Solar Builder

MAR-APR 2018

Solar Builder focuses on the installation/construction of solar PV systems. We cover the latest PV technology (modules, mounting, inverters, storage, BOS) and equip installers/contractors with tips and tools to make informed purchasing decisions.

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"We don't rely on anyone to support us on leads and marketing. Leads are hard to come by, period," Manasse says. So, don't make leads a top reason to join a manufac- turer installer program, but this should be a top reason to join an online sales network or third-party bidding platform. Strengthen your sales Despite falling system costs overall, cus- tomer acquisition costs have actually risen over the past several years, increasing from $0.41/watt in 2013 to $0.52/watt in 2016, according to GTM Research, which is due in part to previously winning sales strategies like lead purchasing and canvassing becom- ing less efficient. But GTM Research expects customer acquisition costs to decline back to $0.40/watt by 2022 by means of further market maturity, proliferation of the long tail of installers and changes in lead generation strategies. Key to this are more sales converted online. According to GTM's U.S. Residential Solar PV Customer Acquisition 2017 report, third-party bidding platforms are expected to grow in popularity as consumers become more comfortable shopping for solar online. EnergySage, for example, is the most heavily trafficked website in the solar industry, attracting a wide variety of in-market, moti- vated customers who are more likely to convert because they're already in the midst of researching and shopping for solar. EnergySage reports that the average close time through its site is only two to three months, compared to the industry average of eight to nine months. "Based on our research, we've found that installers can increase sales while reducing customer acquisition costs by 50 percent or more on our platform," says Vikram Aggarawal, CEO of EnergySage. There is a measure of quality control on the EnergySage site as well, with listed installers needing to show at least three years of experience, licensure and insurance, NABCEP certification and a high level of customer service. But this strategy isn't for every business because of its emphasis on immediate quotes and price, so you will have to weigh the pros and cons of casting that wider net for sales and how you will inter- nally approach those leads. Strengthening your online presence, whether you join a third-party network or not, is a powerful tool. A nice value-add in CertainTeed's Master Installer program, for example, is a search engine optimization consultation for your website to help make sure as many potential online customers as possible can find and navigate your website. Strengthen your offering The residential solar market has shifted as homeowners now see the value of own- ing their PV system versus turning to third- party owned leases (down to about 37 per- cent of the market in 2017, from 53 percent in 2016, according to GTM Research). This is likely a trend here to stay. "According to market research, 50 per- cent of all home improvement projects over $5,000 are financed in some way. Despite this, many homeowners don't know about financing options," says John Harris, EVP, sales and marketing with EnerBank, which has funded almost 1 million home improve- ment projects. "We've learned firsthand that contractors who promote a choice of payment options typically see a 50 percent increase in their leads and close rate — resulting in a 50 percent overall business growth rate." And thanks to that mature solar market and the abundance of quality systems and designs, there are more financial products available than ever before. Some examples: Spruce Finance allows solar contractors to choose one of two different solar loan product structures, both with an 18-month introductory period. The first requires interest payments during the introductory period; the second requires only 70 percent of principal plus interest to be repaid dur- ing the introductory period. An automatic re-amortization at the end of month 18 creates an opportunity to reduce scheduled payments for the rest of the term of the loan if a homeowner does make any option- al prepayments during the 18-month intro- ductory period. Spruce also offers a variety of loan terms to allow a solar contractor to respond to different homeowner needs. "Our solar loan offering is structured specifically to address residential solar cus- tomers, unlike other traditional consumer loan or credit card products," says Joe Steenbergen, VP of sales and account man- agement for Spruce. "The goal [of the introductory period] is to provide the homeowner with time to make optional prepayments, for example from local, state or federal incentives they may be eligible for through ownership of their residential solar system." Spruce uses a combination of FICO score and other key requirements to respon- sibly offer financing based on a homeown- er's ability to pay, but some programs out there do not look at FICO scores. In addition to the loans, using SpruceFlow, solar contractors can offer homeowners a lease, PPA or property assessed clean energy (PACE) product all within the same plat- form, removing any hassle involved in switching among different providers. Bonus: Spruce also offers a Volume Incentive Pricing (VIP) program that allows its solar 24 M A R C H / A P R I L 2 0 1 8 Having the right insurance coverage is pretty much mandatory to earn any solar installer credential. In addition to standard cover- ages like general liability, professional liability, workers' compensation, property and auto, ProSight Specialty Insurance recommends a solar contractors' insurance that offers unique provisions like drone coverage, enhanced jobsite tools protection, mold coverage and ProSight's own obstruction of premises supplemental (OOPS) coverage. The latter offers limits to contractors for installation mishaps that cause damage to a client's living quarters or that renders the residence uninhabitable. Partnering with ProSight for your insurance also eases some administrative burdens of your staff, offering services like background checks, drug testing and certificate management to help ensure subcontractors are adequately insured. STRENGTHEN YOUR COVERAGE

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