Is it really that difficult to sell solar PV, or do some professionals just make it seem that way?  If you consider the financial incentives for investing (and that’s definitely the right word for it) in clean energy, coupled with ever-increasing utility rates, you would think customers would be lining up to buy solar PV.  So why isn’t business booming?

After nearly a decade in the solar business, I’ve noticed one thing that never seems to change – selling solar PV to homeowners is a challenge.  I’ve conducted informal surveys during my solar trainings, and the contractor community has reported a consistently low closing rate.  Of course, my surveys were by no means scientific, and it is even possible that the closing rate reported was higher.  However, the survey results yielded three interesting perspectives that could be the cause of poor sales:

  • First, many feel that price is more important than value. (It’s not.)
  • Second, many believe that technology is more important than service. (I don’t think so, and I’ll tell you why.)
  • And finally, lots of contractors say that proposals are more important than closed deals. (Which is ridiculous.)

You may criticize me for writing this, and I have to tell you up front that no contractor has said those three things to me in those exact words, but by their feedback and comments, that message comes across loud and clear.  Behavior always speaks far more loudly than words.

So here’s what I propose: How about you and I turn our perspectives around and see how a new take on solar PV sales (meaning, a brand-new attitude) can boost your earnings.

1.     Is price more important than value?

I think a true professional will find ways to justify a higher price for their valued services, rather than seeking the lowest price.  Think about it. Would you like to buy a cheap parachute?  The lowest-price installer (if that is their goal) has only one benefit to offer the consumer, and that’s the lowest price.  The problem with this is that some other installer (someone with no insurance, working out of their garage, with little training) will always be out there, and will always be able to beat your price.  If all you care about is price, they will always be the lowest bidder. If you didn’t spend time justifying the value of what you bring to the job, you will probably lose every job.  Instead of getting involved in a mad race to the bottom, competing on price alone, look for, and sell, the ways you add value to every job you do.  People don’t just buy solar PV equipment; they buy what solar PV does.  And it can’t do that well without your expertise and your reliability.  Tell them about your staff’s extensive training and certifications (and what that means; don’t assume they’ll know).  Explain the care that your clean, professional, courteous (and drug-free) installation crew will take when installing the panels on their home.  Highlight the multiple levels of leak protection (who thinks of that?).  Tell them about how you will monitor their system and clean the panels as needed, and that this follow-up service will give them the most for their investment.  And how about this? Ask them if they’d like to be featured in your company’s brochure, or have a system-commissioning party for all their neighbors.  Yes, it helps you too, but you may be surprised at how often people want this.  Talk about how invested your company is in community groups and activities.  You’re a good neighbor and you’ll be there for them in the years ahead.  You have so much to offer!  Next time, sell for higher than your competitor, justify the price difference, and enjoy the rewards.  What’s out there in their driveway?  The cheapest car ever made? It’s not, is it?  So go sell them value.  That’s what they’re buying.

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2.     Is technology more important than service?

Have you ever said any of these words to your customers?  Positive tolerance panel.  Bypass diode cell.  Module efficiency? Did they understand what you just said?  And are you sure you’ll be able to deliver, even if they understood you?  I have developed a bias against using this sort of technical description during the sales presentation.  Why?  Because the panel you so eloquently described may not be available by the time you actually need to install it.  But an even better reason not to go so far into the technology is that for most people, you are creating more confusion by introducing these relatively esoteric concepts.  As much as those differences exist, they are somewhat subtle in practice.  Two systems can produce the same kWh output even though one has a higher negative tolerance and a lower efficiency.  If a competitor’s price is the same (or close) to yours, which it likely will be, you just introduced a bunch of questions about who is telling the truth – you or your competitor?  That’s bad because confused customers do not buy from anyone.  Go back to why you are there: You are there to provide a financial and social benefit to your customer in exchange for their money.  You are lending your expertise to save electricity and help them achieve their version of self-reliance, pollution reduction, and energy independence.  You are selling what the product does, not what the product is. Focus on how your company will work with your customer to achieve his or her real goals.  Always remember that no one every bought a drill because they wanted to own a drill.  What they wanted to own was a hole. Sell the hole.

3.     Are proposals more important than closed deals?

Closed deals are what pay the bills, right?  But contractors often tell me that they are meeting with, and sending proposals to, large numbers of customers, yet they rarely close the deal.  They spin wheels and come away with empty pockets.  I tell them that if they want to increase their closing rate they have to reduce the amount of meetings they’re having and proposals they’re writing.  Why?  Because you have only so much time in a day to do everything you need to do.  You have to cultivate new leads, prepare for those in-home visits, actually make the visits, and then follow-up on those visits.  Oh, and add to this all those administrative tasks.  A sales guru once taught me that a customer will only buy when the two halves of their brain agree.  There has to be a logical reason to take any action, and an emotional reason to take action now.  If you leave your in-home visit planning to send them a proposal and then follow-up later, you are acting as though the customer can maintain the same emotional high (the logic stays the same) for those next days or even weeks!  That’s probably not going to happen.  Your potential customers are busy and you are not at the center of their lives.  It’s always better for everyone if you prepare for your in-home meeting as though it will be the one-and-only chance you will ever have in your entire life to close the deal.  Do or die.  So bring all the necessary paperwork with you and get them to sign and hand you the deposit check.  Close the moment you have finished your two-hour survey and presentation.  Ask them about their financial and non-financial reasons for going solar. Then tell them exactly how you can meet their needs.  “You were looking for something that did x, we can help you achieve x.  Now, if you will go get your checkbook, the deposit is $1,000.  And, I will finish the paperwork on my side.”  You now have a new customer and one less proposal to do.  You just freed up hours and hours, which you will use to close other deals.  Trust me, this technique will turn more leads into customers.  It works.

So let’s close this deal.  I promise that you’re going to be amazed by what you can achieve if only you shift your perspective on sales and on what people are really buying (think holes).  Focus on value over price and remember that there will always be someone cheaper than you.  They fully understand the value of their service.  It’s cheap!  Remember that technology will always change, but it’s the quality service you provide that is of the greatest long-term value to your customer.  Finally, use your time wisely during those in-home visits.  Do this and you’ll close more deals.  Now all you need to do is just sign right here.

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