With panel and other solar equipment prices bottoming out, the focus across the industry has been (and will continue to be) on reducing soft costs. Lead generation and marketing can be high-cost efforts for any residential solar installer, no matter the location. It’d be nice if you didn’t have to do either, and signed contracts just fell into your lap.
Online solar marketplace Pick My Solar aims to make it nearly that simple. A homeowner visits Pick My Solar’s website to learn solar basics and submit a house for a solar quote. Pick My Solar does all the grunt work of sizing the project and understanding the homeowner’s wants. Pick My Solar installation partners bid on the project remotely, without much effort. The best bid wins the homeowner’s contract. Ten-minutes’ effort on a bid leads to an easy deal.
“The medium and long tail of the industry, they’re great at construction,” said Rex Kehoe, Pick My Solar’s partnership director. “They’re working on their sales and marketing, and we don’t expect to completely replace that, but for some of our best installers, we’re 20% of their pipeline and it’s essentially no risk. They just submit their bid, and if they win, we send them a signed contract. It’s a way to increase their volume and add maybe an extra crew without a lot of investment up front for extra marketing or extra sales guys.”
Pick My Solar’s marketplace has been active for three years. The company got started in Southern California when founders Max Aram and Christopher Blevins wanted to make the “Expedia for solar.” Installers would compete for homeowners’ business, and the Pick My Solar marketplace would act as an independent, unbiased advisor to guide the homeowners through the process.
Right now, Pick My Solar is focusing on 15 hot solar markets, mostly in states on both coasts. Although competitive marketplaces are not in each state just yet, Pick My Solar is working to build installer relationships everywhere with the hope to soon set up shop in all 50 states.
Installers interested in being part of the Pick My Solar marketplace first apply for free online, providing basic company information. After passing the first round of vetting, Kehoe said that’s when Pick My Solar digs for more details on the installation company—reviews from past customers, company profits, insurance and licenses, etc.
“The biggest factor is the internal rating that the installers have with Pick My Solar,” Kehoe said. “Once we start doing business with them, we maintain a relationship with our customers. We get feedback to see if they were satisfied with the installer. Those ratings are really what keeps the installer in high standing with Pick My Solar and awards them future projects.”
The initial effort from the installer is minimal. By the time nearby installers are made aware of a project open for a bid, Pick My Solar has already done an in-house design, sized the system and briefed the homeowner on what to expect. Installers should have everything they need to place a quick and accurate bid, all remotely.
Once the bid deadline has closed, Pick My Solar digitally analyzes and evaluates all the received quotes on more than 50 different factors (including things like quality of equipment and warranties) before presenting the homeowner with the Top 3 options. Throughout the process, all interaction with the customer is done by Pick My Solar representatives. Homeowners aren’t worn down by 15 solar companies trying to get their business, and installers aren’t bothered by basic “how does solar work?” questions.
Colin Swan, CEO of Skytech Solar, said his San Francisco-based company has used other marketplaces before, but Pick My Solar makes securing that contract a lot easier by removing the installer’s burden of following up with bad leads.
“With many customers, it seems like a lot of people out there are kicking tires,” he said. “With [other marketplaces] we have to do the proposals and pick up the phone and call them. Is it worth the time we’re putting in? Pick My Solar has made it really easy for the installer.”
In select areas, Pick My Solar also offers group buys. Instead of installers bidding on every individual project in a close range, Pick My Solar will choose the best two installers in the area (based on customer feedback and Pick My Solar’s internal ranking) and market them to community members, said Kyle Cherrick, head of business development at Pick My Solar.
“We’ll put the [installer] pricing on the website, transparent, so any customer can come on and evaluate their options and compare it to other bids they have,” he said. “[Each installer will] have a couple different packages and we’ll make it simple for the homeowner and get the bulk pricing up front. If the installers are selected for that program, they know they are only being paired against one other installer and they’ve beat everyone else in that competition.”
Installers chosen for group buys get more contracted projects in the same radius, which means they can streamline orders and travel arrangements—less effort from the installer and a cheaper system for the homeowner.
“One of our installers told us that when he knows he has a cluster of installations in the same area, he can lower his costs by 20% just by the economies of scale of sending the same team to the same area with the same permitting, etc.,” Cherrick said.
Any and all solar installers are allowed to apply to be a Pick My Solar installation partner at pickmysolar.com—free of cost. Pick My Solar makes its money by charging “success fees” to the installers in exchange for eliminating high sales and marketing costs.
“We’ve totally eliminated the need for marketing, sales,” Kehoe said. “It’s much less headache on [the installers’] end. They get to focus on what they’re best at—the construction side. We focus on streamlining the marketing and the sales process and really giving a better experience to the homeowner.”