How to build a sales-accelerating platform for residential and commercial PV installers?

Solar photovoltaics are gaining momentum thanks to many factors, including the demand for solar PV power. As a result, you can see many new job opportunities for salespeople in this industry. While the solar business landscape is rife with opportunities, it has its own challenges and peculiarities which should be accounted for in the deal-making process. What if you could tackle some of these issues with digital technology?

Top challenges for sales reps and how to address them with tech solutions

As a sales executive in a tough economy, your primary concern keeping you up at night may be ensuring your team’s morale and productivity. While you may not be surprised by how much your team’s daily operational problems affect their output, we hope to shed more light on how effectively digital tools address salespeople’s challenges. 

Boost ROI with centralized platforms and connected solutions

Just like too many cooks can spoil the broth, multiple dispersed tools and systems can hinder the deal-making process in a growing solar energy firm. Our solar energy clients found themselves dependent on several tools with lots of valuable data, incl. sophisticated databases, email boxes, and CRMs. The sheer number of those slowed salespeople down. 

Solar PV sales can take several weeks to months, depending on factors like deal complexity, sales rep effectiveness, and financial incentives. To make the process more efficient, salespeople need tools that speed up operations, boosting key business results.

One solution is to consolidate multiple tools, such as combining an Excel database with a CRM system and integrating payment or e-signature functionality.

This way, you simplify operations and create a single source of truth per project or client. Hubspot doubled its certified partners and increased app installations by 142% in one year by moving to a centralized sales platform, demonstrating the effectiveness of this approach.

Cover complex core processes with customized software

Solar sales involve complex, detail-packed processes such as lead capturing and qualification, site survey, lead nurturing, installation design, proposal drafting, and contract signing.

If you don’t want your teams to jeopardize deals due to the intricacy of solar sales proceedings, you’d better invest in customized digital tools.

This will allow you to reflect all the dependencies and mechanisms in the software, thus supplying unique tools which match your distinctive operations. Importantly, the more sophisticated the processes, the lower the chance of finding an off-the-shelf solution matching them.

What’s more, bespoke software solutions beat off-the-shelf ones in scalability. If your company operates in a dynamically changing environment, you may not predict what the processes will look like in a year or two. Futureproofing your solution within a custom setup may be the best option then. 

In a different situation, when you expect big changes due to e.g. announced law updates, customization will give you the flexibility for an altering business context.

💡 Custom software cheat sheet (when to go for customized digital products instead of rigid off-the-shelf solutions)

🔸 the need for covering complex core processes with software,
🔸 no ready-made platforms to address users’ needs,
🔸 functional limitations for adding new add-ons to existing products,
🔸 scaling up a digital platform alongside growing business needs,
🔸 software efficiency,
🔸 a high number of bugs reported by users,
🔸 low user satisfaction,
🔸 low app NPS score,
🔸 the need to beat the competition with a new,
🔸 customized solution,
🔸 relatively high costs of amending the existing solution,
🔸 the need for full data ownership (including the precious user data) in an app.

Want to explore how to effectively gather and process product information for 5430 categories in a custom-designed app? Check out the BrandSync app.

Power up stakeholder communication with data management

Speaking of solar business processes producing many details, this abundance of data can easily get lost in the shuffle of poor communication practices. Therefore, it pays off to improve dialog, interaction, and follow-up effectiveness between your sales reps and the rest of the team. After all, you wouldn’t want your sellers to lose track of important information like project schedules, costs, or new contract amendments.

To ensure synchronous communication as per new developments, your teams may use communication APIs within your solar sales software.

This will keep your stakeholders well-informed so that they can easily relay important details to end clients. Consequently, smooth communication can help close deals faster, thus improving customer satisfaction.

A cherry on the cake of improved team connectedness is the ability to analyze sales data, draw conclusions, and make accurate decisions faster. All of these aspects are particularly crucial for time-pressed C-level sales executives.

How did a web app to manage a solar-powered field robot facilitate communication between users? Read our FarmDroid case study.

Ditch non-revenue-driving administrative tasks thanks to automation

Sales teams prioritize efficiency, speed, and performance, but the manual tools they so often use limit their capabilities. Repetitive administrative tasks waste resources, while your sales team's human touch is invaluable elsewhere, e.g., during negotiations. What’s the cure for that? McKinsey research shows that over a third of sales-related activities can be automated.

The potential for automation in sales-related activities

The potential for automation in sales-related activities.
Source: McKinsey (vendor landscape review and expert interviews)

Task automation is an effective approach to sales work, as it eliminates manual input lists, Excel files, and other time-consuming routines. What you stand to get is worth more than just freeing your people from administrative fatigue.

The above examples show how – by boosting productivity –  automation allows you to optimize processes and directly impact revenue.

