What Technology Are Solar Installers Using To Win in 2021?

Throughout the past tough year, solar installers have proven their resilience and agility more than ever. To discover how they’re adapting to the new economy, we recently launched our Solar Technology Benchmark Survey. After hearing from over 600 installers about what technology solar installers are using, we came away with many insights. While the full report is available here, this post introduces some of our major findings:

The Biggest Risk and the Biggest Opportunity

#1 Risk: Customers Delaying Or Cancelling Payment 

27% of respondents said that the biggest risk to their businesses would be customers delaying or canceling their payments. This risk was shared most among small solar companies with 32% listing it as a big concern, while enterprise companies listed it only half as often.

#1 Opportunity: Sell Remotely/Virtually

Fortunately, installers have found success through new ways of doing business. For example, 30% of installers think that doing solar sales remotely presents the biggest opportunity. The CEO of Zenernet, J.P. Gerken, notes, “We’ve seen remote sales result in significantly lower cancellation rates than in-person solar sales.”  

As they’ve adapted to the social distancing era, many solar installers have already incorporated remote sales processes.

How to Sell Remotely

To take advantage of remote solar sales opportunities, installers need to implement a strategy that generates and nurtures high-quality leads. A major difference from traditional sales is that building a relationship with each client — including meetings about site assessments, models, designs, and proposals — will usually happen via video calls instead of in-person. This difference in format affects how to approach each step of the sales cycle, from the, “we’re just thinking about solar” phase to project completion.

For example, successful video meetings require a bit more preparation than in-person meetings. Extra steps include choosing an easy-to-use video conferencing platform and asking for pictures of the customer’s electric bills and electrical panel beforehand. Similarly, you should try to use easily shareable site design tools and auto-signature apps to make your proposals easier to understand and sign.

Below are a few resources that will show you how to create an effective remote sales funnel and/or strengthen the one you already have:

Opportunity #2: Cut Soft Costs by Streamlining Processes

Managing time efficiently was the second biggest opportunity for improvement that solar installers saw for the near future. Nearly a quarter (23%) of solar companies consider “streamlining internal operations” a major priority for 2021.

How to Reduce Solar Soft Costs

According to SEIA, while the total cost of residential systems has declined by more than 65% over the last decade, the majority of these cost reductions were in hard costs such as panels, inverters, and hardware.

In contrast, the relative soft cost of a system has actually risen: from 58% of a total system’s cost (2014) to 65% (2020).

These increased soft costs are partly due to lack of efficient processes. For example, permitting issues and delays are the third most common risk installers mentioned with over 20% of installers citing them. And permit issues are just one of the many process-related bottlenecks that prevent solar teams from closing more deals and finishing more projects.

One way to speed up your permitting process is by using a tool like the Orange Button initiative, which is a free resource of continually updated open-source permit information.

How to Streamline: Invest in Time-saving Technology

For local installers, the biggest improvement area that Aurora’s survey revealed was using a CRM (Customer Response Management) system.

Solar businesses with more than 25 employees are doing well in this respect as 83% of them use a CRM system. In contrast, however, only 43% of smaller solar businesses use a CRM. Lacking a CRM system can prevent your business from optimizing your processes and could hurt your business’s growth.

Several other digital technologies, including proposal, design, and financing software, are allowing solar installers to accelerate both their deal and their project cycles. The most effective solutions allow everything to be done in one place: for example, Aurora’s software contains site analysis, design, and proposal capabilities.

Check out Aurora’s report for the full list of technology types and how these platforms are used by installers.

Outsourcing: When It Helps And When It Doesn’t 

Outsourced services such as permitting, design, and modeling allow installers to scale up and down quickly. This agility helps their operating capacity keep pace with fluctuating demand throughout the economic recovery.

But these convenient options only help if you keep tight quality controls. That includes the solar installer’s perennial favorite outsourced item: lead lists.

Why You Shouldn’t Depend on Outsourced Lead Lists

It’s easy, tempting, and popular to outsource leads. In fact, over 33% of solar installers rely on purchasing their leads from 3rd party providers to augment their own lead-generation efforts.

But it’s not always worth the cost. Since 3rd party leads are often sold to multiple installers, these leads are less likely to result in deals for your business.

While it’s possible to buy unique leads (which are more likely to result in deals for your business) these are usually more expensive.

The best solution is to prioritize your in-house solar lead generation, viewing third-party leads as complementary to that main effort. For tips on how to do so, listen to Aurora’s free recorded webinar How to Upgrade your Lead-Generation Program for the Post-Covid Era.

Conclusion

If you haven’t yet upgraded to many of these technologies, services, and strategies, now’s the perfect time to examine your processes with the help of the Benchmark Report and expert’s insights on it. Integrating technology as a solar installer could give your business the edge it needs to flourish in 2021 and beyond.

Allison Ruedig

Allison Ruedig is a freelance copywriter who specializes in solar and cleantech content. She has enjoyed creating email campaigns, blog posts, ebooks, and lead magnets for numerous renewable energy companies.