With a lingering recession risk and elevated uncertainty among homeowners, solar operators are navigating strange times. Because of these challenges, they’re taking a closer look at their operations to find ways they can improve their efficiency long-term.
As a result, we’re having more installers than ever before reach out to us with the question: "What CRM would you recommend for solar?"
One installer, in particular, told us that although his company had been staying afloat, his current solar management system simply wasn't going to cut it as the industry buckled down. Lacking a centralized CRM, his project managers were cobbling together an assortment of documents, Excel spreadsheets, and random notes in an effort to stay organized on a given project.
The result was an inefficient spread of information that came with built-in disadvantages, from everyday disorganization to difficulty passing a project onto a new project manager. For this company owner, it was clearly time to pick a CRM that could get the job done.
Given the broader industry backdrop, we suspect he’s not alone. As solar companies try to become more efficient, implementing the right CRM can be a game-changer. Even for companies that already have a CRM but are starting to doubt its impact on their business, evaluating CRM software specifically through the lens of the solar industry is a critical part of ensuring you have the right mix of functionality and cost.
How we evaluate CRM software
There is a lot of terrific CRM software out there, but how many platforms can handle the eccentricities of the solar business? One of the most common issues we see is solar installers who implement a popular CRM software that simply isn't a great fit. Sometimes the software doesn't match the scale of a company's business; in other cases, it is just an awkward fit for solar in general.
You should only invest in a CRM that fits the scale of your business, is appropriately priced, and will ensure organization for all project details will give your company a strong footing in a challenging environment.
As we examine four CRM platforms from a solar perspective, we wanted to evaluate them with seven core principles in mind:
- What is their specialty? CRMs typically have a specialty s within a larger umbrella of functions. They might specialize in accounting, customer service, sales, marketing, or something else. It helps to identify a CRM's specialization in order to see how it aligns with the immediate needs of your solar company.
- How do they integrate with external software? Here is where we consider the entire software stack. Data should be able to be seamlessly shared from the CRM through external software through integrations and APIs. The goal is to minimize – or eliminate – the need to manually enter customer or project information.
- What kind of automations do they offer? Successful automation can provide an important stroke of efficiency. Automation should allow a CRM to A) provide more accurate data and B) save you time by removing redundant tasks.
- What are the implementation requirements? A solar company needs to know how difficult it will be to add a new CRM, as well as how long it will take. Owners and project managers do not want to be surprised with a CRM that takes months to implement when they thought it would be weeks or days.
- What does the UI/UX look like? Testing the core functionality of the interface before implementation is critical. A CRM should be user-friendly because if it’s not, your staff will never use it..
- What is the pricing structure? Matching a company's business model and scale to a CRM's pricing tier is an important part of picking a CRM. Companies should only choose the functionality that is an appropriate fit, as unneeded advanced features will be costly.
- Does the CRM fit the scale of your business for today and tomorrow? You also need to ensure a CRM can handle your growth trajectory. Does it have the functionality or adaptability that you need as your business grows in scale and complexity or will its limitations frustrate and bottleneck that growth?
Salesforce works well for larger solar companies
Nearly one in four companies worldwide that have a CRM use Salesforce. The next closest to Salesforce in 2021 was SAP at 5.4% of overall CRM business use. With those numbers in mind, it's not surprising that Salesforce is a major player in the solar space, as the company has a significant footprint in just about every sector.
With Salesforce's ability to integrate marketing, customer service, sales, and IT teams into one platform, there is plenty for a solar operator to like. Salesforce also has an impressive set of automation-based tools and more scale than any solar company would ever need. For more advanced companies with a larger scale, Salesforce can provide a robust, forward-leaning CRM that can improve customer relations and save your team time.
But that doesn't mean that Salesforce is appropriate for all solar companies. Salesforce is often picked up by smaller companies that simply don't need the level of functionality that Salesforce offers. It can also be difficult to implement, requiring a dedicated administration committed to making it work to its potential. This typically means additional hours spent by the IT department and possibly hiring new team members just to run your CRM. With relatively pricey offerings, Salesforce can also be expensive, even without factoring in an increased headcount.
Beyond basic operationality, Salesforce is also not solar-specific and is more geared towards sales and less so for operations or project management. This can make Salesforce's platform a difficult match for smaller or midsize solar companies.
Where Salesforce fits the best in the solar industry
Small to midsize installers should skip Salesforce. However, multi-regional operators handling a large volume of customers can get a lot of value out of what Salesforce offers. Dedicating time and resources upfront to customize the CRM features is especially helpful, an effort that will be well worth it in the long term. Although Salesforce as a CRM doesn't integrate seamlessly with all third-party software, a versatile solar management platform should collaborate well with Salesforce to create an excellent software stack for larger solar companies.
