Covid-19 made my solar panel installation business stronger

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Like so many other people, particularly as a business owner, mandatory stay-at-home orders scared me.

Ours is a business of home improvement and frankly no one wants strangers in their home right now. Solar energy is also still considered to be a discretionary investment; yes, many homeowners are passionate about it, but is it an “essential” need during a pandemic? Our plan was to prepare for the worst. What happened instead is that the last month (Illinois’ shutdown began March 17) was the biggest sales month in our history.  Here are three lessons I’ve learned.

Consumer needs are behavioral

Solar energy may not be an “essential” need, but feelings of safety and security certainly are.  People want control and predictability.  In-home energy consumption is up 300% to 400% and we haven’t even hit summer yet when all those Midwestern air conditioners kick on. Cost savings to homeowners who go solar is increasing, but our customers are also telling us that solar power is bringing them a much-needed sense of comfort. I think there’s a ripple effect that will follow this as well because right now everyone wants to help each other. If solar power brought you satisfaction, you want to recommend it to others now more than ever (our referrals are way up) as an active participant in your community.

Technology can actually connect strangers

Zoom is not the way that you want to communicate with your family and friends. You’d much rather have them visit. But as it turns out, Zoom is a great way to let a stranger, or a sales person, into your home. It’s less disruptive, it’s easier to schedule and it also allows us to get more answers for customers more quickly. A sales rep in the field who needs information has to call back to the office, whereas an inside salesperson can simply walk down the office to consult with a colleague. In sharing screens to present proposals, access utility bills and review loan documents with customers, we’re able to deliver on our promise of customer service and transparency. Even our use of drones to map rooftops for system designs has become a way to connect us to customers (it’s like taking them on a virtual tour while practicing “social distancing”).

Culture development is relationship-based learning

This might be our most important lesson so far from Covid-19. By adapting our sales model we were forced to be more collaborative as a team. Training a sales rep in the field is time intensive and when a sale closes, it’s a moment shared between a couple people at most. Our newest team members can participate in many more Zoom meetings (sometimes anonymously) as can our technicians. Everyone is involved in the relationship with the customer from the beginning. We’re sharing more ideas and more successes as a unified team with a common purpose, which means we’re all learning from each other more deeply — and that’s what company culture is all about.

I don’t think any one of these factors is the exclusive driver of our sales growth. Our expertise and efficiency as a business has improved because of the new ways in which we’ve had to adapt to consumers’ new needs, both fiscally and socially. We started this business because we believe in the power of solar energy to truly change people’s lives, but I never expected a global pandemic would strengthen that conviction.

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Jared McKenzie is CEO of Illinois-based residential solar installer Headline Solar.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.