Top lessons Texas installers don't want you to know

7 secrets to help you expand into commercial, clean up your operations, and more
Author : 
May 1, 2024

The Texas solar market is at an inflection point.  While the state is seeing record solar power generation, solar companies within Texas are experiencing the same diminished demand that’s hitting the majority of the US market.  As a result, Texas installers have had to become savvy.  They’re trying new business strategies, prioritizing operations, and finding ways to increase efficiencies across technologies and departments.

In April, Bodhi and Powerstore teamed up to host an event in Dallas where Texas installers would come together to discuss the current market conditions and learn from each other.  Solar pros drove as much as 5 hours each way to attend.  It was an awesome experience, featuring good ole’ Texas barbeque and in-depth conversations about everything from expanding into commercial to CRM selection.  But what we found is that many of the learnings from the event were not actually unique to the Dallas market — or even the Texas market.  

Installers drove from all over the state — and one even came in from Louisiana!

That’s why we wanted to share some of the top takeaways from the event.  After all, it’s not just the Lone Star State that’s at an inflection point.  It’s the whole solar industry!  We hope these 7 lessons from Texas solar leaders, divided by sales and marketing, operations, and commercial, will help you not just survive, but thrive, in your market.

Sales and marketing lessons

Lesson 1:  Call everyone in your phone once a year

If you’re trying to grow your referrals, one sales rep who attended our event had an unusual and very disciplined strategy.  He shared that once a year, he’ll set aside a week or two to call every homeowner he’s ever added to his phone.  This includes not only customers who went solar years ago, but also prospects who never ended up going solar at all.

During these calls, he’ll of course make the referral ask, but he says this is really a footnote to the conversation.  When he makes these “sales” calls, he says he purposely tries to avoid any sales conversation.  Of course, inevitably the prospect will be the one to bring the conversation back around to solar — either to share those referrals that have been building up, or to discuss the prospect’s own changed relationship to solar.  However, what our sales pro has found is that the yearly cadence of a call is the perfect opportunity for a prospect to open up about their life and for the rep to move beyond a purely transactional relationship.  Just stay consistent and really commit to EVERYONE in your address book.

Lesson 2:  Create short-form video to build brand awareness

It doesn’t matter which social platform your business uses.  Every algorithm is pushing short form video.  That means that if you want to have your brand organically promoted, you need to play into this content strategy.

One marketing expert at our event gave some clear cut rules for businesses who want to try and take advantage of this trend to rise above the competitors:

  • The first few seconds matter the most, so use your most visually striking video clip at the beginning, or start by splicing in a provocative question or quote 
  • Keep the video to less than 90 seconds (less than 60 seconds if you’re on Youtube)
  • Change up the visuals every 5-7 seconds, whether it’s cutting to a different shot, changing to a different spokesperson, or just adding emojis or visual effects to reset the viewer’s attention span
  • Caption all your videos, not only does this make them more accessible, but it helps stop the scroll for viewers whose sound is off

While it’s not free (plans begin at $18/month), the Texas marketing expert recommends the web-based video editing platform Veed.  The software can automatically caption your videos, and it gives you access to easy-to-insert emojis, gifs, and more.

Lesson 3:  Lean into technical sales 

Especially in the current market, it can be hard to hold onto sales people.  However, as one solar business owner put it:  “A technical sale is the strongest antidote to problems downstream.”

The owner went on to explain that when he can spare the expense, he’s paid for NABCEP and Heatspring courses for his sales team.  During more lean times, he’ll have sales team members  shadow the install team.  Either method works, so long as your sales department feels like they can bulk up their technical chops.  After all, the more information your sales team is able to give the homeowner upfront, the more you can eliminate risk.  The homeowner has a greater understanding of what they’re purchasing, and this information can also be fed into your design department, your engineers, and even into permitting.

Operations lessons

Lesson 4:  Get homeowners to commit to their retail electric provider at the start of the project

Almost every installer at our event had a horror story related to the retail electric provider, and they were all nearly identical:  The sales rep would explain what the REP was to the homeowner, stress that costs frequently fluctuate, and encourage them to lock in a rate sooner rather than later.  Inevitably, the homeowner would forget, leaving the project manager to deal with an irate customer come PTO.

What the installers at the event emphasized is that the REP conversation cannot be left up to sales alone.  Once a homeowner has signed, they need to be constantly reminded at the start of the project to lock in their desired rate.  These can be automated touches, so that they don’t weigh down a PM’s to-do list but still communicate the necessary information to the customer.  Experienced installers at our event also recommended creating informational materials for your homeowners that explain how REPs can change after the first year.

Lesson 5:  Create an AHJ spreadsheet

One project manager at our event shared that the number one thing that sped up her permitting process was not a special software.  Instead, it was putting in the elbow grease to create a comprehensive AHJ spreadsheet of all of the requirements and special nuances of the various jurisdictions she serves.  If any permits are denied, she’ll update the sheet accordingly to have a record of the new rule.  She’ll also do a comprehensive research and re-check of the entire spreadsheet once a year — typically during the first quarter when demand is lower, and she has the time to spare.

Commercial and service lessons

Lesson 6:  Take advantage of REAP grants

If you’re having a hard time breaking into commercial, you may want to consider focusing on farming and rural small business owners.  Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s new money and incentives flowing into these historically underserved communities, often through something called Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants.  These grants total over $145 million in funding for over 700 loan and grant award recipients. 

And take heart!  One installer shared that even though he had lost out on his fair share of REAP grants, the relationships you form within rural communities can still lead to a solid pipeline of work.  He emphasized that these rural businesses often still need help realizing the opportunities of decreased demand charges and peak shaving.  These businesses are also still eligible for the 30% ITC and 20% accelerated depreciation savings.

Lesson 7:  Join a commercial service channel

If you’re not interested in rural commercial work, another installer at the event recommended that solar companies consider exploring hospitality-based commercial installs because this sector comes with its own built-in lead channel.  Hospitality-based commercial companies have something called a “service channel,” which serves as a searchable marketplace of vendors they may need.  Interested solar businesses can build a profile and even advertise here, beating out the competitors who are relying on more crowded marketing channels, like mailers or Google ads.

Serving Texas and beyond

Solar is so complex and nuanced that it’s hard for folks outside of the industry to fully get it.  As one installer put it, “My wife is tired of hearing me complain about all this.”  

That’s why we’re grateful for the way the Texas community showed up to our event with Powerstore.  By gathering face-to-face, we were able to get into some of the nuanced learnings and challenges that don’t often come up when we gather at busy trade shows.

If you’re interested in Bodhi bringing an event like this to your state, get in touch.  And if you’d like to learn more about how Bodhi helps installers all over the country deliver amazing customer experiences, from sales through installation through service, you can schedule a demo here.

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