Access account data anytime & anywhere thanks to offline mode

Traveling to client sites and direct, mobile selling is the meat and potatoes of solar photovoltaic sales. A site survey is an indispensable part of this profession. The tricky thing about mobile selling is that your teams need access to the account information gathered during the process, even while traveling or visiting client locations. 

Poor Internet connectivity can hinder sales reps from following up on leads or noting new developments, but caching capabilities can help.

Caching is used in offline mode apps to access the data stored on the digital device, regardless of connectivity issues. This means your sales reps can use digital platforms while on the road and when finalizing deals on solar system sites. Win-win!

Want to know when it pays off to use the offline mode? Check out our IT Depends series about the offline mode.

Streamline workflows with top-notch digital product design

Solar PV sales software is an intensely developing niche, but some digital solutions still lack a good user interface, leading to a subpar user experience. If solar installation companies lack digital tools, it negatively impacts the sales process. Balancing information flow and neat visual presentation is challenging in solar sales apps, especially with large amounts of data. Fortunately, experienced developers and designers can help with this.

Using easily digestible graphic formats like data visualizations and color coding-enriched tables helps prevent data overload and increases operational efficiency (aka. revenue).

Check out this high-end user experience design in a sustainability-promoting app for inspiration.

Selfmade Energy app view by Merixstudio

Selfmade Energy app view. Source: Merixstudio

To show you the impact of powerful app design, let me quote our client from Autarq GmbH on his experience working with Merixstudio to increase sales:

(...) in terms of our investment into the digital toolset, this, indeed, is an investment into the ease of use of the product and lesser so into a business segment in itself.

Kai Buntrock, CEO at Autarq GmbH

On the path towards innovation? 💡Watch the LinkedIn Live Talk with Kai Buntrock, CEO of Autarq & Sustainability Expert, and learn how digitalization fueled an innovative solar manufacturer's growth

Key features of sales-accelerating software

So we know the role technology solutions play in making solar sales software more efficient but let’s get down to what specific features are worth investing in.

Dedicated, in-app calculations

They say that numbers rule the universe. And while numbers are important for effective decision-making, they’re not as crucial as the deeper insights that come from comparing them. In solar sales apps, numbers play a huge role by translating solar know-how into usable digital products, making salespeople’s lives easier.

So, how do calculations actually facilitate the efficiency of solar sales software? For starters, you can have solar quote configurators that provide prices for solar energy products. Price comparison portals give salespeople and customers precise calculations to help make purchase decisions. ROI calculators help define the return on a commercial solar investment. There are also solar sales apps that show savings from installing renewable energy systems. Consider also featuring exact information on energy use and production of a residential solar setup in your app.

Even so, calculations are often a big challenge in solar sales platforms, as you need to have backend capabilities, business acumen, and tech stack knowledge to implement them.

All caught up in solar sales tools? 📊 ☀️ Check out our Autarq case study.

Integrations & data processing efficiency - a match made in heaven

Integrations with third-party services are often considered gold mines of operational efficiency for data-driven digital products. Why so? After connecting your sales app to a third-party product, you get new powerful data sources. To prove my point, let me show you a few examples.

Selected benefits of using APIs for solar energy sales apps:

🔸 connecting existing software ecosystems with solar industry-specific platforms (like the PVWatts® Calculator),
🔸 localization of products and services (e.g., through Google Maps),
🔸 sales data flow (for example, through a connection with Salesforce or backend databases),
🔸 enabling calculations (e.g., through a solar calculator integration),
🔸 payment processing (for an example of a payment API, feel free to check out this mobile app case study),
🔸 using all-in-one services (just take a look at this income management platform with a powerful Shopify integration which includes not only product selling but also shipping and payments),
🔸 gaining a competitive advantage thanks to software enablements, including integrations with weather measurement devices and a product base (see the Norma Precision case study).

As a consequence of integrating API-provided data into your app, your business can grow more easily. This way, expanding your software’s functionalities gets simpler, and thus your market reach is bigger as well.

Maximally simplified process & document management

Simplicity has always been in demand. If you’re going about sales apps right, they will maximally facilitate operations, not make them more complicated for the users. One way of doing that is by introducing automated flows. They may include automated follow-ups to messages or remote contract signing.

It’s also important to provide easy document management systems and tools that speed up processes. For example, you can provide your users with a simple path where, in a few clicks, they get a pdf price offer or an easy offer email option. It will boost UX and sales efficiency. Fast and time-saving e-invoicing solutions can be helpful if your users need to finalize deals within the app.

Many solar sales apps in residential and commercial solar also use either built-in CRMs for managing client relationships or simply provide API integrations to augment already available functionalities.

Offline mode and IoT

Sometimes, it’s the little things that matter most. What if your solar sales app needs a relatively minor adjustment, not a whole makeover but a handy functionality that will change users’ experience dramatically? One example is offline mode. If your users suffer from connectivity issues, why not furnish them with offline enablement, where thanks to local data storage, they can access important information even without the Internet?

