Have you ever done an Amazon search and ended up so overwhelmed by the number of choices that you just gave up or decided to shelve the search until later? Ever landed on a homepage of a website with so many options you didn’t know where to click? That same phenomenon can apply in solar.Contrary to what you might expect, too many choices can actually be harmful when selling solar. While offering a large number of solar choices might sound like service to a prospective customer, in reality too many options can make decision making difficult and lead to fewer solar sales.
Solar leads are a valuable and often expensive commodity, so it is important to be aware of mistakes—like overwhelming prospects with too many choices—that can interfere with closing the sale. In this article, Part 3 of our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we examine why giving a customer too many options in a solar sales conversation can be problematic.
About This Series and Related NREL Research
In this series, we look at seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in a study conducted from 2014 to 2016. This Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study was conducted to learn more about why certain customers adopt solar while others don’t, in order to help solar contractors lower customer acquisition costs.
The study surveyed homeowners in four states and worked with approximately thirty solar contracting companies. It also included the application of mathematical modeling and testing.
It was conducted by NREL, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and behavioral scientists and psychologists at a variety of universities, with funding from the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the US Department of Energy.
In our series on the seven common solar sales mistakes identified from this research, we explore each one in more depth based a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, related research, and real-world perspectives from solar contractors. In the first two parts, we discussed the importance of quick solar lead follow-up and avoiding assumptions that solar leads share your opinion about solar.
The Right Number of Options
In almost every solar sales conversation, understanding the perspective of your solar lead is essential. According to NREL’s findings, a key component of that is finding the approach that offers them enough options without inundating them.
Ben Sigrin, one of the lead researchers on the study, asserts that "people tend to assume that more actions are better, but—and I'm sure many people can relate to this—sometimes having more options is confusing and can be overwhelming.” He points out that for a wavering prospect, feeling the pressure to make a whole lot of decisions can push them to default to inaction or to stick with what they know—getting their electricity from the utility.
Sigrin does emphasize that prospects often want solar choices, just not in excessive amounts. He says, “sometimes I think it is in the salesperson's best interest to define a few options that show different ends of the spectrum and not overwhelm the customer with choice."
It’s wise to tailor the options you offer to the particular solar lead, since customers who are less knowledgeable about solar tend to want more direction, while more sophisticated customers may appreciate a wider range of options.
Tyson Peschke, Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Blue Raven Solar, agrees with the idea that it is important to avoid overwhelming prospects with too many choices. Blue Raven Solar is a leading solar installation company operating in ten states. He says his sales team keeps it simple to engage customers and establish trust.
“You don't want to explain to customers how 10 different panels work so they think they have to choose the one that best fits them,” Peschke explains. “You want to let them know that ‘panels are basically the same, except for, say, these two things. And we've chosen these two panels because we feel like they represent the best value’.”
He says that this kind of approach sets prospects up to trust you—the contractor—because you are helping to reduce the number of decisions they need to make so they can focus on the ones that really matter.
The Hazard of Choice Overload
Other studies support the idea that too many options in sales conversations can impede the process. One phenomenon identified by psychologists is choice overload. This is the idea that when a prospect does not have a very specific sense of what they want or a clear way to categorize choices, they tend to feel discomfort over the number of products to choose from.
Choice overload can derail a sales conversation. Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, asserts that choice overload can lead to anxiety, dissatisfaction, bad decisions, and decision paralysis. These negative emotions can distract from the decision itself, impairing decision-making abilities and causing someone to postpone or avoid making a decision. Schwartz writes, “Even if you've made a good decision, when your choice isn't perfect, knowing there were alternatives out there makes it easy to imagine you could have made a better choice.”
A study about limited choice vs. extensive choice demonstrated this when customers in a store were asked to sample jams. The study found that only 3% of those who sampled 24 flavors made a purchase, while 30% of those who sampled 6 flavors made a purchase. The authors of the study state that too many options can lead people to choose not to choose even when it goes against their self interest.
Using Choice Effectively in Your Solar Sales Conversations
There are a number of ways you can work with sales staff to present solar choices without overwhelming prospects. Emphasizing simplicity and clarity is one; as Peschke puts it, look at how to offer “fewer options, more clear choices. Three is better than ten options.” Work with them to make choosing easier for prospects by keeping decisions real, immediate and concrete, and focused around a specific, positive outcome.
Additionally, help your team remember to tailor their approach to the customer's level of understanding. As 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.” However you help prospects find that a-ha moment, understanding how to effectively present options in the conversations is a key factor in facilitating their solar sales decision.
About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales
Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.
In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.
Part 3. Engage Solar Leads with the Right Use of Choice