maybe they considered switching to solar three years ago and decided against it — find out why.
Then, tailor your approach to their current and future needs. We’re lucky that we have more planning abilities today. Perhaps the customer is buying an electric vehicle, which will increase their energy demand. Or maybe they anticipate other family members moving into the home at a later date, like aging parents or adult children, which will raise utility usage. These are the sort of important questions that will inform system sizing. Presently, we can plan for up to 150% to 200% usage to meet today’s and future needs of the homeowner.
There’s a delicate balance between tailoring to customers and giving them so many options that they get analysis paralysis. It can be compelling for a sales rep to say, “I have three different solar panel options, and four different inverter options, and I work with five different financing companies.” But you don’t want to create a situation that makes it impossible for a homeowner to choose. Limit the products you offer, while giving customers an honest representation of their options.
Comparing loans to previous purchases is a great way to overcome a common objection in the sales process. The solar loan seems daunting until customers realize it’s how they pay for most of their big purchases, like cars. When customers understand these similarities, they often feel more comfortable taking on solar leases or loans.
One of the most frustrating points in the sales process is cancellations. Back in the early days of solar, installations required a sizable deposit. Today, customers can cancel a project a week before installation with limited repercussions. When this happens, resources are wasted and the cost of installed solar systems has to increase to offset the losses.
Identifying this friction point and others along the way can help you find solutions to keep the process efficient. The better you can understand why customers cancel, the better you can reduce or prevent it. The faster a solar company gets from point of signing to meaningful work, the less likely a customer will cancel. Instead of being discouraged by lack of progress, customers will start to see their future with solar. Conducting site surveys within 48 hours will bolster customer excitement, and increasing realization can boost employee morale, increase sales rep incomes and limit wasted resources.
Keep your customers informed
The most polished sales process is still subject to delays and difficulties. This is especially true during the busy summer season. Some things like supply shortages or permit approvals will never be within your full control. Regular and consistent communication throughout the installation process will improve customer experience and retain value for everyone involved.
The most dangerous part of the solar sales cycle is silence. I recommend being transparent throughout the process — the parts that are going smoothly, and the bumps along the way. Meet with your customers as soon as possible after the contract is signed. This will ensure good expectations were set at sale and will introduce relevant people and processes. Have project coordinators call customers as often as every week to assure them that they are still a priority. Be transparent with customers about relevant regional and seasonal timelines. In the absence of new information, customers make assumptions or get cold feet, which leads to higher rates of cancellation. That’s why I recommend updating customers regularly: Tell them when the design is ready, when the permit is approved, and if there are any delays.
Streamline processes to increase value
The more we can streamline these processes and improve realization rate, the better the margins become for installers. And those successes inform pricing. The objective of seamless sales is to get value back where it belongs — with the customers, lowering install costs and increasing the number of solar powered homes.
Be sure to watch this episode of The Pitch discussing the online solar marketplace:
John Bumgarner is GM, solar and storage, at Mosaic.
— Solar Builder magazine