The tired sales phrase “always be closing” may have killed more solar deals than it ever landed. It’s not wrong, per se, but dramatically and widely, misunderstood. Early on in my solar sales career, I remember walking around believing that stock sales phrases were like magic, and if I just said the right words about solar with exactly the right intonation, clients would start lining up to follow me to a signable agreement. Like pied piper with his magic flute, I would simply create the perfect music to keep them marching forward.
This approach led me to try to pivot every part of every client conversation to talking about the benefits of solar, searching for the magic words that would instantly close someone over the phone. My impatience lost me a lot of potential clients. The problem was that I didn’t know what I was selling. Most solar sales consultants don’t.
The truth is, you don’t sell solar. There is no single moment where your client is going to decide “I should buy a solar system.”
Instead, at any given moment, you are selling your client on taking the next step in the solar sales process. If you sell them on taking the next step, ten times in a row, you will have sold them solar.
Reframing selling solar as guiding your client’s solar journey is a major theme of our recently launched course “The Psychology of Solar Sales,” and here I want to lay out what the key steps in the solar journey look like for most clients. In this article, I’m breaking down the ideas that you’re selling into a ten step path that works well for the vast majority of clients.
Don’t take it too literally – every once in a while, you can close with some steps out of order. And you can (and should!) lay the foundation for future steps at each stage of the conversation. But if you try to skip steps altogether, you’re almost guaranteed to lose clients that would have been a great fit for solar.
The key is to “always be closing” on the right thing. So here are the actions that you’re actually trying to sell to your clients.
- They shouldn’t hang up on you or ghost you
Most clients start out skeptical, if not outright hostile, particularly if you’ve canvassed their home or cold-called them (or tepid-called them, as I liked to say about leads from third-party lead gen who often were rarely as “warm” as the sellers made them out to be). It’s human nature to go into a low-level threat response when confronted by someone who wants something. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, our brains perceive a salesperson much the same way they once saw a lion looking for lunch on the savanna. Threat detection alarms go off when we think we might be manipulated or bullied. This causes us to close off and look for ways out of a sales conversation before it’s started.
The first idea that you have to sell a client is that your client should give you a chance. This is as much about you as a person as it is about solar. Of course, you have to build curiosity about the product, but ultimately, your focus has to be on connecting on a personal level and developing mutual friendliness, so you aren’t perceived as a threat.
We cover lots of tools for this in the Principle of Liking lesson of the Psychology of Solar Sales course, like using cold reads, understanding the structure of great compliments, techniques for identifying mutual interests, as well as how to find the right balance between being authentic and avoiding oversharing. But whatever your tactics, “closing” the first step just means being seen as a potential friend and ally with useful information instead of an enemy or threat.
- They should share their values, pain points, and personal information
This step is foundational, and yet one of the most common for sales consultants to skip. It shows in their close rates. The difference between good and great sales is all about listening. Great sales consultants make every client feel like their proposal was made customized for them, based on a deep knowledge of what they want to achieve. They deeply understand their clients concerns and values, and weave connections between the client’s goals and the product or service. But to be able to listen, you first have to sell your client on the idea that it’s ok to share about themselves.
Persuading someone you just met to talk about their financial dreams and their anxieties (not to mention their tax returns and social security number!) is a big challenge, and requires a lot of subtlety and sensitivity on the part of the sales consultant. Course subscribers can review the lessons on the Principles of Reciprocity and Authority for many strategies for building that safety, partnership, and trust. The short version is this: show your client that you care about what they care about, ask lots of good questions, and have confidence in your solar expertise while remaining humble and curious.
- They should commit to putting their time and energy into the solar sales process
Developing the best possible solar proposal for a client is a lot of work – not just for you, but also for the client. If a client isn’t sold on doing the work of showing up for meetings, conducting their own research, and initiating any necessary conversations with their partner/their tax advisor/their homeowner’s insurance/etc., they’ll eventually become overwhelmed and ghost, or become impatient and demand that you just “send them a proposal.” This is a place where the “upfront contracting” technique we cover throughout the course is critical.
The good news is that if you can close a client on investing time in the process early on, the chances of a successful sale skyrocket. The science of psychology tells us that the more we have invested in a process, particularly a challenging process, the more valuable we think it is. (Side note: psychologists think this is why “hazing” rituals at fraternities and sports teams are so persistent. Hazing builds loyalty. No one wants to believe that they went streaking through the quad wearing nothing but the head of a chicken costume for no good reason).
- They should agree to a decision making process and stick to it
I hate to remember how many times I mentally willed a client to reach for a pen, only to have them again tell me that they felt like they needed to do a little more research. Weeks later, I’d often find out that they’d shopped our proposal with several other companies, ended up in analysis paralysis, and were going to “wait until next year” to decide. Tag that one as “lost, probably forever” in your CRM.
Great sales consultants work with a client at the very beginning of the sales process to define exactly what information they need to gather. The key here is explicitly agreeing with your client about what their decision making process will be, and then holding them to that agreement. The exact process is going to depend on the client. Your company likely has a standard process that you can explain. Early on in the sales process, you should prompt them to add any of their own elements that they need to feel secure. This might include online research, important conversations, even getting proposals from other companies if that’s something they know they want.
Whatever the process is, it must be clear and they must be committed to it. If not, you won’t know how you can help, and they won’t know when it’s time to stop gathering information and make a decision. The reality is they’ll never know everything there is to know about solar (I still don’t after more than a decade in the renewables industry!)
