Accurate information about how much electricity a prospective solar customer is using—and when—is essential to creating an accurate solar design and quote to close the sale. It’s also key to building the case for why solar can help them. But getting this data is often one of the first barriers you’ll confront in the solar sales process.To increase the likelihood of getting the data you need in a timely fashion, it’s good to give the customer a few different options for how they can provide their utility bill information. (It also helps to be familiar with the utility’s bill format and how energy usage data can be accessed—as we discuss here.)
Elliot Goldstein encountered this challenge often in his time at a leading residential solar company where he managed an inside sales team that sold to 16 U.S. states.
In the process, he learned a lot about how to efficiently get the utility bill data needed to create an accurate solar quote. We sat down with Goldstein, currently a member of the sales team here at Aurora, to learn some best practices for effectively overcoming this solar sales barrier.
Whether you’re new to selling solar or looking to improve your process, we hope these recommendations help you work more efficiently when it comes to getting electricity usage data from your solar leads.
Approaches for Obtaining Utility Bill Data from Solar Leads
There are a number of different ways and formats to collect the utility bill data you need, depending on how tech-savvy the prospective customer is and what’s available from their utility company.
In general, it’s better to get a copy (or picture) of the customer’s actual bill or bills when possible, as this will provide more information than just their total kilowatt hour consumption or bill amount in a recent month. It will also allow you to ensure the accuracy of the information.
However, you’ll likely need to be flexible depending on what the customer is most comfortable with or can do easily. Here are a few options:
1. Download a Copy of the Bill from Their Utility Website
One of the best options for getting the customer’s electricity usage data is to have them login to their utility account online, download their electricity bill, and email it to you.
You quickly get the information you need in a convenient format, and the customer may be more easily able to provide multiple months of utility data since all of their bills can be found in their account. This is a great option for customers that are relatively tech savvy and already manage their utility accounts online.
You’ll want to be prepared to walk the customer through this process if they would find it helpful. As we discussed in a previous article, for this reason it’s important to be familiar with the utility company’s website and where to find the information you need.
Goldstein cautions that forgotten passwords are a common barrier to this approach. “Small things, like having a process in place so you’re prepared to walk them through resetting their password, can help streamline the process.”
2. Download Interval Data (If the Utility Offers It)
Another option for customers that are comfortable accessing their utility account online, is to walk them through the process of downloading interval data if their utility company offers it.
Interval data, which indicates how much electricity the customer used in different (usually 1-hour or 15-minute) intervals throughout each day in the month. It is typically offered in XML or CSV format.
For solar contractors that use solar software that accepts interval data, this offers advantages for solar design compared to just getting copies of past bills. You’ll be better able to understand the customer’s load profile, which is particularly important for customers in areas with time of use rates. With this data, you may be able to design a better solar installation for their needs.
Again, as discussed in our previous article on this topic, you’ll need to be familiar enough with the utility company to know if this is something they offer, as well as where and how this data can be accessed.
3) Take a Picture or Make a Copy
Another great option is to have the prospect take a picture or their electricity bill and send it to you. This can be particularly good if they are less tech savvy or having trouble remembering their login to their online account, but have a paper copy of their bill on hand. Scanning or copying it also works, depending on what’s easiest for the individual.
As Goldstein explains, “If you can have them take a picture of the bill with their smartphone and text or email it to you, that's often a good practice if they’re not as comfortable going on the website.”
You’ll want to ensure that they send pictures of all pages of the bill to make sure you’re not missing important information. And again, if you can get pictures of multiple months’ bills, that’s even better.
4) Authorize the Utility to Share Information Directly
Finally, in some cases, it’s possible to get the information you need for a great solar design directly from the customer’s utility. Where available, this is an excellent option since it doesn’t involve much time on the part of the customer. Plus, you can be confident you’re getting the right information since you’re getting it straight from the utility.
Typically, the customer will have to authorize the company to share that data on their behalf so you should be prepared to walk them through that process, which may involve submitting a form. Your company may also need to register with the utility as an authorized third party that can access this information.
If the utility company has one, you may be able to call a solar hotline to get their monthly kilowatt hours. Alternatively, some utility companies will share interval data (how much energy the customer used at specific, e.g. 1-hour, intervals throughout the billing period). This can be incredibly valuable in building an accurate load profile for the customer. You may also be able to access it through other third party companies that specialize in making this kind of data accessible.
PG&E in California allows customers to release their electricity usage data to third parties, which can be very useful for solar contractors.
Build Efficient Processes to Get Utility Data Early
Whatever method the customer finds most convenient for sharing their data, it’s a good idea for your solar company to put in place processes to facilitate getting this information early so it can be taken into account in the solar quote you provide.
Exactly what that looks like will depend on your company’s structure and workflow. This might involve the salesperson making a pre-qualification call to confirm the interest of a particular lead and get electricity bill data as a first step before a formal consultation. Or, if your company has a dedicated role that helps qualify solar leads or book appointments, that person might take the lead on getting bill information at that stage.
Does your company also offer other services, like roofing, energy efficiency, or HVAC? If a customer expresses interest in getting solar in the course of getting other services, perhaps it makes sense to coach those team members to ask for the electricity bill at that point, so you can streamline the follow up process.
Electricity usage and utility bill data is a crucial first step to giving a solar lead an accurate solar quote and an appropriate solar design. While getting this information is a common initial barrier in the solar sales process, giving your prospect convenient options and putting in place an efficient process can help considerably. Following up quickly is crucial in closing solar sales so find the strategy that works best for them and you!
Has your company found other ways to efficiently get prospective customers bill data? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!