February 29th, 2012

3 Best Practices for Selling Residential Renewable Energy Projects


The following post is for professionals or companies that are selling solar PV, solar thermal or geothermal heat pump systems or air source heat pumps system to residential customers.

At HeatSpring, we’ve been keep tabs on what the most profitable companies tend to do really well. There are three areas that the most profitable and well run residential solar and geothermal companies do really well.

  1. Turn visitors into leads and know how qualified those leads are. The most profitable companies have an extremely clear process for turning phone calls and website visits into site visits and understanding the differences between an extremely hot lead, and a cooler lead. Their website is optimized to turn visitors into a site visit OR into a subscriber for their newsletter. Newsletter subscribers can likely become a site visit sometime in the future.
  2. 1 Site Visit for the Most Qualified Leads. Site visits are expensive and should be used sparingly. The most profitable companies only go to site visits for very hot and pre-qualified leads. On the site visit, the sales person makes sure to gather enough technical information for the engineer to create a proper design and also gathers customer information to tailor the sales proposal to their specific needs. Doing more then 1 site visit decreases margins and not tailoring the proposal to each customer will reduce conversions.
  3. Referral strategy creates the majority of leads. The most profitable companies generate the vast majority of their leads from word of mouth and referral. The referrals tend to come from past clients who speak with their neighbors and their installation partners.

I’ve created three tools, one for each technology to help with better site visit. If you to download them, here you are. This will redirect you to a HeatSpring post where you can then download the tool for free. Feel free to change it, add questions, reformat it and use it however you like in your business.

A site visit will be a small, cash strapped, companies greatest asset or greatest liability. It will be a companies greatest asset if they are collecting the proper information needed to address the specific clients needs and gathering the needed information to create a proper design the first time.

The site visit will be a great liability if enough, or the proper, information is NOT collected, meaning that multiple visits must be made – reducing profits – or if the sales proposal is generic and does not address the clients specific needs, leading to low conversion rates.

For each site visit checklist focused on three areas.

1 – Customer Sentiment. Every sales proposal should be tailor to the desires and concerns of each client. If you’re using generic sales proposals, you will convert less then if you tailor the message to the client. It is key to gather customer specific data about why they’re interested in renewable energy.

2 – Technical Information. Technical information about the site must be gathered in order to properly quote and design any type of system. If the proper information is not collected you’ll have to go back to the site many times, or you will prices job incorrectly.

3 – Financial Information. For each sales proposal there is certain financial information you’ll need to gather about the customer, their energy usage, and the design to create a sales proposal.

The majority of this article was re-printed, with permission, form HeatSpring Magazine

January 18th, 2012

5 Lessons You Can Apply to Prototyping New Products


Last year, I built and sold my first cleantech product. It is a tool used to install solar PV modules more efficiently.

Here is the story and what I’ve learned about prototyping in the process. Hopefully, it will be useful to you as well.

Here’s a quick snippet of what I learned.

  1. Closeness with customers is key, especially if you’re getting them to change their behaviors. If you’re building a new product and are not building relationships with beta customers, this is a problem. It is critical for time between iterations and testing. This is also critical for them providing you blunt feedback. Lastly, with many cleantech products you’re interrupting existing operations. If they don’t trust you, they won’t want to risk it.
  2. Don’t assume you know the answer. I was the target customer but 15 minutes of feedback on our alpha prototype enabled us to reduce manufacturing costs by 400% for our beta. This is key because unlike software or internet products, cleantech products are EXPENSIVE and tend to require face to face relationships.
  3. Work on your communications. The concept must be clear to the customer quickly or it will be difficult for them to provide useful feedback that can use to enhance the product.

Click below to read the full story. Also, apply for Cleantech Prototyping Academy if you want to learn best practices of how to build products faster (and cheaper) in order to impress investors or find beta customers. CPA is taught by Ethan Labowitz.

January 10th, 2012

Green Light Distrikt in 2012 – Can We Increase the Velocity to $1 for Cleantech Companies?

Chris Williams

Written by



Another year has passed and Green Light Distrikt is still alive.

The goal of Green Light Distrikt is constantly changing as my work, and the work of other industry insiders, continues to shift. Currently, I’ve published a study guide for the Solar NABCEP exam, invented a solar installation tool, I’m responsible for all marketing and sales at HeatSpring, and am consulting with both renewable energy installation companies and companies launching new products, technologies or services targeted  at the solar or geothermal industry. All of these experiences have provided me a valuable skill, into how to build a product quickly, get it in front of customers, and collect money, or not.

What started as a personal blog, turned into a blog about the cleantech industry in Boston, then about the industry in multiple cities, and now Green Light Distrikt is a blog that is for people who are building cleantech companies. The goal is to make the blog for other people like myself, those that are constantly exploring opportunities and working to build successful companies in the cleantech industry.

Here’s a review about who Green Light Distrikt is, what we’re writing about, the projects that we’re working on and how they relate together and then topics and themes we’ll be writing about in 2012.

Most of the topics fall under one simple concept that GLD is beginning to focus around: How can we increase the velocity of cleantech companies to $1 faster ? By this I mean, what can we do to get companies out of “idea stage” and into “making money stage” as quickly as possible.

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October 31st, 2011

5 Common Problems with Cleantech Prototyping and How to Solve Them

Ethan Labowitz

Written by



The following post is the start of a series focusing on making Boston a world class city for clean energy prototyping. Read more about the Boston Institute for Clean Energy Prototyping.

Clean energy is a tough business.  As entrepreneur Eric Smith put it, we’re really good at leveling mountains and burning coal.  So competing with coal and natural gas on price will require every ounce of innovation we can muster.

But unlike information technology, energy technology is often expensive to prototype.  For some energy innovations, the prototyping stage is so fraught with expense and uncertainty that it becomes a barrier, preventing good ideas from achieving commercial success.

For the past few years, I’ve studied clean energy prototyping.  Much of my work has been with startups, including several in the Boston area.  I’ve helped companies design and build prototypes, and interviewed founders on the challenges they faced during the prototyping process.  Many of the same themes keep cropping up, so I’ve put together a review of some of the most common mistakes to avoid:

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October 25th, 2011

Two Awesome Events for Boston Area Cleantech Entrepreneurs


I find that great events have three things in common. First, a very specific topic for a specific group of professionals. Second, you walk away having learned something and had an expectation of what you were going to learn when you RSVP’d. General networking is great but by itself can be boring. Third, a great crowd. The learnings from the crowd can often be better then the ones gained from the speakers, but you still need both.

In November, I’m helping to organize two events that will be extremely useful for professionals and entrepreneurs interested in the cleantech space in the Boston area. Each event is targetting a different and growing part of the industry.

HeatSpring Renewable Energy Meetups

The first is the HeatSpring Renewable Energy Meetup. It’s specifically targeted at professionals who are marketing, selling, designing or installing geothermal heat pumps, solar pv, or solar thermal systems. We’ll be having 6 presenters that will share best practices they’ve learned in the industry.

RSVP Here:

Date/Location. Sea Dog Brew Pub. Woburn, MA. 6pm – 8pm. Nov 29th

Energy Bar: Scaling Cleantech

Green Light Distrikt and Energy Bar are hosting the 4th Energy Bar. The theme is how to scale a venture after initial sales. High growth cleantech companies have specific challenges to overcome in building sales after initial sales. The presenters will discuss common obstacles and how to overcome them. Presenters will be @cleantechvc, Rob Day, and Mike Feinstein VP of Sales and Marketing at Digital Lumens.

Details here:

Date/Location. Greentown Labs, Boston, MA. 5:30pm-8:30pm Dec. 1