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Solar Currents (As originally published in The Danville/Alamo/Lafayette Today Newspaper, April 2013)

Read Original Newspaper Article PDF here

In my view, inspiration is what makes the world goround. Inspiration generates creativity, concepts and ideals. We’re all inspired in different ways. In these articles, I’m inspired to write about my passions, typically energy and the need for transparency in the contracting process. This month I’d like to focus on the interaction between customer and contractor, the creation of mutual trust and good will.

Merchant Choice: Merchants with storefronts, high quality customer service ratings, and excellent company performance history naturally have a higher cost of business. If implemented properly, the higher cost of doing business results in happier clients. Happier clients result in more business for the service provider. In a perfect world, consumers recognize added value, and they are willing to pay a small premium for high quality service and products. Business owners and salespeople recongnize some prospective customers will “shop” their business, gleaning data and knowledge, with ultimately no intent to do business with them because of the higher end cost associated with the service provided. Competing for business is a necessary part of sales. Customers who prioritize seeking the low cost provider should respect that service providers with excellent ratings and excellent products will rarely bethe low cost provider. Integrity in the purchasing process is a two edged sword.

I’m typically not a conspiracy guy, but PGE has given millions of dollars to researchers who have come to the conclusion that solar projects provide negative value to non-solar customers.A Lawrence Berekeley Lab study came to the opposite conclusion.

Oil companies and solar: Chevron, Mobil , and Acro have acquired solar manufacturers, and then they’ve subsequently shuttered them. Recently, French oil giant Total acquired a majority stake in Sunpower, Inc. Hopefully history won’t repeat itself.

Now that the international solar “playing fields” has been leveled, the largest chinese manufacturer,has filed for bankruptcy. It seems that the tariffs imposed by the International Trade Commission and Department of Commerce for illegal dumping and government subsidies have had their effect. Proof positive: America can and will compete when trade is fair and free.

Negotiation: After performing some research and deciding on a provider, should you negotiate on price, and if so, how? In the contracting business, we’ve been subjected to many differing negotiation tactics.

There are certainly ways to improve your chances of being successful in negotiations. If you’re seeking lowest cost, get bids from lowest cost providers. They are the lowest cost providers for a reasons. If you’re seeking savings from a reputable company, recognize that many businesses leave little on the table to negotiate with; providing a detailed and price sensitive proposal is necessary up front in order to be able to compete. Beware “outlier” proposals until understanding is gained.

Tactics: Negotiation comes very easily to some, and for others, it’s an awkward conversation. Recently a prospective customer asked me in final negotiations,”Is there any way we can save money?” This was a legitimate question and well presented. This customer was responsive and respectful during the bid process. That customer got a discount on the spot; it was clear to me that it would be a pleasure to work with them. Another customer who had his mind made up (unbeknownst to me) for us to install his solar project offered us 10% less than the contract cost. A bit stunned by his over-reaching, I countered with our best offer back to him and validated our counter-offer by outlining why we wouldn’t go any further down in price. We had a mutual agreement within minutes. Another prospective customer, whilst shopping around and relying on the industry experts to do every bit of his research for him, would continually assure us that he was “not asking to lower the price” but perpetually would attempt to whipsaw one contractors price and products against another’s. Competition is a good thing, however this passive aggressive manipulation was disrespectful and disingenuous. His approach was apparent, although he was certain he was hiding it well. Good businesses/customer relationships provide mutual long-term rewards for both consumer and business. Allow the business to earn your trust, and don’t squander the opportunity of mutual trust. Businesses must sometimes be choosy about their customers as well.

By Mark Becker, GoSimpleSolar

Mark Becker is the President of GoSimpleSolar, by Semper Fidelis Construction Inc, a Danville based Solar Installation Firm (License 948715). Mark can be reached at 925.915.9252. Visit GoSimpleSolar’s showroom at 114 West Prospect Avenue in Danville or www.GoSimpleSolar.com, or email Mark@GoSimpleSolar.com.