Solar Women Summer Series (Canada): Policy, Philanthropy and Play

Lisa Oelke is the Marketing Manager (North America) for Advanced Racking Solutions, a division of hb Solar Canada, in Ontario. She is also the Solar Development/Renewable Energy Consultant Off-Grid Specialist for the Solar Majengo Tanzania project and an Advisory Board member for Women in Renewable Energy (WiRE). Recently, she gave us a Canadian perspective on renewable […]

[Interview] 5 Key Lessons Learned about a Homeowner’s Solar Buying Process

I’ve been doing a lot of interviews with companies that are selling renewable energy services, but what I’m really interested in learning about is how property owners are making their purchasing decisions. If we can better understand the customer, it will be easier to sell to them.

After I published some data on the Massachusetts solar PV market, Gary Best reached out to me with a few questions about the data.

Gary is a homeowner in Massachusetts that recently purchased a solar PV project for his house and then started a great website for other homeowners in Massachusetts. What’s really great about his website is that it’s a “homeowner to homeowner” site. He’s not selling anything. He uses language that he understand and discusses the research that he did when deciding to purchase his system.

I spoke with Gary for a little longer then 15 minutes and learn A LOT of valuable lessons that will be useful to any solar company that wants to improve their sales.

Here are the 5 major learning points from our conversation

Here’s a big learning point. Gary was just doing this to save money, it wasn’t about being green. He went with solar because he thought got a lot of sun and DID NOT consider other technology (geothermal, energy efficiency). However, AFTER installing the system he’s started researching other ways to save money in his bills. Solar is a good introduction technology, then you can sell other technologies and services!
Gary first thought about solar when he received a post card from Sungevity, but he didn’t end up buying from them for a few reasons. 1) They didn’t go a site visit 2) He wanted to OWN the panels not lease them
Gary said there was a huge distinction between companies that did a phone interview vs a site visit. He was much more confident in companies that actually came to his house. He could actually meet them, get to know them, and it gave him more confidence that they knew what they were doing.
Gary had a simple buying criteria, he wanted to get meaningful returns and he wanted to trust the contractor.
He didn’t go with a 100% lease because he would only save $30 per month, but he didn’t have the cash to purchase it outright. He went with a 3rd party loan that costs him 8%. He owns the panels, but has some debt on them. He saved $100 a month from day 1, and will own them in 7 to 8 years.

Here’s our full discussion

Gary, what’s the story of your solar system? Why and how did you decide to go solar? When did it happen?
Gary always thought his house would do well with solar, his house is facing south and he noticed he always got a lot of sun in the summer
He first thought he could do it when he got a post card from sungevity and looking at the numbers it showed he could save $30 a month. At the time, he thought that would great, $30 for free was great!
However, he started doing research remembering that “owning is better then leasing” and he decided to do some research to figure out how much it would cost to buy.

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The Best Sales Tool For Small Renewable Energy Companies

 

I’m in the search for the best sales tool to sell solar pv, solar thermal and geothermal. I am building a renewable energy company, and I’m focused on building the most profitable company I can. We’re a small company, we haven’t raised venture capital so we’re driven by cash, and we like simple, elegant, and effective solutions. So, finding the prefect tool is very important to us. I’m inspired to create a pocket guide to selling renewable energy projects after finding a similar pocket for carpenters (see right). It’s simple, cheaper and super effective. It perfectly supplements the knowledge of a well trained carpenter.

First, let me discuss why finding the perfect sales tool is so important to me and also represents a larger business philosophy. Profitability is extremely important to me and the industry as a whole. Not only do we need to show that renewable energy is profitable but that’s it’s MORE profitable then other activities. By profitable, I mean our net, before tax, profit margin not absolute profit. In order to do this, we must minimize overhead so that we’re very nimble. Being nimble is just as important as being diversified. If jobs in a certain technology dry up, we don’t want the company to die. A sales tool, and the processes and principles it represents, will have a huge impact on our ability to be profitable.

