By Jason Polka, CEO of Modernize
Some people find the residential solar power industry to be the “salesperson’s dream.”
It starts with strong homeowner motivations, whether it’s reducing energy bills or saving the planet. Then there are sweeteners that can be used to close deals like the still-available tax incentives, fact-based calculators for number crunching customers and the growing body of long-term solar users who can provide convincing references.
But, in fact, there are three big reasons solar projects are indeed still hard to sell:
- Upfront Cost. The up-front cost of a solar project exceeds the available savings of many homeowners. In fact, Modernize surveys show that when homeowners cancel or delay a home improvement project, 43% of the time it’s because the project became “too expensive.”
- Lack of urgency. Unlike leaky roofs or failing air conditioners that must be replaced, a home solar installation is an optional project. Since homeowners can easily put off doing a solar project, Modernize research shows that 14% of homeowners who cancel projects do so because they’re just not that urgent.
- Competition. You know there’s a lot of competition. Here’s a statistic that backs it up: One-third of residential solar shoppers get exactly two quotes, and a whopping 60% get three or more competing proposals.
In this competitive environment, good salesmanship is needed to win. Imagine how much you could improve your residential solar sales numbers and bottom line if your team could close just one additional deal for every 10 proposals you make.
To win more business, consider the customers’ perspective. Each quarter Modernize surveys over 1,000 homeowners about their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors about solar energy projects they’re considering for their home. One key question in the survey is “What attribute of a contractor’s sales process would make you most likely to not hire them?” More than 80% of the turn-off factors boiled down to four things: tardiness, lack of communication, lack of expertise and an unclear/confusing quote.
Let’s look at each of these in turn, with the lessons they can tell us about how to avoid “deal-killers” with residential solar customers.
The first of our deal-killing factors, mentioned by 16% of surveyed homeowners, is tardiness – meaning late for or missed appointments. Customers simply don’t want to work with people who don’t value their time. One customer we surveyed, Wayne, told us: “After waiting half an hour past our confirmed appointment time, I finally called the contractor’s 800 number. The office tried to convince me there wasn’t an appointment that Friday, that they had me booked for Monday, so I simply canceled them altogether.”
Proactive contractors, like Charles Kennett and Ron Williams, owners of Vegas Solar in Las Vegas, have a philosophy — If you’re not early, you’re late. To ensure their promptness, they rely on shared Google Calendars and automatic reminders that give them sufficient notice to be on-time. Kennett cautioned, “When another person or another company like Modernize sets up your appointments, it’s triply important to show up when scheduled. The customer shouldn’t have to worry about our internal communications.”
Lack of communication
Another barrier, indicated by 20% of solar prospects in our survey, was that poor communications led them to rule out a particular contractor. An extreme example is the contractor who is simply non-responsive, described by customer Ray, “Nobody showed, nobody called, nobody did anything. Now I’m thinking the whole operation is a scam.”
Communication also means keeping the customer’s interests at the forefront. Another solar prospect’s horror story: “The ‘estimator’ was personable but too much like a used car salesman. After polite social banter, he wasted three hours giving the demo spiel, company history and competitive comparisons, then failed to provide a dollar quote. He called later with an outrageous estimate, then danced around pitching a monthly payment scheme. I would never hire a company that uses such hard sales tactics.”
When we asked Vegas Solar team members how they kept communications in line, they stressed followup and expectation setting, such as letting the customers know exactly who would be showing up at their doors. Williams added, about their solar sales techniques, “It’s important to go beyond the standard cookie-cutter presentation. Find out what the consumer is really looking for. Does their interest in a solar project mean they want to rework the entire roof? Are they concerned about power outages? You don’t know if you don’t ask and listen.”
Lack of expertise
21% of solar prospects surveyed indicated their perceived lack of expertise was a barrier. A solar installation is not a do-it-yourself project, so customers are clearly going to want to work with someone they see as knowledgeable.
Expertise can mean knowing how to work with customers. Our survey respondent Tom complained, “The contractor’s rep was knowledgeable about his products but could not read what we needed as a homeowner. He kept getting off track and wouldn’t complete a thought, so he didn’t get the bid.”
When we discussed this point with the Vegas Solar team, they cautioned that product knowledge can be a two-edged sword and offered this about using expertise in the solar sales process: “Some customers, but not all, need to tap into deep product and industry expertise. It’s important to tune into how to educate potential customers,” said Williams. “Customers sourced from door-knocking often need more education. Other prospects, like those sourced from lead-generation companies, are educated and ready to buy. It’s best not to come across as too expert because it can be seen as arrogance.”
Unclear or confusing quote
The No. 1 factor identified by solar prospects of why they would not choose a contractor, selected by 25% or our respondents, was receiving an unclear or confusing quote. Doesn’t that seem like the easiest factor to control, as well?
Williams and Kennett told us, “When we took over this business, the first thing we changed was how we did quotes. While Sighten and Aurora create strong designs and accurate estimates, they were designed by engineers, not salespeople. We take their output, tailor it to the customer’s interests and package it into a Keynote presentation.”
Regarding presentation medium, they warn against being too technical. “Some packages assume you’ll present on an iPad. We find that with Baby Boomer prospects, that can be a turn-off. That’s why we like to deliver a paper version of our proposals.”
Contractors, take heed. Watch out for those common deal-killers, and turn up the win-rates on your opportunities with these solar sales tips!
Jason Polka is the CEO of Modernize, a company that uses business intelligence software to connect homeowners with contractors. Jason has led numerous initiatives to identify and execute new service and differentiated product opportunities within the contractor referral market. Modernize is the largest provider of solar leads as well as leads for window and door replacements, HVAC, roofing, and siding installations. The company’s business model is designed to simplify and remove any friction from the process of hiring a contractor.