We cover tips for building this type of agreement throughout the course, but check out the lessons on “Reciprocity,” “Consistency”, “Payments, Financing, and the Psychology of Choice,” and “Strategies for Technical Communication: How Great Teachers Close More Deals”, for some key components of building a “decision making process” agreement and then making good on it. Also check out the “Sales Qualification Script Walkthrough” for an example of how to put it into practice.
- They should include all potential decision makers in any proposal meeting
This is another step that is often skipped at the sales consultant’s peril. In residential solar sales, this looks like making absolutely sure a spouse or partner will attend a proposal meeting. In commercial solar sales, getting in the room with decision makers (and sometimes even identifying who the real decision makers are) is the very challenging crux of the entire sales process, which can take months (and which really deserves a whole separate blog post – more on that later).
I have a rule here: I never give away a final proposal unless I have the opportunity to speak with everyone who will weigh in on it. The reason for this is simple. Proposals have values embedded in them and no two people have exactly the same values, so I can’t put together the right proposal unless I speak with everyone involved. Do you want the best bang for your buck? The most aesthetically pleasing option? The highest efficiency? Ease of maintenance, best warranty, most reliable? Are you doing this to reduce tax liability, to build wealth, to make energy budgeting easier? Are you worried about carrying financing? Worried about spending saved cash? How are you weighing your values against each other if they conflict?
If you tell me that the other decision makers are completely aligned with you on all of the above, I call shenanigans. Everyone has their own unique perspective. Let’s agree to all have a conversation together and find a good middle ground. Until that meeting I’ll give you info, rough estimates, etc. but not a proposal or a signable agreement.
If you’re talking to one of several decision makers, you’ll need to close them on this step before finalizing any of the next steps. See the “Sales Qualification” script walkthrough for this step in action in the resi context, and the “Listening” module for identifying and working with your clients’ diverse values.
- They should discuss how to pay for the system with you
People get weird when talking about money, and there’s no way around it with solar sales. It’s up to the sales consultant to overcome the awkwardness. On the resi side, closing them on the idea that it’s a important to talk to you, a person who was a stranger a short while ago, about their credit score, available cash, and how long they plan to stay in their home, is a challenge that deserves your full focus. On the commercial side, there’s an added layer of transparency/confidentiality that you’re navigating – the operations guy you’re speaking with may have no idea what’s going on with the company’s overall financials or what the real “budget” is given the range of financing possibilities. See the course’s lessons on “Incentives, Home Value, and the Psychology of Opportunity,” “The Top 5 Most Common Objections,” and “Payments, Financing, and the Psychology of Choice” for more here.
- They should believe that the system sizing, equipment, and financing choices they have made are the best possible choices for them
This idea includes lots of “mini-closes.” The number will depend on the client’s situation. Each option the client needs to decide on (where will the panels be placed, what type of panel, how to pay, etc.) will require a choice – but that’s not the close! You, as a sales consultant, can nudge them toward selections that seem like the best fit for them, but ultimately, you shouldn’t concern yourself too much if they zag when you thought they would zig. After all, you shouldn’t be presenting any bad options, so whatever they choose is fine. The real “close” is persuading them that each choice they’ve made is the right choice for them, so they can feel great about it.
Neglect this step, and they’ll feel a sense of doubt. Neglect to give them choices in the first place, and they’ll feel like they haven’t done enough due diligence to make a decision. We cover many techniques for this in the course – review “Principles of Social Proof,” “Payments, Financing, and the Psychology of Choice”, and the “Proposal Script Walkthrough” for examples.
- They should take the time to understand how your written agreement protects them
This is a key step before asking for a signature. If people can get a little uncomfortable when you talk about money, they can move into full blown panic when you start talking about a contract. Sweaty palms everywhere! The best practice here is to take the pressure off, and take the time to walk through the entire agreement and explain it, clause by clause, in plain English, pausing to allow your client to read the clause and ask questions. It takes a while, but it’s worth it to reduce client anxiety and to avoid misunderstandings.
- They should be excited that your solar proposal solves their pain, connects to their values, and is the safe option
This is the step where it all comes together. You know your client. You know your product. You tell their solar story, make connections, and show them how your solar proposal is the perfect fit for them. Review lessons on “Social Proof,” “Incentives, Home Value, and the Psychology of Opportunity,” and the “Proposal Script Walkthrough” for more information and examples.
- They should sign an agreement right now
Even after your client is persuaded that solar is a great fit, they may want to wait for some poorly defined reason. It’s a core element of human psychology that we naturally avoid rocking the boat (see the lesson on “Loss Aversion” for why). This is where it’s your job to nudge them forward. After all, tomorrow never comes – there’s only ever another today. There are many tactics for this. One of the most useful strategies leverages the psychological principle of scarcity (“We can’t guarantee that the tax credit will be around in the future,” “Our install queue is filling up quickly,” “I’m only able to lock in this price until next Monday”). Another is connecting action to their previous commitments (“When we spoke a few days ago, you said that if the agreement and proposal looked good, that you’d feel good about signing an agreement during this meeting. Is that still true?”)
Check out the lessons on the principles of “Framing,” “Scarcity,” and “Consistency,” as well as the “Proposal Script Walkthrough” for more techniques for building the final momentum to pick up the pen. And remember, this isn’t the last step in the relationship! It’s the final step in the sale, but the first step in turning your client into a referral engine.