By Charles Ferer
“Always Be Closing” is the mantra of any sales team, and especially those in solar, where small to midsize installers have formidable competition. If they don’t build proposals with compelling financing options quickly enough, impatient customers typically go somewhere else.
“Every step along the sales proposal process has inefficiencies. It’s these soft costs that are a big reason solar costs so much higher in the US compared to other countries,” says Deep Chakraborty, Co-Founder and CEO of enACT Systems. “The way business is done here, with large number of utilities, growing number of financing options from local banks or funds and the moving targets of rebates, incentives and regulations, drives complexity and cost. But software can help attack soft costs, today.”
The solar sales prospecting and proposal process costs an average installer 20% to 30% of their project revenue. The process usually includes a myriad of bottlenecks, such as the weeks it can take to collect electric utility bills from homeowners, and the hours spent designing the layout and securing financing options, not to mention the headache of keeping documents organized between team members. Shortening this sales process and making it as quick as five minutes to put a proposal out is critical if installers want to stay relevant in this fast-growing industry.
“Large solar installers have developed custom software to help their sales teams get proposals out quickly. Just one the reasons they have been able to gain double-digit market-share,” continues Chakraborty. “But solar sales, just like HVAC, electrical or roofing channels, will always remain fragmented as they posses low scale advantages. The market for solar continues to grow, especially in emerging states, so mid-tier companies need better sales systems to win in the marketplace.”
Recently launched from beta, enACT Systems is addressing what Chakraborty sees as a large need in the solar industry. Now a robust, yet easy to use software for the solar sales process is available to the entire installer market, where they can build a full proposal in as fast as five minutes.
Currently offering 14-day free trials, enACT automates the whole sales process and document management system into a cloud-based solution that’s accessible from anywhere, whether it’s a desktop or mobile device. The web conferencing feature also allows companies to draw up the proposal right in front of customers. Within minutes, homeowners have a proposal they can evaluate and sign.
“We have been testing the enACT platform, and really liked the easy user interface. It is already saving us a lot of time for our sales team, and also helping handle more volume,” said Kelly Smith, President of Ambassador Energy.
In beta, enACT Systems worked with Ambassador Energy and over a dozen other solar and energy efficiency companies to test the product over the last six months. By inviting beta players to offer up feature ideas and insights during the beta process, the enACT System has become software developed by solar installers for installers.
enACT Systems starts where customer relationship management (CRM) systems like SalesForce stop. Once engaged in sales conversations, enACT allows channel users to accurately size systems including rooftop layouts and energy analytics online. Independent of any specific financing company or manufacturing OEM, enACT Systems includes nearly every solar product on the market from 50 model manufacturers and 50 inverter companies, as well as power electronics, racking, and more.
With the address of the property in question, users can select the module brand and model they want to use. With the drag and click feature, installers can move images of specific panels onto a satellite map of the home being evaluated. Rotating the modules to fit the pitch and direction of the roof allows for an accurate layout design viable for a sales proposal.
“Our roof layout tool is helping these companies to swiftly close with the customers. Once they get to a basic proposal quickly, they have to physically get on the roof to finalize the design,” Chakraborty continues. “We are not a detailed engineering tool. There are several strong engineering software platforms that are very good at that. We are partnering up with a couple of those companies to integrate that into the platform into the enACT system.”
After the layout is complete, installers can evaluate the energy use of the home and calculate potential savings. Rate information for all 3,500 utilities in the US, as well as utilizes using the Department of Energy Green Button data for California is loaded in the software. Such convenience saves installers significant time chasing down information homeowners rarely have at their fingertips.
“Every system sold in America requires the energy bill for the past 12 months,” says Chakraborty. “Every installer spends days or weeks to get that, or makes inaccurate assumptions along the way. We are attempting to solve this problem by partnering up with utilities in California to offer Green Button as a solution and we should have more states soon.”
Green Button is a DOE API that provides flexible access to Energy Usage Information through a set of RESTful interfaces. Currently, 30 major utilities across the US offer it, covering over a 100 million homes. On the enACT platform, installers click to request the energy data, and customers reply with a click of consent.
After the system has been laid out and energy generation projected, installers can compare multiple funding options such as loans, cash, and PACE financing. If initial savings are not enough, users can easily go back and forth between the design and savings screens to resize the system for optimal energy production and savings. In the end, enACT generates professional point-of-sale proposals with all the information, including graphics of the proposed array layout and projected energy generation. Signature boxes encourage installers to close customers on the spot and get started right away.
enACT also automates marketing campaigns for solar companies, with a widget-based customer engagement module linked to the enACT Systems platform placed on the solar company website. This installer-branded web tool allows homeowners to evaluate their solar options with a high-quality yet simple user interface. As solar becomes mainstream, such customized marketing automation platforms are crucial for mid-tier companies to scale-up their origination.
Automating the solar sales process for installers is just the first step for enACT. In the coming months, it plans to support energy efficiency retrofits, such as lighting, heating, and cooling improvements. It also will implement expanded capabilities for commercial project developers. Bundling these projects together is proving increasingly attractive to banks. Yet, such packages can be even more complicated to develop than solar alone.
“Providers, developers, and EPCs are now innovating by combining multiple technologies that can be financed at once by increasing number of banks and novel schemes like PACE that are gaining ground,” adds Chakraborty. “This only increases the channel sales complexity and we all need sales management and transaction platforms that are simpler and easy to use.”
The current 14 day free trial of enACT runs until July 31, 2014.
Author Bio: Charles Ferer is Former President of EchoFirst (formerly PVT Solar) and Sungevity. Ferer also served as CFO at Sungevity, as well as at SolarCity and the Gap brand Old Navy, among others. He has held numerous board positions for solar companies, including Sungevity and now enACT Systems.