Selling solar is far from easy. Even among home and business owners who are excited about reducing their bills and greening their energy consumption with solar, the large purchase can be daunting. Further, many potential customers are unfamiliar with how solar energy works, how it will impact their bills, and how to evaluate different incentives and financing options.
We spoke with Nancy Reynolds, VP Sales & Marketing at Clean Energy Design, LLC to understand some of the mistakes companies make when selling solar, so you can make sure to avoid them in your sales process. Clean Energy Design is a Massachusetts-based solar contracting firm with over 20 years of experience in solar integration and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau.
Drawing from Nancy’s insights, we identified 3 core categories of mistakes that can derail your solar sale.
Solar Sales Mistake 1: Failing to Provide the Level of Information the Customer Wants
Make sure to be clear when explaining solar. Too much information can glaze someone over and not enough will leave them confused with too many questions. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC
As Nancy points out, solar is a new subject for many potential customers so it is essential to tailor your presentation to their level. This is supported by research that Aurora did in 2016 to understand customer needs and what makes a strong solar sales proposal.
Asked about what they knew going into the process, homeowners around the country who had considered a solar purchase said things like: “I had some idea of what it is, like it’s installed on the roof, but didn’t know the details,” or “We weren’t knowledgeable at all. We went to an open house that was arranged by the Sierra Club and saw what the homeowner had done at the time.”
Given this, it’s helpful to think about solar sales as a teaching opportunity. Ty Simpson, Regional Sales Manager of Bland Solar, says “Solar is not sales, it’s education. You’re teaching something unorthodox... Getting people to that a-ha moment.”
That might mean showing the customer how you design solar for their home or the calculations behind your estimates of how much they will save on their utility bills. However you approach the process, take note of the customer’s level of understanding and what they’re focused on so you can answer their questions without overwhelming them with more information than they are ready to process.
Using your sales conversations as an opportunity to educate homeowners and other potential customers about solar energy, can help make them more comfortable with the purchase.
Make sure you know all the ins and outs of the information you are presenting! -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC
It should go without saying, but it’s your responsibility to be the solar expert so you can answer any questions the customer may ask. From a having strong grounding in why you are proposing a specific PV design or components, to understanding the relevant solar policies, incentives, and financing options, a good solar sales person knowledgeable about all aspects of a solar purchase.
If there are any areas of the process you’re less familiar with, spend some time talking to people in other departments of your company to make sure you know the processes and reasons behind how your company approaches each part of the customer’s experience.
Always answer the phone or call potential customers back immediately; most people want instant gratification. If you wait too long to respond, you will miss an opportunity. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC
It may seem intuitive that if you want to make the sale you need to be attentive and responsive to each lead, particularly as the solar market becomes increasingly competitive, but you need to have strong, scalable processes in place that facilitate this.
That might mean investing in software that supports accurate remote site assessment so you can efficiently follow up with more leads—as Cascadia Solar did with Aurora, allowing them to double sales month over month—or using a CRM program to help track your follow-up conversations.
Solar management consultant Pamela Cargill notes that “anything that helps you track how often you follow up with a customer... is ripe for automation,” though she cautions that those interactions should be personalized because it is critical to build a genuine relationship with the customer.
Of course, these approaches don’t just apply at the sales stage. The sales process should show your potential clients the high level of attention and service that they can expect if they move forward with your company.
Being responsive to inquiries from prospective customers is critical to closing the sale.
NEVER use high-pressure tactics or try to find out where you stand and if they are considering other companies. Always mention that if they are getting other proposals they should be aware that they may not be comparing apples to apples. -Nancy Reynolds, Clean Energy Design, LLC
It should be the quality and service your company offers, and not high-pressure tactics, that lead customers to choose you. In fact, not only can those aggressive tactics damage the reputation of your company, they may damage the reputation of the industry more broadly.
This was a common theme at a roundtable on solar sales that Aurora convened last year. Attendee Zayith Pinto, Residential Sales Manager at Sunworks Inc., said that he thinks the biggest challenge for the solar is “The misconception that people have of the solar industry—that we’re just out to get a dime, to get a tax credit. Maybe they had a bad experience with a company that tried to rip them off.”
If you do a good job educating your customer (as discussed above), they will be able to see what differentiates your company. As Nancy Reynolds notes, that means addressing some of the different criteria they may want to consider when comparing quotes. For instance, if your company’s installation quality, excellent service, or use of higher-quality components results in better value even if you are not the cheapest, be sure to explain those considerations.
Baker Electric Solar, a highly regarded solar company in southern California, uses Aurora to communicate what sets them apart. Scott O’Hara, Solar Energy Consultant at Baker, notes “Aurora’s software has given me a significant advantage in an extremely competitive market. It allows me to show customers why we are proposing a specific panel layout… [and] increases consumer confidence, because they know we are using the best technology available today to accurately project the performance of the system.”
Solar Sales Mistake 3: Over-Promising and Under-Delivering
Last, but perhaps most important, it is critical that your sales process accurately represents the benefits your solar installation will provide to the customer.
Nancy offered several specific things that installers should bear in mind to ensure that’s the case:
- "Never promise that an installation will take place on a specific date until all the approvals have been received and equipment is reserved."
- "Always have a statement in your contract that will allow you to substitute equipment, if the panels specified are no longer available."
- "Do not be too optimistic about the power that will be generated by a solar system. Always underestimate the anticipated power production and your customer will be very happy when the system is producing more than what was estimated in the proposal, particularly if PBIs (performance-based incentives) are involved."
Our own Sales Consultant JT McCook, who worked in solar sales before joining Aurora, also underscored the importance of ensuring what is offered in the sales process precisely matches what the customer will receive. “It is SO important to get the design as close to perfect on day one in order to promote a high level of customer experience, as well as reduce the number of touch points for the project from start to finish (from sale to install).”
JT notes that when he sold residential solar systems, he sometimes encountered cases where companies had sold customers a system that was larger than what they could actually install on the customers roof. Not only did this anger customers, whose savings would end up being lower than they had been told, it also cost the companies money in the long-term as a result of change orders and additional site visits.
Using a solar design program that enables precision and accuracy, like Aurora, can help ensure that the solar PV design you sell matches what the customer receives.
Using cutting-edge technology in the design process, can ensure that your initial designs and energy production estimates are accurate and true to what the customer will receive.
A sales process that avoids these pitfalls—by effectively educating the customer, providing prompt and courteous communication, and ensuring the accuracy of what you offer—will help you close more sales. And, just as importantly, it will lay a strong foundation for customer satisfaction so that your customers can be sources of referrals down the line.