Customer requests, such as migrating a 120kW array from rooftop (left) to carport (right), can be incorporated directly by the salesperson when using sales software.
By Paul Grana and Paul Gibbs, Special To Solar Power World
The commercial solar sales process is complicated. A sales team must understand the customer’s goals, propose a PV system that is cost- and performance-optimized, and keep improving the speed of the sales cycle each year to stay ahead of the competition.
With the failure rate on commercial proposals around 90%, a sales team needs to get out dozens of proposals each month. With falling prices and margins, the window of a ‘buildable’design is getting smaller —yet the time available to prepare a design is only getting smaller. Plus, because the sales proposals must run through the engineering team, an engineering bottleneck can bring new sales to a halt. System design has become the lynchpin of the solar-sales process.
This design crunch explains why new tools have become critical for helping sales and engineering teams work more efficiently. New design tools (such as HelioScope by Folsom Labs for commercial systems, or CPF Tools by Clean Power Finance for residential systems) are emerging that offer improved design speed, real-time collaboration and, perhaps most importantly, a more intuitive interface that enables the sales team to generate designs on their own.
As these tools spread, they are shaking up the traditional sales model. No longer is engineering solely responsible for the system design-and-production estimates. Instead, the sales team can handle the initial screening, feasibility study and initial system design & costing on their own. They can then present the system to the customer and incorporate the customer’s feedback into the next revision. The sales team can even then spearhead the value-engineering and internal approval before presenting the final bid to the customer.
Throughout this process, the engineering team can still be involved for oversight and design approvals. But now, the engineering team is no longer on the critical-path of closing new customers. This new sales process has a number of important benefits:
Keeps Sales Moving. When the engineering team is responsible for both revenue-generating projects and proposals, there should be no surprise which side gets priority when things get busy. After all, the proposal has a 90% chance of yielding nothing. But this has the effect that an engineering bottleneck can bring sales to a halt. With a self-sufficient sales team, the customer pipeline can be maintained, no matter how backed up the engineering team gets.
Tighten The Customer Feedback Loop. With salespeople generating their own system designs from the start, this has the added benefit of dramatically tightening the feedback loop with the customer: The salesperson can actually adjust the layout in person with the customer during the initial consultation. In addition to dazzling the customer, this can take weeks off of the sales process, compared to the traditional process of sending notes back to the engineering team for a new spin of the module layout.
Free up Engineering to Live in the World of As-Built Projects. Despite much of the preliminary engineering front-loaded to the sales team, this does not mean that the engineers can take a day off. Instead, they can focus on the projects that are green-lighted, and stay on top of the many day-to-day issues there. In fact, this increased focus from engineering can help speed up the delivery time of revenue projects, which will be needed with the increased velocity from the sales team.
While each company is unique, this new structure is being adopted by both large and small developers and presents one more opportunity to improve efficiency and reduce the total cost of deploying solar.
Gibbs and Grana are the co-founders of Folsom Labs, which has developed the Helioscope project-creation software.
Read more Solar Boot-up articles from Folsom Labs here.