With all the uncertainty and economic turmoil rippling through our economy brought on by the coronavirus, we decided to reach out to several solar installers to see what steps they are taking to weather the storm. We also were looking to understand what has been on their customer’s minds in this challenging time for us all.
“Things have definitely slowed down a little”, says Colin O’Keefe, sales coordinator for CIR Electric in Buffalo, New York. “But, because of that slowness, we’ve had an opportunity to make a lot of new connections with people”.
As a construction company in New York state, CIR is deemed an essential service and solar installers are still working through statewide shelter in place orders. However, the company has had to lay off a few warehouse workers, especially since a large source of leads were scrapped when the Buffalo Home Show was canceled in early March.
“After our home show was canceled we needed to ramp things up. We’ve been in touch with a handful of more reputable solar lead generation providers. I’m regularly in touch with them and keep them on the back burner in case I want to use them.
“We have seen a dip in inquiries, but because of that expansion to lead providers, we’ve been getting some more leads. I just made two virtual solar appointments this morning”, said O’Keefe with smile beaming through the cellphone.
The fact that people are all stuck home right now, may make them a little more open and happier to chat.
“I’ve had conversations which are quite a bit longer than usual, even after the basics about solar, tax credits, our company. People are in no rush to get off the phone.”
O’Keefe figures it’s a better way for his customers to get to know him and his company.
“I think that by being able to slow down more, people pick up on that. We gain more trust and are able to tell them a little more about why we are so good at what we do. I’d rather have meaningful conversations with 20 people than quicker conversations with 40. I can ask them better questions and ensure solar is a good idea for them.”
People are changing their behavior and are online much more than before
Facebook has announced they are just trying to keep the lights on the past few weeks with explosive demand on their service. While user engagement is up on the platform, solar installers have also noticed an increase in interest in consumer inquiries.
“With more people working from home and engaging more with social media, our lead volume from these sources has been going up” says Amy Olson, director of marketing at Austin Texas based Wells Solar. “However, appointment book rates and qualification rates are half as strong as what they were a few months ago.”
“Based on the conversations we’ve had, it has become clear people want to hold off and see what the impact of the virus is from an economic perspective. They are less willing to make big decisions like this in the midst of a lot of uncertainty,” added Olson.
There may be a slight silver lining. Some installers have noted a few much larger than normal residential projects sold in the past several weeks.
“We’re having a lot of big projects being sold right now, as people are considering resilience and battery backup more than ever before” Olson said.
Sales teams are adapting to online solar consultations
The logistics of personal connections with customers are not as simple as they used to be. Most solar installers used to chat through details over a coffee at kitchen tables. Now CIR’s team is exclusively using Google Hangouts.
“We’ve had mixed reactions to meeting and discussing solar online. Some people don’t want to sit at their computers to have a meeting, others are very open to it. I’ve been able to get in better touch with people who are now home instead of at the office,” O’Keefe said.
While solar installation crews have been classified as essential parts of the workforce, solar sales teams have not been so clearly designated in this way.
“We’re all in shelter in place as of last night at midnight for most of our region, and we’re trying to navigate whether we’re an essential business and keep the doors open,” Olson says. “This is all very new and we’ve been in touch with our lawyer to help us make sense of what we can and can’t do right now.”
Sometimes a constraint like this can lead to innovation. Wells Solar is considering porch consultations while maintaining social distance to get through this challenging time.
“We’ve done virtual conversations and that’s a huge learning curve for our sales team who is used to sitting in front of people. So we’re trying to get more creative” says Olson.
Resilience and certainty in uncertain times
While there is a lot of economic uncertainty and concern related to our public health, solar is a comforting bedrock of consistent investment returns.
“A lot of people went solar after taking some money out of the market recently”, said O’Keefe. “My hope is that more people will think about a secure way to have a return on investment of between 8-12%. I think going through this experience will lead people to take less risks.”
“There’s a huge focus right now on cash flow and it concerns me,” added Olson. “Some of those multi-state solar installation businesses are retreating back to the states where they started their operations. If we can get through this and show our customers we’re here for them through all of it I think we’ll be well positioned for the future.”
Last modified: March 31, 2020