Before joining Bodhi, our Customer Experience Sales Specialist, Charlie, worked at a major solar equipment distributor. In his role, he helped countless solar companies plan and procure equipment for their upcoming slew of projects. In his first month at Bodhi, Charlie went on and on about how his experience in distribution was invaluable to understanding what solar project managers do to ensure projects run smoothly.
Charlie also told us that there was one business he worked with that always drove him crazy. This solar installer was disorganized in every way possible. They were always submitting incomplete BoMs, then paying expedited shipping fees days later. It was always a mad scramble to install for this solar business. As a result, putting out fires took all of their bandwidth. The installer didn’t have a safety net, and they were entirely reactive to their project load, struggled with cash flow, and ultimately watched as out-of-state competitors took over their local market.
After we heard this story, we had a lot of empathy for the solar business. It’s a prime example of how too many projects can actually cause your business stress instead of success.
The truth is, most solar installers can sell solar, but the ones who are truly successful and can scale up are the ones who understand operations.
That’s because they understand that operations is key to a successful long-term business. Without the proper operations infrastructure, a solar business — no matter how great their sales team — will continue to have issues with employee retention, job completion rate, and customer experience and satisfaction.
So how can you right-size your operations team? Below, we share some tips that will help you diagnose the problem and develop the operational tools you need so you can continue to take on new work and grow.
Why can too many projects be a bad thing?
While having too many solar projects may be one of those “good problems” to have as a business, it’s still a problem. In fact, it’s a problem that can end up costing you reviews, referrals, and ultimately, revenue. When your project managers have more on their plate than they’re able to manually update and accommodate, the customer experience suffers.
If your operations team is under-resourced (or understaffed), it’s only natural that solar installers fall prey to only offering reactive service. For those of us within the industry, it’s understandable, but from the homeowners perspective, reactive service is inexcusable. Your customers want to understand what is happening with their project at all times and be guided through their solar journey.
If you’re not meeting customer expectations, there are some tell-tale signs. On the customer-side, one bad omen is if you are consistently making agreements with homeowners that your team can’t deliver — whether it’s a call, an email update, service, or install. On the employee-side, another warning sign is if you sense high anxiety among your project managers about the fact that they’re always playing catch-up. Any of these challenges signal that you have too many projects and that your operations team is struggling.
This reactive mode of operating leads to single-time buyers and a high cost of customer acquisition as a result of a poor customer experience. An overworked project management team can also lead to employee turnover, one of the hidden costs of poor communication. After all, project managers are not like sales folks; they don’t get paid more to take on more projects
One of our customers, StraightUp Solar, came to us for this very reason. Because they’re based out of Missouri and Illinois, StraightUp’s project volume was highly seasonal. At some times of the year, one project manager comfortably oversaw 30 projects, while at other times they could be managing as many as 60-70 projects concurrently.
The leadership at StraightUp wanted to help improve their project management team’s quality of life without having to turn away work. Through Bodhi, they were able to do just this — supporting their project management team, increasing their NPS score, and continuing to keep pace with homeowner demand.
If all of the challenges we’ve outlined sound familiar, never fear. The following seven tips will allow you to build a more resilient business as you implement these new ways to support project managers.
7 tips to scale up your solar operations
1. Do value mapping exercises and define your KPIs.
While sometimes there truly are too many projects for the size of your operations team, other times it’s simply that your operations team is spending too much time on low-value or low-return processes. That’s where value mapping and KPI definition can transform a business and get your team back on track.
If you’re not already familiar with it, value mapping is a process in which you analyze the current state of your customer journey, and design an improved future state by determining where your business has room to ad value — and which value-adds are most important to your bottom line. As we alluded to above, value mapping can be transformative for project management teams. By providing a blueprint of what to focus on, your project managers have a better understanding of which touch points they should prioritize, and therefore how they should budget their time.
KPIs, or key performance indicators, bring the same kind of alignment and clarity to your organization by defining which metrics your organization cares about and what these numbers should look like. Despite what many blogs would have you believe, there is no universal KPI every solar installer should adopt. Instead, each solar company should have KPIs that are unique to their business and goals. (Though if you need some help getting started, we do have a webinar to help.)
By incorporating value mapping and KPIs into your operations processes, you define what success looks like for your team. In doing so, you give them the structure they need to be a happier, more focused workforce.
Think about it. Your project managers are most likely to get frustrated when they feel like they don’t understand the goalposts, or that these goalposts are constantly changing. In contrast, if project managers understand that the goal is 40 projects, and they’re currently at 30, they can pace themselves accordingly, avoid burnout, and fully celebrate their wins.
