From High Tech to Clean Energy: Catching Up with Carol Neslund at Enphase Energy
by Anna Johnson
Over the last several years, Enphase Energy has been taking the renewable energy industry by storm with its innovative solar technologies, building one of the most successful global businesses in clean tech. One year ago, Channel Management Insights sat down with Carol Neslund, vice president of North American Sales at Enphase Energy, to discuss how to build a channel program that scales. Today, the company has grown its channel to include over 3,000 installers and integrators using Enphase Energy products. Neslund had a successful and long career in high tech before moving to clean energy, where she has taken the best practices of partner development and programs and adapted them to grow Enphase’s channel business in residential and commercial markets.
Q: What’s your take on the development of Enphase Energy’s channel so far?
Really great. We have more than 3,000 installers and integrators using our product, so that’s pretty exciting. We have also seen pretty spectacular growth in terms of uptake of our product in the channel. All in all, it’s been a great year!
Q: What has been successful? Where have you seen exciting channel development and revenue growth?
We have both a residential and a commercial market. This year we have seen an interesting trend among our strong residential installers as they have expanded their businesses to serve the commercial market. And then within the existing residential solar channel we have seen a number of the larger installers adopt our technology.
Q: Is it unusual for a residential installer to focus on the commercial market also? Why do you think that trend is happening?
I think that whether or not your company is focused on high tech or clean energy, what matters most to a reseller or installer is how the technology helps them to improve operational efficiency and close more business. In the case of Enphase Energy, our residential resellers’ experience selling and installing our products helped them to streamline their operational efficiency so it was easier for them to leverage our product into their commercial business. Little things like simplifying inventory and order management make a huge difference to an installer when choosing our products over the competition, because it allows them to sell more without having to increase operating costs. When a reseller is able to keep operating costs low and sell more, their profit margins per installation go up. By providing a great residential reseller experience for our partners, we made it easy for them to quickly turn to Enphase Energy products to support their small and medium-sized commercial customers, like grocery stores or hospitals.
Q: What growing pains has your channel experienced?
The challenge in working for a young business is trying to have the proper channel infrastructure in place and thinking through the programs before you launch them. The tendency is to think you can do these things in a compressed time frame, especially when you’re in a high growth environment like we are at Enphase Energy.
The one thing we took from the world of high tech is the deal registration process for our commercial business. The installers accepted the deal registration process right away. They understood that if they registered a deal, Enphase would help them with technical assistance, support them in front of the customer, and that there would be economic advantages to help them compete and win the new business. The deal registration process was lifted right out of the high tech playbook and put in the green tech world.
As channel professionals we think that we are imposing a partner program onto the reseller, but the installers that work with us are starting to demand a more formal program that would certify them as Enphase credentialed installers. It’s interesting how quickly the channel matures and requests something more formal, like a partner program, without a company having to impose one.
Q: What’s next and what are your priorities going forward?
You can take the best parts of a partner program and implement them in the absence of a framework with the idea that they will eventually get incorporated into a comprehensive framework. Take the key pieces and implement them as stand alones until you’re ready to build the entire program. This includes deal registration, training, and rebates.
We are simplifying our promotion program by limiting the number of promotions we have in the channel to only a few at any one time. For us to be really effective, we limit ourselves to these promotions so we can be thoughtful about the implementation and measurement of the outcome. There are two main tracks of promotions. One is for commercial (new market development) and the other is for ongoing dealer and installer support for the residential market (existing business).
Q: Who are your installers and how are they motivated?
We have three installer profiles. The first is what I call the “long-tail installer.” The second is our middle market that brings in more new customers a month than the long-tail. And finally there are the really big guys who behave like traditional large high tech VARs. Price, profitability, and big splashy joint programs that get their sales reps trained and ready to sell are the things that motivate the big installers.
The middle market installers are trying to compete against the big installers. They are motivated to do co-marketing activities that leverage the Enphase brand as a way to differentiate themselves in the market. As their business grows, so does Enphase. And we can help them with training, co-marketing activities, and joint marketing planning to help them grow.
Q: What’s the future of the clean tech channel?
We’re still in the early days of market maturity. Clean tech businesses are starting to look at other industries and companies like Enphase to emulate some of the best practices of building a channel to improve the supply chain and have a broader reach to potential customers.
Q: What’s your advice to other channel professionals?
There’s a lot of work to be done and it’s fun! It’s fun to work in a high-growth field and take all that you learned in high tech and apply that knowledge to clean tech. Learning clean tech isn’t all that different from high tech. It’s a similar systems-based business with hardware, software, installation, and maintenance pieces but the market hasn’t matured yet. The time has never been better to leverage what I know and apply it to a business that’s new.