In order to do this, we’re being extremely diligent with our marketing activities. We’re going to make sure we understand what factors lead a client to close faster, for more money, with the least amount of marketing dollars and time spent, and then find more of those types of clients. It sounds simple, it’s hard to implement. The long term goal is that each client leads to more business through word of mouth. They love us so much that they’ll tell all their friends. In order to facilitate this we’ll provide a couple “artifacts”, like a project DVD, to each client after the installation is complete. The DVD will make “sharing” of the project between neighbors easy. To get referrals you first need a few first jobs. We’ll get the ball rolling by creating a “homeowner” workshop. Learn how we create the workshop and presentation here. The workshop will be something that is extremely useful to the homeowner and also provide a personal connection to our company, so they trust and respect us, because they’re know us personally. Our marketing is based on being authentic, transparent, and useful. You heard it right, our marketing is based on two activities. That’s it, very simple.

Although we know how we want the system to look, it’ll take a lot of time and testing to get there.

On the operations side, we’re structuring the company so that it will naturally optimize itself around being profitability while being extremely efficient operationally (no overheard). We’re not interested in paying sales people based revenue commission because they may sell jobs that don’t make money. We will have teams of people work on projects together and be paid based on the profitability of that job because everyone who works on the job impacts it’s profitability. If this seems crazy, read “The Great Game of Business.” Jack Stack is the man.

The marketing activities and operation activities have a huge overlap in many places of the business, but the largest overlap come during the site visit and when the contract is signed. With marketing, we want the highest profit in the least amount of time. This means we’re interested in decreasing the number of leads that we deal with BUT increasing the closing ratio of each lead. It’s much more profitable to deal with 20 leads, where 10 close then 100 leads where 10 close. If you were only looking at the number of closed leads you’d think they were the same. However, dealing with 100 leads take a lot of time and this time is hard to track because its a “soft cost” for the business, but it’s there. Trust me.

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Five Key Items for Writing a Solid Renewable Energy Sales Proposal

If you’re currently a contractor and interested in entering or expanding your business into the renewable energy industry, there are four main hurdles you will face.

Understanding the technology. See this free course to learn more about the technology basics.
Filling out a vast amount of government paperwork, and maneuvering around solar and geothermal permitting and incentives.
Marketing: Getting the attention of potential customers to sign your first project. Here are some tips on bringing customers to you.
Sales: Needing to convince property owner to purchase geothermal or solar AND buy them from you.

Today, lets focus on number four. Like it or not, investing in renewable energy is NOT something that property owners MUST do, and they have other options to choose from. With that in mind, having good sales skills is key to convincing a potential customer that investing in renewable energy will be both profitable and attractive for their home or business. So, you must convince them to invest into solar pv, geothermal, solar thermal or energy efficiency and then convince them to pick YOU as the contractor.

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How to Avoid Costly Mistakes When Selling Solar: An Interview with Andy Black from On Grid Solar

Anyone who is anyone in the solar industry has heard of and probably knows who Andy Black of On Grid Solar is. Andy created, as far as I know it, the first solar sales tool in 2005 which continues to be the most robust tool on the market. As part of our series to learn about the best products, services, and software that you can use to make your solar company more profitable, I had a nice conversation with Any to learn more about his sales tool and his perspective on some of the big sales mistakes that new and growing solar companies continue to make in the solar industry.

This is a long interview and its packed with good stuff, but here’s a little guide so you can get the most of the interview.

The first part is about the development of the On Grid solar sales tool and the benefits of using software
The second section is devoted to Andy’s thoughts on the challenges of selling solar, financing projects in the USA, and advice for contractors on marketing and what how to avoid costly mistake in the sales process.
At the end, there is a section on more resources that you can find on On Grid solar and a product demo video of the On Grid tool
Lastly, there is a solar sales training sign up form. If you’re interested in taking on On Grid Solar Sales Certification training that will prepare you for NABCEP Technical Sales exam and provide a 50% discount of the On Grid Sales software.

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May 20th, 2011|Categories: Solar|Tags: , , , , , |