Whether you're a solar expert or just getting started, it can be difficult to identify the best ways to find success in the retail solar industry. Here are our top ten tips for helping you succeed and grow.
1. Be the source for the customer to learn about solar
You're the expert, and your customers will trust you (and are more likely to refer you) if you offer yourself up as a resource to answer all of their solar questions. You're not just a business trying to sell them a product--you can teach them about how solar works, how it can work for them, and which solar solutions (and products) will fit their needs. Be honest and straightforward, and you'll create a reputation for yourself as the go-to solar installer in your area.
2. Remind your customer why solar power makes sense
There are a lot of reasons why someone might want to go solar, and it's important to address all of them to make sure you're on the same page as your customer, or to help them see solar in a new light that will push them to make their decision. Some of the main reasons solar power makes sense are:
- It helps you reduce your carbon footprint, and it's good for the environment
- You can own your own power, giving you energy independence
- It's a solid investment, and will provide a good return on investment
- It can help increase their home's value for resale
3. Know your target customer
Who are you targeting? Knowing your niche, and pursuing it directly, will help you be successful when selling solar. Residential and commercial solar share commonalities, but the sales tactics (and the decision-makers) can differ dramatically. What are the key issues for the homeowner? What are the key issues for a commercial customer? Knowing these issues, and having the answers to address them, will set you apart from the competition.
4. Don’t forget to make the sale
Although it's important to be a resource to your customer, closing the sale should always be your ultimate goal. Guide your customer toward the solution you think is best for them--it can help to focus on a standard product that you know will work, and provide options/upgrades around it. Give them a quote for the various options with your recommendation, be clear on payment terms and return on investment, and let the customer make the decision--they will appreciate your flexibility and straightforwardness. And remember to always have an alternate option in your back pocket to make sure you're ready for all possibilities. You never want to leave a potential sale on the table!
5. Do the upfront work
Being a successful in solar requires time and dedication, but your effort will pay off. Lay the groundwork needed to make every project a success: research potential product offerings to ensure you're selling only the best; spend the time needed for proper project and site engineering; and get a clear sense of timing for product delivery, assembly, and installation. Know how everything will come together, and create a realistic project timeline (accounting for any unforeseen setbacks). Be able to communicate this clearly with customer, and know what your backup plan will be if anything goes wrong. Being organized when you get started is key to success down the road.
6. Be efficient on sourcing components and hiring sub-contractors
Being successful in solar requires delegation and relationship-building. You cannot and should not do it all yourself--you need to find the right people to work with, and create lasting relationships with them to ensure ongoing success. You should:
- Develop relationships with key component suppliers. Have good, reliable sources for panels, racking, inverters, hardware, etc. Having components you can rely on will make all the difference.
- Identify hard-working and efficient key sub-contractors who can get the job done when you need it. Depending on the size and skillset of your permanent crew, you might need to find on-call electricians, excavators, concrete suppliers, and trucking/shipping companies, to name a few.
- Create a relationship with the local utility. Know what is needed to hook up the system and be online, and identify any key processes to getting a project pushed through. It's also important to be up-to-date on your local utility's policies with regards to solar (such as net metering caps) so that you can keep your clients informed.
7. Know your costs
Before starting a project, it's important to get the full picture of what it will cost. Be sure to account for unexpected expenses and hidden line items that can add up more quickly than you expect! At a minimum, you need to know:
- Total cost for the components/hardware
- Total cost for sub-contracting, site work, and electrical work
- Time and manpower needed to complete the installation
- A realistic margin in your estimate for unexpected contingencies--and for profit
8. Know your business
Being able to understand who you are as a business, be clear on what your goals are, identify any limitations, and define how you're differentiated from your competition goes a long way. Create a niche for yourself, and make sure you're taking advantage of every opportunity within it. And don't try to stretch before you're ready: be realistic about the size and scope of projects you should pursue, and unless you have the in-depth knowledge, resources, and staff capacity to get involved with other aspects of the solar process (such as leasing and financing), stick with what you know--and do--best.
You also need to be able to articulate what makes you stand apart from the competition. What unique products do you sell? How do the services you offer make you different from your competitors? Spend some time analyzing these factors, then dedicate some effort to marketing and outreach to promote them. The value of well-executed, targeted marketing cannot be overstated: you can't simply wait for customers to show up and to realize that you're better than the rest. You need to bring them in and tell them why!
9. Stay current on the industry
Solar is a dynamic industry, with new products constantly coming to market and costs, tax credits, incentives continuously evolving. It's important to stay up-to-date on the market to be the best available resource to your customers. Make sure you're in the know.
10. Believe in your business
Solar is a great industry, and offers incredible business opportunities. Although getting started or reaching a level of success might feel challenging, just remember how much the industry stands to expand, and how important the work you're doing is. Solar helps you do right by the environment, gets you involved in a growing and dynamic field, and lets you make a difference in your community (and in the world at large) while growing a successful business at the same time.