With growth on the horizon for the entire solar industry, many companies and salespeople aren’t just growing in their numbers of staff members or kW installed. They are expanding into new scales of solar projects. With many residential companies growing into the commercial space, HeatSpring instructor Tim Montage discusses some key differences between residential and commercial solar sales along with some advice to consider as your company grows. Tune into the video or read the transcript below.

I love this question. There are many residential solar professionals who aspire to get into commercial solar. And the challenges are many, but it is a great opportunity. So understand that commercial solar is a different animal. It’s apples and oranges. 

Residential solar is a small capital expense in the greater scheme of things. It’s like buying a car. The decision making process is relatively short in time. The decision makers are few. It’s head of household or a couple, right? A partner, whether they’re married or not, two people might be the biggest group that you’re dealing with generally for a residential solar decision.

And commercial – the facility is bigger. It’s more complicated. There’s more considerations and there’s more decision makers. There might be layers of decision makers. I’ll often start with a facilities person and then maybe a plant manager. And then I’m getting to a suite of executives who are overseeing a fleet of facilities. Many companies have fleets of facilities, and so it is a layer cake of decision makers. At any part of that chain, things can fall apart or objections can be made. You may or may not be privy to what’s going on. 

So it’s just a lot more complicated and it takes a focus. There are companies that successfully do residential and commercial solar. But in general it is bifurcated. They are different worlds. Residential solar installers generally are going to stay in their lane and then commercial solar installers are going to be in their world. Even if it’s one company, they will probably have two different divisions that focus on those disciplines, and that’s because they’re different animals. 

And just a little more about some of those differences… When you get into the facility, for example, with commercial, it’s all flat roofs generally. There’s very few flat roofs in residential. It’s different racking systems. It’s larger inverters, different manufacturers. Solar modules are bigger in commercial solar. So the equipment side of the equation is quite different. You have a learning curve there. The voltage of the facility is much greater. The amperage of the facility is much greater, so the switch gear is much bigger.

The design tools are potentially different. HelioScope and Aurora are two of the best tools and they do cross over and they are used in both resi and commercial solar. Maybe you’re already using a tool that can be used in commercial solar. 

There’s just a lot more considerations. The structural considerations become much greater. There’s much more variety in the types of roofs in commercial solar and what could be or couldn’t be done with the roof under the existing conditions. You have to get more under the covers in terms of roofing technologies. I would encourage you to befriend commercial roofers and spend time with them and understand the nuances of commercial roofing. 

Then the CapEx. It’s a much bigger CapEx, right? A small commercial project is maybe $50,000. A large commercial project is $5 million. You can do a lot of things with $5 million, and so you have to be more sophisticated as a business person, understanding that you’ve got a great widget to sell them that’s going to save them money. But guess what? They’ve got 15 other things that they could do with $5 million. You have to try to figure out how to help them prioritize that, if you have the luxury of building a good enough relationship to become an advisor and that’s kind of the penultimate of success is to be a business advisor, not a widget salesman.