By Pamela Cargill
PV Solar Report Contributor
It’s that time of year once again. Tax day has come and gone, signaling the “official” start of the solar selling season. I hope you’ve been busy getting ready. This is the time of year when your strategic planning pays off.
The solar sales cycle, roughly, follows a pattern.
What do we see?
The “year-end slump” pattern has especially pronounced winter downturns in states with exceptionally harsh winters (e.g., MidWest and Northeast). In milder climates the winter can be a little slower, but installation work (and new sales) continue throughout the year.
End of summer before and around the Labor Day weekend is generally a leveling-off, not so much a slump. Many families and other folks take their “last hurrah” summer vacations, so it is very difficult to get a response or drive interest.
Mid-November until early February is generally a very slow time due to the impact of the holidays and other end-of-year activities for homeowners. January into February is often a “fiscal hangover” period for many folks who indulged in the good times around the holidays.
Is it always like this?
No. There is no universal “hard” sales cycle in the residential solar sector. I penned this rough curve based on 15 years of experience across 12 markets. Keep in mind that climate, market maturity, incentives, policies, and your own planning prowess all play in here.
Either way, the downturn of the year is a great time to look ahead. For example:
- How is the policy landscape changing or how could it change and affect my business this year?
- What new technologies could change my installation process?
- How are customer desires changing?
Think about how this curve looks different when you’re in Massachusetts and the media is posting story after story about how the NEM policy discussion are stalled out. Or when you’re in Nevada and the regulatory body just retroactively removed NEM. Or when you’re in Long Island and the incentive block was just about to get filled.
When you stay ahead of the market, you can use trigger points to either drive sales or pull back. You never want to be in a position of ending up surprised by a critical policy element changing in your market without knowing. How are you giving yourself time to track the health of incentives and policies that your business depends on? One simple and low-tech way is to use Google alerts so you can see new articles. But that’s only going to help you react after the deal is done. Better to ensure you read the newsletters published by the incentive program in your area and your utility’s distributed generation interconnection team, and get notifications from your Public Utilities Commission or comparable legislative body. Or, if you can’t go that deep, join a trade alliance in your area that will send you regular newsletters and updates about these issues. We all have to invest in our future.
Already feeling the rush coming?
Don’t panic. There’s still time to take on small strategic planning efforts.
What is strategic planning?
Strategic planning is an organizational development tool used to look at your business holistically and ask what you want to achieve and what resources you have to get there, as well as look objectively at what obstacles could block you from reaching that goal.
You can take a big bite and make a huge goal like “I want to be the local installer with the highest customer satisfaction rating versus where I am today (define that state),” which has many parts to it, or a smaller plan like “I want to reduce the amount of inventory I’m carrying at any one time by x%.” The key? Make it measurable. Make the steps to get there measurable.
Don’t be afraid to get help. Reach out to your local SBA Score chapter and see if you can meet with someone who has run a construction or trades business. Score services are a free program of the SBA. Reach out to solar experts to fill in the gaps and pull together policy, technology, and customer acquisition.
Pamela Cargill, Principal of Chaolysti, specializes in process improvement and operational effectiveness in the residential solar sector. She has developed new programs and rapidly scaled some of the largest national brands in residential solar on the East Coast (Alteris Renewables – now RGS Energy) and West Coast (Sungevity). Her decade of experience spans the entirety of residential solar operations strategy, from marketing to sales streamlining, design to installation, project management to customer experience.
Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of PV Solar Report.