How Ipsun Solar Handles New Products and Vendors

How Ipsun Solar Handles New Products and Vendors

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The pace of change in the solar industry is staggering, and it can often be hard to keep up. How do you know that you’re offering the latest and greatest product offerings if the technology is constantly changing? At Ipsun Solar, we have learned a lot about how to handle new products so that we’re both staying ahead of new technologies and implementing what makes sense for our business, without moving too fast or too slow for the pace of change.

Here are our top 5 lessons on handling new products and vendors from our 7 years in business at Ipsun Solar:

1. Stand up a New Products Committee.

New product implementations impact the entire business when you really stop to think about it.

The sales team needs to know the technical specifications to sell it.

The design team needs to know how it impacts engineering and project implementation.

The permitting and interconnection team often needs to know how it impacts the project approvals.

Of course, the crews need to know how to install it.

Your logistics team may need to work with a different vendor or change their procurement process

And last but not least your financial team my need a new Line of Credit.

So when you’re performing due diligence on a new technology, don’t assume that it only impacts one area of the business, such as ease of sales or installation - because it almost certainly touches on every aspect of the business.

A New Products Committee should have representatives from sales, design/engineering, permitting and interconnections, and the field installation crews.

Bring at least one person from each of these divisions as well as one of the C-level folks who can provide input on the overall business value of the proposed product.

This group should feel empowered to do their own research on the product and bring it back to the table for discussion until you can reach a consensus on the overall impact on the business.

We find that having an hour every other week to discuss New Products is the sweet spot to provide ample time for research on existing new product discussions, and time to propose original new products.

The team should also feel empowered to discover exciting new products that fit within the overall product offerings of the company.

If you’re selling solar, storage, EV chargers or even lifetime active monitoring there’s plenty of change in the industry to warrant that level of discovery.

2. Have a New Products Lead.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being too flat of a hierarchy.

For years, we operated our New Products discussions without a formalized lead and entirely on a flat structure.

New Products can require an intense amount of due diligence, and keeping it all straight means having a New Products Lead who manages the process, the meetings, the notes, the decision-making, the diligence, the voting, and the ultimate implementation structure.

At Ipsun Solar, we found that our lead PV design engineer was the perfect fit to be our New Products Lead because he is the most technical person at the company.

He provides all of our PV designs, knows the NEC inside and out, and has a genuine interest in new technologies.

He’s able to keep the meetings moving apace and can talk as adroitly to the sales team as he can to the installers, as well as everyone in between.

The New Products Lead should also have the authority to make changes to the decision-making process, and not be afraid to take charge.

You want to find a person who has years of experience in the company, because something as sensitive as this requires broad respect within the organization.

3. Do a Demo Project.

No matter how much research you do, you don’t really know a new product until you’ve installed it.

There are always nuances, unknown unknowns, and little details that you can’t anticipate no matter how much research you’ve done and how many people you’ve spoken with.

Demo projects give you the ability to see a new product in action without having to experiment on a customer’s home, which can have unintended consequences.

Now if you’re not installing a demo project on a customer’s home, there really is only one other option: your own home.

Using the home of your leadership team is ideal, because they’re almost certain to be just as excited about new products and technologies as the business owner.

At Ipsun Solar, we have done so much research and development on the two homes of the business owners (yours truly included), that we’ve nearly capped what is possible.

That’s why we demoed the Franklin WH battery on the home of our Sales Director, and we’re still looking for guinea pigs throughout the company today, on a host of prospective new products.

This gets your team excited about new products, especially if you can offer it to them at cost or even free.

Performing a demo project on a team member’s home allows you to go slow, take a step back and look at the pros and cons from beginning to end, and also get full visibility into how the technology works for 30, 60, and 90 days after installation.

That’s something that you may not be able to fully touch and feel if it’s installed in a customer’s home.

4. Use your CRM as a staging ground.

Sometimes the most obvious solutions are right under your nose. For years, we didn’t have a clear structure for viewing all proposed, under consideration, and fully implemented new products.

What we realized is that the same pipelines that we use for residential solar sales, operations, service, and legacy referrals, can be used for new products!

We created a pipeline in our Hubspot CRM that is literally called “New Products” where we can not only see what products are under review and have been implemented, but what new products are being proposed and have even been retired.

We even went as far as to list the old products in the form of modules that have been retired but are in surplus inventory.

We put a handsome discount on those old modules so the sales team can get them out of the warehouse and can view the number in stock in Hubspot directly since they don’t have a login to our inventory ERP.

Now, we not only have one clear view of our new products, but we also have one clear view of our old products, which makes it easier to retire or archive them, and clear out the warehouse (which obviously converts to cash), rather than having them take up space.

Don’t be afraid to use your CRM for this somewhat non-traditional purpose, since it’s perfectly set up for just that - especially if you’re using a CRM with a kanban view like Hubspot.

5. Don’t forget those R&D tax credits.

Did you know that every time you perform any kind of new product investigation or implementation at your company, you can receive R&D tax credits?

At Ipsun Solar, we used a third-party firm to ask us a few questions about our process and the time and effort spent on our R&D efforts, and the payoff was tens of thousands of dollars in tax credits.

Can you believe that you can be paid to do something you’re already doing and were going to do anyway?

It makes sense because the federal government wants to incentive innovation in the broader economy and small businesses.

It also takes plenty of time and risk to embark on these new product discoveries and implementations, so it’s the perfect thing for solar companies to prioritize, perhaps even more than they otherwise would have without the R&D tax credits.

Reach out to your HR, accounting, or payroll providers to ask about who can provide this service and do it sooner rather than later.

You may be sitting on a pile of cash you didn’t even know was there, for something you’re going to do continuously for years to come, regardless.

At Ipsun Solar and Sunvoy, we’re always looking for ways to make the solar industry stronger and fight climate change. If you have a New Products tip or hint that you’d like to share with the community, send it our way!

A word of caution

If you select the wrong product to sell and install, it could jeopardize your entire company.

Here are a few examples you may remember. Without mentioning specific brands:

  • At Ipsun Solar we sold about 40 batteries and when it was time to install them, our POs didn't get fulfilled, and we had no batteries to go install. That created a lot of trouble across the entire company.
  • Selecting an inverter that keeps breaking means you spend time and effort on RMAs instead of installing new products and that hurts your bottom line.
  • Can you imagine the damage financially and to your reputation if you install a type of flashing that doesn’t work well and you have a lot of roof leaks?
  • I know of a solar company that installed a lot of batteries early on and when many RMA requests started to come in, they had to close their doors as they were unable to cope with the magnitude of the cost related to the repairs and were unable to keep selling and installing new products.

From "aha" to "oh crap", we’re sharing everything on our journey to install 1,000 kW in residential solar per month.

We’re learning a lot and so will you.

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written byJoe MarhamatiCOOJoe is the Co-Founder and COO of Ipsun Solar – a top residential solar installer in Washington DC with 60+ employees and $10M+ in annual revenue.Read more »
Joe Marhamati

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