This is the last interview in the 5 part series we did with BrightGrid Renewable Energy Finance on residential solar leases and it’s one of the best. We focused most of the interview on specifics of what solar sales and marketing professionals need to do to increase revenue.

Sign up for the full free course here: How to Use Solar Leases to Grow Your Business

The premise of the interviews and the free course is simple. Solar leases are becoming  a standard in the solar industry so we wanted to provide detailed information about how they work and how solar companies can use them best.

I spoke with Bret O’Neal, who is a channel manager at BrightGrid. Bret works with all of BrightGrid’s installers on selling residential solar leases. Bret has great insight and pragmatic advice for contractors on how to best sell a lease, what new solar contractors need to focus on, and the difference between cash and lease customers.

Watch the full interview here: 

We spoke for 18 minutes, and here is what we talked about:

Question: What are the top 3 characteristics that make lease customers different from cash customers?

  • 1 – The largest is that lease customers are the majority of the market and that cash customers are a small percentage of the market.
  • 2 – The next difference is that the lease customer is more motivated by simplicity and convenience. A cash customer is more focused on the specifics about the technology and their financial return.
  • 3 – Finally, the lease customers are primarily driven by money and not the environment.

Q: When you’re dealing with managing the sales team, what would you say is really important for a residential installer to understand about the difference between lease and cash sales? How does the difference impact their day-to-day operations?

  • Selling cash projects is a different sales process all together
  • The details of the cash sales will be more on the specifics, both in technology and finance.
  • Selling a lease requires a sales person to really dumb it down and keep it simple and stupid. Going into details will only complicate the sale.
  • All the lease customer wants to know is how much it will save them every month and what will their obligations will be.

Q: You were saying a weak area you notice is pre-qualification in the sales process of solar installers. What is your advice on best practices for solar installers? What do they NEED to ask to be able to determine the difference between a lease and cash customer?

  • First and foremost is that they need to be asking a lot of questions before going to a site visit.
  • The first thing is you want to know exactly what the client is looking for in their solar project.
  • Another great question to ask if “have you ever looked into solar before”. It will give you an idea of what the competitive landscape will look like, and how you prepare your sales proposal.
  • You should analyze the system from satellite before-hand so you have an idea of how you’re going to design the system. I see more installers doing this, but not all of them.
  • Another important item is getting the “yes” condition. It’s something that is hard to object to, but will get them starting to think about buying.
  • Also following up after the 1st call with an email. This still doesn’t happen 100% of the time and with a lease they’ll need a credit requirement.

Q: Have you noticed a lack of asking the most basic questions before the site visit? What is their budget, timeline, new construction vs retrofit, how concerned are they with maintenance. All of these will impact a lease vs cash customer. Are these being asked before the site visit or during the site?

  • I’m glad you ask about this. I call this “BANT”. Budget, Authority, Need and Timeline. You need to establish this BEFORE the site visit.

Q: I’d let to take a step further on this. You have to have a good pre-qualification process and system so that you are seeing QUALITY of leads, turning them into sales and YOU KNOW what a quality leads looks like and where they’re coming from.  But what are you seeing for best practices on a site visit? I’ve heard of companies making 2 or 3 site visits and that seems crazy. It’s a waste of time and money. Should a company’s goal be to make 1 site visit and close 50% of the time?

  • It’s tough. I think the goal should be to close on the 1st site visit. Sometimes it will take a followup call but it should not take a 2nd site visit.
  • If you’re making a 2nd site visit, you’re not collecting enough information, or you don’t have a good enough process in the pre-qualification or 1st site visit to gather the information you need.

Q: We’ve talked about this in other interviews in the series, what do you notice is the difference between selling  ‘early adopter’ and ‘mass market’ customers? Where do you think we are in the process? Clearly it’s moving towards mass market, but where are we right now?

  • We’re still in the early adopter phase. If we focus on states that are strong with solar, we’re likely passed the ‘innovator stage’ and into the ‘early adopter’. I think we’re a year or two out before we hit the mass market and before we do this, we’re really going to want to simplify the process even more.
  • The market will also need consolidate and standardize.
  • If you get a proposal from 5 different companies they will all look the same in the future.

Q: Continuing on that trend, penetrating the mass market, have you noticed leasing is gaining more traction with different customer segments (new construction, retrofits, etc) or does it largely depend on local conditions?

  • Incentives play a huge part
  • New construction is surely an emerging market. Despite the economic crash, people are still buying new homes and want solar. They’d like it to be already integrated into their home.
  • That being said, retrofits are still the majority of the solar market and will continue to be so, because the stock is just so large.

Q: The last question is simply, when you’re talking with solar installers, do you tend to notice that there is rule of thumb for installers that are better suited for a solar lease or does it just depend on how dedicated the company is to pushing a lease?

  • The companies that can offer a suite of solutions will have an advantage versus just a solar installer. Many homes will need a new roof or electrical service before solar. If a company can do this work in addition to solar, they will be making more money from each project.
  • All that said, it’s important that every installer employ a strong sales force to make the sales. This sounds simple, but it’s not. Roofers, engineers, general contractors are not sales people by nature so they need to hire a sales force if they’re really serious about solar.

If you are a solar installer and you have questions or would like to work with BrightGrid, you can get more information about their residential financing product here.

To watch the whole 5 part series right now, sign up for the free course “How to Use Solar Leases to Grow your Solar Business”