We recently had a call with a solar company that was installing 20-30 projects a month. We were surprised to learn that they were still using a spreadsheet file from 2015 to organize their jobs. When we asked why they haven’t moved to a solar project management software yet, they replied with a bit of resignation and embarrassment,
“We tried at least 4 CRMs and project management solutions, but none of them worked. One required too much set-up, another click around all over the place to do simple things, and yet another didn’t have a way to connect to our documents easily.”
We came away thinking that they hadn't found the right fit yet.
Imagine going to a black tie event with shoes that don’t fit well. You’re suffering with each and every step. The result is that you may decide that you just don’t like those kinds of events categorically - not because you didn’t enjoy the company but because your experience could not exceed your discomfort in those poorly fitted shoes.
For your solar software stack, the same level of frustration can accompany every login, keystroke, upload, or output if the fit is not right. Something that was supposed to add value to your business is now a source of annoyance, or worse yet, a stranded investment.
As we discussed in Part 1 of this topic, evaluating how software fits into your business should be a thoughtful 2 step process that doesn’t need to be scary or prolonged. In the first step, we suggested you define the outcome you hope to achieve as well as the relationship you intend to have with the software.
The second step is to evaluate the fit. In this Part 2, we provide you 7 practical tips to do just that. Think of this step as going to the tailors, personalizing your attire to match your strengths and where your unique needs are not just addressed, but highlighted and enhanced.
7 tips to check the fit of software
Tip 1: Identify a champion to lead the evaluation
There is always one person in the room whose enthusiasm brings others towards change. This is healthy and really important around software. Even at the simplest level, a new software will call on some people to change their activities and having a champion reminds your team that it is worth the effort.
In the beginning there should be at least one person that is a clearly identifiable advocate. It doesn’t have to be the CEO or even a manager. It is more important that the champion sees the clear line between the business outcome that is possible and the features that the software offers.
Tip 2: Ask your peers how they’re solving the problem or their experiences with certain software
The good thing about software and solar companies is that there are many other companies trying to solve the same problem as you. Begin with people you trust - your peers. This may even be your competitors that you sometimes meet at industry happy hours. Assemble 3 options and look for case studies that resonate with your challenges and resemble the recommendations you got from your peers. Many software pitches will gloss over the details of what makes your business distinct. For example, what is good for an HVAC company may be similar but not quite precise enough to meet your specific operations or needs.
Tip 3: Use the demo to align your team
This step is just as critical as the need for a champion. A lone, unsupported advocate can lead to disastrous results. A great way to get your team involved is to hold multiple demos with the software company.
The first demo is the champion’s chance to form a clear picture of how it can work. Bringing in parts of your team into subsequent demos provides opportunities to dig deeper, test the champion’s key assumptions against that of their teams’, and discuss if and how key features will lead to the desired business outcomes and goals.
If the CEO then sees buy-in from a wide swath of the team, approval is much easier to obtain.
Tip 4: Simulate the integration process & the “new state” of your operations
Beyond the demo, it is vital to have a clear idea of the process of integrating the software into your current workflows and how the workflows will change once the software has been implemented. This is done by working with your team to detail each step of the workflow, who is involved, and the inputs and outputs of each step. Then “simulate” if and how any of these steps are impacted positively or negatively by the new software.
It helps to ask probing questions like, “How much time is currently needed to complete this step?” or “What data is needed to complete this step?” or “What else can that person do if they no longer need to do that task ?”
In some cases, you can take these simulations one step further by trialing the software. Keep in mind though that trials only provide a feel for the software and that the value of the software is only unlocked through full implementation.
Tip 5: Evaluate the pricing and pricing structure relative to the value the software brings
Based on the activities in tip 4, you can start to itemize and sum up the value that the new software can bring to your business operations. Many times, value can be from direct cost savings such as no longer needing other tools or time saved performing routine tasks. Other times, the value can come from opening up new revenue opportunities.
For example, when our customer adopted Bodhi’s automated NPS surveys and Google Review request, the staff there who were previously responsible for soliciting these surveys and reviews requests were able to use their free time to now explore new markets for the company to expand into.
The rule of thumb is that for every dollar that a software service can save your business, you can expect to pay a third of those savings for that service. The other 2/3rds go to your bottom line.
Also, the pricing structure of the software is an important consideration for your business. If the software charges per instance- like a single solar project, you should be able to assign the value, and ultimately the cost, of that application to the project itself. The software can be considered part of the cost of goods sold for that project. The extra perk is that this pricing structure matches the ebb and flow of your business.
On the other hand, if a SaaS platform presents a seat based pricing model, you should evaluate it based on how many people need to use the software so that your company unlocks its value. In this case, it would be seen as an overhead expense.
Tip 6: Ask what kind of relationship you’ll have with the software company
Once a software has been adopted, how will your questions or issues or suggested improvements be handled? Each software company has a different approach to customer service. Some only offer an online knowledge base and help section. Some require you to pay for customer support, and some assign a customer success manager to make sure you get the most value out of the software (psst…Bodhi does the latter).
One thing to note is that it is often underestimated how important this relationship with your software vendor really is. For example, do you enjoy interacting with the people at the company? The aphorism- “Nothing personal, it's just business” ignores the fact that business is an activity between people. Because the solar business so often relies on the strength of personal relationships to endure the external challenges we face, being able to relate to the companies you work with may be indispensable when the time comes. Your company will encounter challenges, and a software company that actually understands your challenges can respond to those needs from a position of mutual benefit.
Tip 7: Create a set of metrics to determine success & establish a timeline for measurement
Measuring the efficacy of a software should be data driven, both qualitative and quantitative. Many companies will assess a new software within their existing KPIs or may establish a new set of KPIs to measure the direct impact of the software. Just as important as the KPIs are testimonials from the people impacted by the software. It is often the case that the initial metrics and KPIs that were devised do not adequately reflect the impact of the software. The testimonials help to reveal that, allowing you to revise the metrics and KPIs that are being tracked.
In either case, you should be clear to report consistently and share with the full team, including the champion, the stakeholders, and management. We have seen more than once a company that decided to implement a new software enthusiastically, but after onboarding, the decision makers are unaware of exactly how it is being used, and surprised when the impacts of the software are not realized.
Furthermore, change management is not a simple thing. Software can change a company from the inside - a process which may show results immediately or over years. When establishing a framework to evaluate the impact, we recommend building a timeline that is consistent with what you are trying to achieve. For example, if your aim is to improve your Net Promoter Score, you should evaluate the impacts of your software after multiple cycles of projects to make sure you have a good sample set to collect data.
With tariffs, supply chain swings, increased competition, labor shortages, and ever demanding customers, software is an integral part of your toolkit to face these challenges head on and stay ahead of the competition. However, the last thing you want to deal with is software that presents its own challenges. Going through the steps to first define the outcomes you expect (Part 1), then fine tune the software’s fit (Part 2) will give you the best chance of realizing the value to your business for both your employees and customers alike.
If you’d like to talk more about evaluating software options for your solar business, contact us.