Solar Speed Post

When solar installers vent their frustrations about controlling soft costs, a leading cause of their pain remains customer acquisition. At the recent GTM Solar Software Summit (S3), panelists from Sunrun, SolarCity, and Hawaii-based RevoluSun shared their experiences in streamlining residential sales and improving customer engagement. They revealed some important solar marketing insights on where they lost the most customers in the sales process. One key part of the solution that they all agreed on: the need for speed.

Sunrun’s Eric Reinhardt, director of software product management, said that Sunrun’s biggest lead acquisition pain point results from the great deal of time and resources required to find customers, qualify leads, and educate them about solar. But if the company doesn’t set an appointment quickly or generate a quote fast enough, the opportunity could be quickly lost.

“They go back to their lives,” he explained. “We can keep calling them back to reschedule, but their interest window has closed, and they’re no longer interested until maybe we catch them again when we knock on their door or they come into Costco.”

Sunrun’s speed-based strategy uses automated and human resources to qualify and respond rapidly to each lead.

“If we can characterize the leads and understand what they are as soon as possible, then we can get them to a rep as soon as possible, and then we can give them numbers as soon as possible,” said Reinhardt. “That’s why it’s critical to figure out upfront everything you can about the home and about the customer so that you can kick off the proposal generation process immediately. Then you can get a customer a quote in minutes, they can understand it a lot faster, and they don’t go home and go back to their lives and forget about it.”

Katie DeWitt, director of product management of SolarCity, had a similar view. “There’s such a correlation about the time between steps and fallout,” she noted. “In places where we have over-the-counter permits, there are fewer cancelations because things just happen more quickly. There’s less time [for customers] to worry, to change their mind, or for something else in their life to get in the way.”

DeWitt said that SolarCity’s software strategy uses smart routing to accelerate closing the lead as fast and as efficiently as possible. When a lead comes in, it’s routed to the nearest available rep with the highest close rate.

“We’re trying to get the customers who are ready to talk to a great sales rep as soon as possible,” she explained. “Maybe you’ve done some research online, maybe you’re ready to go, and then maybe you wait and talk to someone at a dinner party that night who says that solar is a bad idea, and we never hear from you again. If we can engage you with great content and information as soon as you express interest, that would address a lot of the early stage fallout.”

While some solar companies are building internal software to speed the residential onboarding and quote process, some obstacles remain out of their hands, especially when it comes to dealing with the utilities.

RevoluSun CEO Joshua Powell related how he can lose a lot of customers during Hawaii’s abnormally long interconnection process.

“We’re through the worst of it now, but we’ve had an average 18-month utility delay in Hawaii,” he said. “That kind of wait period is devastating for customers. Once that customer gets through an approval process, you’re investing so much money in retention you might be doubling your acquisition costs for retention. That’s painful.”

There are a growing number of solar customer acquisition software platforms available to stressed installers. The Utility API app automatically downloads customer data from utilities, resulting in a faster, no-hassle quote. Eltropy enables a customer journey solution that helps both consumers and solar companies see where they are in the customer acquisition and installation process.

So if you’re a software entrepreneur with an innovative solution for speeding up the user journey through the sales funnel, residential solar companies need your help—fast.

Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza is the chief marketing officer of solar at Kiterocket. Follow him on Twitter at @SolarFred and @Solar_ThinkTank.