Digital transformation. Solar installers roll their eyes when they hear these two words, and I can’t blame them. They’re marketing buzzwords that the Accentures of the world use to sell their expensive consulting services. So, why do I claim it’s the secret to long-term growth for a solar business?
Last fall, I was speaking with the CEO of an East Coast solar company installing about 70 projects per month. A customer called into the service department to complain that their system wasn’t working. Fortunately, the service team easily diagnosed that it was a WiFi issue rather than anything with the PV panels.
The story doesn’t end there: The service pro also noticed that the customer’s electricity usage jumped dramatically two months before. It turns out the customer had recently bought an EV. The service pro took the opportunity to explain that the customer could offset this additional usage by expanding the initial PV system. While still on the phone with the customer, she brought up the original design and validated that an additional 4 kW could fit on the roof. The customer asked for a proposal, the conversation was passed over to the original sales rep, and the deal closed before the end of the week.
By giving the service team the information they needed, when they needed it, and empowering the team to act on that information, an initially angry customer service call turned into a $20,000 new sale.
This is what digital transformation can bring to the solar industry.
Digital north star
Solar pros often think of digital transformation as a list of software tools needed to solve common problems. For example, “I need to organize my leads better,” or “I don’t want to copy and paste from one spreadsheet to my CRM.”
True digital transformation is not about any one pain point or piece of software. The real magic of digital transformation is in creating new business opportunities. I like to break a digital strategy down to a north star and three pillars.
The north star of a digital strategy is achieving long-term growth for your solar business. The right digital strategy enables your business to handle scale, delivers insights and empowers your team.
Handling scale means growing your business without overworking your team. Can your operations team handle a large influx of new sales? Or will customers get frustrated, cancel and leave 1-star reviews?
Delivering insights is about helping your team understand the performance of their jobs, their department, and your business. Do you know when a 30% drop in inbound leads and a 3-week delay in permitting will lead to a cash crunch?
Empowering your team is about providing the data, capability, and the trust to take action. Is your service department able to turn angry customer phone calls into new revenue streams?
Three pillars of digital infrastructure
With that north star as your guide, I recommend building your digital infrastructure on these three pillars:
Organizing data — Only organized data can deliver real insights into your business. Can you identify which phase your customers are most likely to leave a 1-star review? The right digital platforms will help you collect and organize your data, allowing decisions to be confidently made and actions to be taken.
Automating workflows — Solar is a multi-step process based on workflows. The right digital platforms will support those workflows and automate the steps that are routine, freeing up your staff to do more high-value tasks. Would you rather your team spend time copying and pasting the same project update to customers or have them speak to a referral to close the deal?
Fostering communications — If your digital tools aren’t supporting timely communication and information sharing, not only are they not transforming your business, but they’re actively making everyone’s jobs more difficult. Do you have an idea what’s been promised to your customer, or is that conversation stuck on someone’s phone?
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What’s your digital transformation level?
Digital transformation is not an all-or-nothing proposition, but rather a step-by-step process that scales with the growth of the business. Being ahead of the pack is where you can gain the competitive edge.
After speaking with my fair share of installers, I’ve identified four stages of digital transformation.
Level 1: You’ve switched from analog to digital. Companies at this level have individuals or teams adopting discrete software to address common headaches. For example, you’ve started using drones to survey your roofs rather than sending someone on top of the roof. If you’re currently here, you’re falling behind your competitors.
Level 2: Your team organizes around data and automates tasks. Companies at this level have staff using software for tasks and managers drawing insights on team performance. For example, your sales team uses the CRM to manage your pipeline and automate follow-ups. If you’re currently here, you’re just barely keeping up with your competitors.
Level 3: You have an integrated tech stack across teams. Companies at this level have the infrastructure to share data and automate workflows across teams. For example, you have automated, personalized touches from the initial marketing outreach all the way through post-install. Many forward-thinking solar companies have started reaching this level.
Level 4: Your company is creating new business opportunities. This level builds on the previous levels but takes them a step further. Your staff has the data and insights to innovate and help the business, like in the example at the beginning of this piece. Another example: your marketing team is able to stop buying leads because they’ve turned a great customer experience into a reliable source of referrals. If you’re here, you don’t have to worry about the competition.
Five guiding concepts
Every solar business would love to be at Level 4. However, a successful digital strategy requires thoughtfulness and organizational buy-in. Here are five tips to help you get to that Level 4 success sooner rather than later.
- You need a single source of truth. Establish a single source of truth for your data (usually this means a CRM) and have people and tools pull data from that source. If you’re going to build a solid tech stack, as well as streamline your processes, you need this one source of data that your team knows they can rely on above all else.
- Ease of use takes priority. If the software UI/UX is not intuitive, or if the workflow is complicated, your staff will not adopt it. It doesn’t matter how cool the features seem or how cheap the software may be — if your employees can’t use it, it’s going to be a wasted investment.
- Automate the routine, allow humans to handle the exceptions. Rely on your staff to handle the complex, the demanding, and the exceptions. All the rest can be automated, and your business will be better for it.
- Make sure you have “knowledge fusion at the point of decision making.” Staff need the right data at the right time to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions. If your staff has to go digging for the insights they need, or if they find themselves skipping tasks because the right data is not available at a useful moment, that’s a red flag.
- Embrace the tech stack. Rather than trying to find a silver-bullet software that can do everything from proposal generation to customer relationship management to communications, invest in tools that excel at their stated function and are able to integrate with each other. That allows you to choose the “right “software for your business and scale up or down as needed.
Implementing a digital strategy isn’t going to happen overnight, but beginning to implement these guiding principles now will help your solar business sustain long-term growth.
Scott Nguyen is co-founder and CEO of Bodhi, a designed-focus software company helping residential solar companies with customer experiences. He holds a PhD in Physics from Harvard and is an inventor on 18 USPTO patents.
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