2. Invest in a CRM.
As we’re constantly telling installers, CRMs are the backbone of a solar company’s software stack. Different companies will prioritize different features within their CRM depending on their focus — be it sales, marketing, or financial tracking. However, regardless of your other feature focuses, every solar business should find a way to log and track projects within your system.
If you use Monday.com or Trello, this may look like a jobs board. For Salesforce, this could be a specific object set-up that all of your departments can use to gain a sense of understanding of how many projects are in-play and where they are in the solar customer journey.
There isn’t a universal Best CRM for Solar, so regardless of which CRM you use, the goal is that the ops and sales team have equal transparency into project status. Your CRM, combined with your solar project management tool, should help you keep track of homeowner and project information so that you can better serve your customers and stay proactive with your communications.
3. Implement regular team meetings.
We know how difficult it can be to get your entire team in one spot. Between running to installations, picking up equipment, and potential off site training, weeks can easily pass by without a full-team gathering. However, that’s all the more reason to prioritize full-team check-ins.
Full-team meetings give your team the opportunity to discuss what they’ve been witnessing in your CRM system — whether that’s diagnosing bottlenecks or celebrating wins. While these conversations can happen over messaging platforms, being in-person gives your team a chance to go deeper into discussions around customer experience, internal processes, and how the business is tracking towards its KPIs.
The best solar companies know how to balance human talent with powerful technology tools. That’s why it’s crucial to balance the technical power of your CRM and automations with a chance for your team to weigh in on how these tools are serving them. Whether you make these meetings weekly, monthly, or even quarterly, having protected time on the calendar for everyone to gather can help you build team morale and avoid miscommunications.
4. Promote communication between sales and operations.
While this may organically happen after the implementation of a CRM and full-team meetings, it’s still worth paying special attention to the communication channels between sales and operations. In the best solar organizations, these teams work seamlessly with one another. Unfortunately, in some companies the goals of each department (and how they impact the other areas of the business!) are not clearly articulated, allowing tension to build between operations and sales.
The leadership at your solar business needs to make sure sales isn’t making promises that operations can’t deliver. After all, even if an unrealistic timeline gets a homeowner to sign with your business, your sales team is ultimately sacrificing referrals and follow-on sales opportunities if they’ve set operations an impossible task.
Figure out a system of communication between your project managers and salespeople that works for both teams. This could be a particular way of leaving notes in the CRM, or it could be an internal kickoff at the beginning of each new project. No matter what solution you end up implementing, the goal is to make sure your teams have each other's back.
5. Hire strategically.
Before you hire, take a step back and ask yourself what it is you truly need in terms of your headcount. Sometimes project spikes really are seasonal, and the 80 projects a month you’re seeing today are going to drop back down to 30 in a quarter’s time.
In situations like these, it benefits everyone involved if you take this slowdown into account when hiring. No one likes a layoff or an unexpected change to their job’s hours or responsibilities. If you really just need the employee for a short period, make it explicit that the job is seasonal, so you can save the relationship with them for next year when you need to bulk up your team again. Alternatively, you can train members of your teams to be switch hitters, so that someone from marketing can pitch in on project management during the particularly busy season. Check out our webinar on staffing up in solar, if you're looking for additional tips on recruiting or re-skilling your team.
6. Build a strong company culture of appreciation
Your team is working hard to keep customers happy and projects moving forward. To do that, they’re dealing with doo-doo that you don’t even know about. How are you showing appreciation for this work? Has your company’s leadership forgotten to celebrate past wins or gotten complacent about showing appreciation?
Too often, the operations team becomes the unsung hero of a solar business. However, if you want your operations team members to keep ignoring those recruiter Linkedin messages, make sure they know how grateful you are to have them.
Simple gestures like an afternoon bbq, happy hour, or special activity can go a long way. Or, you can always tell your staff “I appreciate you for…” This approach is free, and the results can be immediate
7. Embrace automation.
When it comes to scaling your project load without overwhelming your project managers, there’s no better solution than automation. Automation allows you to serve a greater number of homeowners without sacrificing personalization and quality of service. It can also help you bridge the gap between when it’s not quite time to hire, but your project managers do need additional support.
Tools like Bodhi allow you to automatically notify your homeowners with personalized updates through every stage of the project by integrating with your CRM so you can serve a greater number of homeowners. Through Bodhi, our customer Arch Solar was able to double their project load with the same team.
If you’re interested in a solar business management software that will allow you to focus on actually executing projects without neglecting the customer, we can help. Get in touch with us so we can schedule a time to chat.