Solar Software Tools Slashing Soft Costs

It’s estimated installers spend up to $3,000 to acquire each new customer. This high price of customer acquisition is one of the many so called “soft costs” that increase the price of solar and reduce installer margins. Every step along the road to a signed contract has inefficiencies, which is spurring new software solutions to help installers increase their sales volume and close deals faster.

As a whole, solar professionals responsible for sales and marketing have created processes that favor post rather than pre-qualification of prospective customers.  They have also been content with taking weeks to present home owners with a sales proposals, and running the risk of impatient customers going with someone else.

“They’re not taking a targeted approach to direct marketing then they end up wasting time with leads that don’t represent real opportunity,” says Marc Guy, of the solar lead generation startup Faze1

Guy says the average direct mail campaign employed by a solar installer collects 10,000 unqualified leads.  At a 1.5 percent conversion rate, this usually provides 150 prospects.  If 30 percent of those are qualified with a 5 percent conversion rate on closing a sale, a company typically ends up with two customers.  Start with a batch of 10,000 pre-qualified leads and Guy says an installer could end up with three times the customers at the end of the process.

As pre-qualified leads are critical for installer success, Guy’s company Faze1 has designed web-based mapping software that allows solar installers to interact with the critical information they need to know about prospective customers. Installers can search homes in a region and filter for pre-qualification characteristics such as property type, owner-occupancy, credit worthiness, estimated system size, utility providers and more.

Launched from beta in March, early users of Faze1 are creating highly targeted campaigns, from direct mail to door-to-door, and screening incoming leads on-demand.  With minimal upfront costs, users only pay for the contacts they wish to use in marketing campaigns.  Currently, Faze1 is only available in Massachusetts, but Guy says they plan to incorporate New Jersey and California into the tool soon.

High quality leads however do not guarantee solar installers will close the deals.  The solar sales process usually includes a myriad of bottlenecks, such as the weeks it can take to collect electric utility bills from homeowners, and the hours spent designing the layout and securing financing options, not to mention the headache of keeping documents organized between team members.  Shortening this sales process is critical if installers want to convert their strong leads into sales. 

Recently launched from beta, enACT Systems is addressing what CEO Deep Chakraborty sees as a large need in the solar industry, a robust, yet easy to use software tool for mid to small solar installation businesses.  With enACT Systems, installers can build a full, professional sales proposal in as fast as five minutes. 

enACT Systems starts where customer relationship management (CRM) systems like SalesForce stop.  Once engaged in sales conversations, enACT allows channel users to accurately size systems with its complete database of solar products, drag and drop rooftop layouts on images of the house in question, incorporate customer energy usage, factor in specific rebates, and evaluate real financing offer online. 

enACT automates the whole sales process and document management system into a cloud based solution that’s accessible anywhere.  Moreover, the web conferencing feature allows sales professionals to draw up proposals right in front of customers.  Within minutes, home owners have a proposal they can evaluate and sign.

enACT includes rate information for all 3,500 utilities in the U.S., as well as utilizes the Department of Energy Green Button data for California is loaded in the software.  When installers waste weeks on finding rate payer data, the feature can dramatically reduce this critical bottleneck.

The software is also able to compare multiple available funding options such as loans, cash and PACE financing.  If initial savings are not enough, users can go back and forth between the design and savings screens to resize the system for optimal energy production and savings.  In the end, enACT generates professional point-of-sale proposals with all the information, including graphics of the proposed array layout and projected energy generation. Signature boxes encourage installers to close customers on the spot and get started right away.

Software like Solmetric’s PV Designer picks up the process from enACT Systems.  The PV Designer software allows residential and small commercial installers to quickly transform sales proposals into final engineering proposals.  PV Designer allows installers to draw roof outlines, specify set-backs and keep-out regions, incorporate SunEye shade measurements at specific locations on the roof, drag-and-drop modules, size strings, check inverter limits, and calculate the AC energy production for a system. Installers can try different design scenarios and compare their AC kWh outputs side-by-side to identify the best design.

Automating the lead qualification and solar sales process for installers is just the first step for the industry.  As it grows, more and more electrical and heating/cooling contractors are expected to offer solar to their customers combined with energy efficiency retrofits, such as lighting, heating and cooling improvements.  Bundling these projects together is proving increasingly attractive to banks.  Yet, such packages can be even more complicated to develop than solar alone. This will only increase the lead generation and sales complexity, making workflow management and transaction platforms that are simpler and easy to use critical. 

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Charles Ferer is former president of EchoFirst (formerly PVT Solar) and Sungevity. Ferer also served as CFO at Sungevity, as well as at SolarCity and the Gap brand Old Navy, among others. He has held numerous board positions for solar companies, including Sungevity and now enACT Systems.

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