For companies that are a good match for Salesforce, we recommend the suite of features in the $75 per month Professional edition.
Hubspot: An ideal platform for marketing, sales, and customer service solutions
Companies that are ready for a more aggressive marketing effort might turn to Hubspot. With peerless sales and marketing automation, Hubspot is there to make the entire customer outreach process more efficient and productive. Growing solar companies end up with good all-around value by using Hubspot as their CRM.
In addition to top-notch sales and marketing automation, high-quality customer service capabilities provide an edge for handling customers throughout the installation process and beyond. Customer service expectations are on the rise, with 90% of customers expecting an "immediate" response when they have a customer service-related question. Studies have even shown that two out of three customers acknowledge having increased their service expectations over the last three to five years.
For solar companies focused on reaching new customers and providing excellent customer service, Hubspot can be a worthwhile CRM. Even Hubspot's free version can provide strong functionality, although their pay plans are still a value for many medium-sized or larger solar companies. Hubspot's integrations also offer administrative and financial automation (e.g., Zapier). And even though the interface can be configured to handle complex situations, it is user-friendly for both sales reps and project managers.
There is one caveat. Though projects can be managed in Hubspot, its functionality in this area is not as strong as other project management focused software tools.
Monday.com can provide a boost to project collaboration
Although it’s focus is primarily project management, Monday.com's platform does have the ability to also operate as a CRM. The main goal of Monday.com is to empower your team to improve collaboration, eliminate duplicate work, and enhance all-around communication. For solar installers focused on improving team collaboration, Monday.com can work extremely well.
The platform is also one of the easier CRMs to set up; with a little expertise, Monday.com can be set up in a weekend. That can be extremely helpful for companies that require a speedy turnaround, allowing you to reap the benefits of a CRM much sooner than many Monday.com competitors. Its open APIs also make custom integration easy as well.
Additionally, while the focus is project management, the marketing and sales offerings aren't as strong. Many solar companies require significant customization or the benefit of another software to round out their software stack. Monday.com also isn't a great fit for larger solar companies, as scalability can be an issue for those with multiple or more complex workflows.
Monday.com can be a great starter CRM
The overall price and customizability of Monday.com make it a strong choice for plenty of solar companies. A free version is ideal for a trial run, and its $16/month Pro version is one of the more economical CRM options on the market. Monday.com also has a reputation for its visually appealing UI and intuitive UX. For most small to midsized solar installers, Monday.com is a low-risk CRM that can provide substantial overall value.
SolarSuccess (Netsuite) offers an insider's perspective
SolarSuccess, sometimes known as Netsuite or Blu Banyan, is a viable option for those who want a software platform more specific to the industry. Because it's designed with the solar installer in mind, SolarSuccess integrates well with lead generation and field service technologies to give project managers an excellent support system. It's even flexible enough to handle the industry's quirks, giving installers an on-the-ground edge over those using more generic CRMs.
But SolarSuccess is at its best when revolutionizing a company's financial management. Purchase orders, billing, inventory, and labor costs are the sweet spots for SolarSuccess. Some installers feel that the efficiency gained on the accounting side justifies its cost and lighter functionality elsewhere.
However, SolarSuccess is relatively expensive, and implementation takes longer than other options — its complexity usually means 6 months or more to setup. The interface is also less user-friendly than other options, requiring technician training and some extra attention from the IT department. It can also be difficult to customize and might require a flexible, robust third-party solar management software platform that can help maximize your software stack.
Despite the drawbacks, SolarSuccess has worked for those that want to improve their accounting practices through software built with the challenges of solar in mind. For a multi-regional operator with at least 2,000 jobs a year, SolarSuccess can be the right CRM solution.
Seizing the full potential of your CRM and software stack
There isn't a one-size fits all CRM solution in solar, as the individual goals and scale of a company should determine which software is utilized. Companies also need to regularly evaluate their CRM software and make sure that it still is working the way it was expected to work. Although changing a CRM can be complicated, it's worth it in the long run if you are upgrading to a CRM that makes more sense for your company.
In addition to a well-chosen CRM, we recommend that solar installers invest in a customer experience platform that can integrate with all of the other tools in your software stack. Customer experience platforms like Bodhi integrate with your CRM and allow you to get more out of it—taking the data that’s stored there and delivering automated, personalized project updates to your customers. You can schedule a demo with us to hear more about what a customer-friendly portal can do to maximize the impact of your CRM.