Another important functionality is the Internet of Things (IoT). By connecting devices and technology to the Internet and thus enabling data exchange, you get to expand the scale of your solar app and its functionality. So, for a solar salesperson, this means, for example, accessing residential solar site 3-D maps directly via an IoT enablement. A way to go, isn’t it?

How did we build an offline mode app empowering indigenous Gwich’in language speakers? 🤝 Read our Kaiik'ìt case study.

Data visualizations

When sales tools lack intuitiveness, your teams often waste countless hours searching for relevant solar project information to share with their clients. With sales app data visualization, they won’t have to lose time sorting out important information, as it will be easily presentable to them. 

Powerful data viz design is music to users’ ears. “[It] helps users easily understand the meaning behind the data and quickly make decisions based on what they see,” as UX matters points out. 

Aside from the utility aspect for salespeople, dashboards and graphs allow you to analyze data and produce system-internal records, thus contributing to C-level sales reporting.

Impact data visualization platform view by Merixstudio

Impact data visualization platform view by Merixstudio. Source: Behance

Of course, it’s best if data viz in sales platforms directly affects your business outcomes.

How did powerful data viz contribute to a four times faster data analysis process for engineers?⚡️ Read our Biocore case study.

How a custom sales tool boosted Boston Solar’s annual revenue by ~ $1.4M 

So, if the success of sales apps for residential and commercial solar is defined by empowering users with functional tools, let’s take a look at one example. Which features have made a difference for Boston Solar? 

Automatic and remote contract signing (e-signature functionality)

Sales application activities should be easy as 1-2-3. But with multiple types of agreements, various discounts, and different types of power providers, document management gets more difficult. That’s why we introduced a DocuSign integration in the Boston Solar platform.

We knew that salespeople travel often and need a functional tool to accompany them on the go. The major advantage of this solution is an automated process of signing the agreement between the client and Boston Solar.

Salesforce integration (sales pipeline management)

This functionality facilitates easy management of clients (opportunities) with Salesforce, which translates into easier monitoring of the entire sales pipeline at the organization level. Users get an overview of opportunities, customer data, locations, and sales progress statuses. That, combined with further data on electricity production and usage, type of grid, and many more, constitutes a powerful database on which to build sales success.

Want to learn how digital platforms can help you manage a client portfolio? ✔️ Check out the business insurance app case study.

In-app, location-specific calculations of the produced energy

As far as solar sales apps go, it’s one thing to have relevant information accessible somewhere and a completely different thing to present it directly in-app in an easy way. That’s when dedicated calculations come into play. The unique value of Boston Solar’s tool lies in its ability to make detailed calculations of the solar panel system’s capacity within the app. Users can input location data into the platform, which the PVWatts® Calculator then processes to show the amount of energy generated from photovoltaics directly in-app. 

User-friendly dashboards

To develop a complex yet easy-to-use solar modeling and proposal tool for Massachusetts's number one solar panel installer, we designed as many as 87 screens for desktop and mobile devices. For this to happen, we had to conduct user research and understand the domain. Both served as valuable input for producing user-friendly dashboards. As a result, users can enjoy both functionality and high aesthetics.

The end product features charts, easily-presentable stats, and calculations, all for user convenience. After all, who says a sales app cannot be visually attractive? 

Boston Solar app view. Source: Merixstudio

Tangible business results in sales & beyond

Speaking of numbers, what are the business outcomes of the Boston Solar app? Here’s how our client upped their sales game with a web-based solar modeling and proposal tool created by Merixstudio:

⚡️📈☀️How did Boston Solar fine-tune its sales results & digital experience with a brand-new web app? Overview of the key product metrics post-implementation.

🔸 ~200 user hours saved annually on the proposal & contract generation,
🔸 33% faster sales cycle time (from proposal generated to closed won),
🔸 ~ $1.4M annual revenue increase due to improvement in close rate,
🔸 ~100 user hours saved annually on platform-related downtime (system crashes, runtime errors, etc.),
🔸 best sales month ever - the company broke its sales record in the launch month,
🔸 smooth transition from an Excel file to a web application (did not result in any loss of sales productivity),
🔸 improved customer experience (integrated e-sign contract process, automated proposal summary email to customer and faster proposal generation).

Want to learn more about this project? Explore the Boston Solar case study.

As demonstrated above, technology can effectively maximize product outcomes across business functions in growing solar power companies.

Keep calm and digitalize

So, how do you empower your sales teams in residential and commercial solar to secure revenue? The answer lies in digitalization. Adopting top-notch software tools and new-age technologies helps solar energy firms automate their manual processes and boost efficiency. Whether you focus on residential or industrial solar systems, use digitalization to get maximum investment returns.

If you want to build, scale up, or modernize your solar software, check out how we digitalize solar energy companies, and let’s talk business.

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