What happens when your customers change, your prospects change and marketing changes? Well, if you stubbornly remain the same and cling to the same old strategies, You Die. Plain and simple.
Selling Home Solar Energy
A glaringly painful example right now is the residential solar business in the U.S. – the market is booming and yet the biggest players are going out of business. Why? Because they refused to adapt to change and they were too big to pivot, so they ran out of leads, ran out of prospects and then they ran out of customers.
How is this even possible? Well, when it comes to sales, certainly solar power sales, the age of door knocking in America is over; too many magazine scams, to many shady people, too much intrusion. It’s not 1950 anymore, we don’t have a plate of cookies to welcome any stranger at our door, we meet them with suspicion or hostility.
So what we have is a big chunk of an industry so out of touch with real life homeowners that they arrogantly presumed they could sell their product the way they chose, paying little or no heed to how people want to buy – or even the most important reasons they do so.
We also have the big equipment manufacturers who HAVE to make residential sales a bigger part of their bottom line to hit the expectations they give Wall Street. These companies understand that their margins on solar farms and utility installations are evaporating and they have seemingly all said “the future of residential solar is in the long tail, local installers. Why then do they spend millions promoting their own products with technical training and little or nothing reaching past the wholesalers to help these local companies actually educate consumers and sell more systems? We have me-too marketing and all-about-me sales strategies. It’s not working anymore.
How Did They Screw This Up? Where Did the Solar Leads Go?
With rising utility power prices, falling solar equipment prices and big tax incentives for homeowners, this is a boom time for residential solar; the “Early Adopters” have provided tons of low hanging fruit and easy money and now the market is maturing into the much bigger and more lucrative “Early Majority”.
This is the time for big sales and nice profits for installers.
But it’s not working out like that for everybody.
There are essentially two types of home solar energy sales companies in the US; the small and mid-sized, locally owned installers and big regional or national players. You’d think that the big guys would win; flush with investor money, big claims to wall street and bloated staffs, they seemed set to own the market, but they couldn’t get it done.
Local Solar Installers Have a HUGE Edge (Potentially)
The failing on the part of Big Solar when it comes to residential power sales boils down to the lack of personality, the lack of human contact and the shortage of basic trust that we have for our neighbors and folks from the neighborhood. At the end of the day, people are not so impressed with the ability of a call center to conjure up an “insta-quote” from google maps. Smart people don’t believe the scammy ads on Facebook from lead-gen shops about the ‘government’ giving away solar panels. We like people, we trust our neighbors. We prefer, in this case, to do business with people we know or people we know are kind of like us.
“I know a Guy…”
Every regional and national sales company has (or had) a referral incentive; if you refer a friend and they close the deal, you get $500 or a thousand bucks. Seems like a pretty good deal to me, but I’ve spent my career in sales of one sort or another. My wife, a corporate attorney, had a slightly different response; “I don’t want to be selling to my friends”.
The big difference for a local company is this; since they are part of the community, already in the neighborhood, it’s much easier to say “Solar? I know a guy …”. That simple sentence is one of the most powerful marketing introductions you can get; it is an endorsement and testimonial (friends don’t recommend ‘bad’ experiences to their friends) and a safe, non-threatening introduction.
“Solar Power? It’s Good Enough for the Joneses!”
This easy recommendation feels good all around; I like giving it because I’m proud of my solar set-up and want to share that (a little bit of humble-brag) and it let’s me remember and recount the reasons that I bought; making a difference, being part of the renewable energy revolution, teaching the kids by example, becoming energy independent, sticking it to the power company. As I do that, it let’s my friend feel that I’ve done the heavy lifting, I’ve done the research and made this decision, thus, “If it’s good enough for Mike, he’s like me, it’s probably good for me” – a very positive and comfortable place to start a sales process.
As the local installer does more and more work in the neighborhood, they become known as the go-to company, if they have done educational marketing instead of just chasing quotes, they become recognized as the expert and everyone likes to do business with the expert.
These personal drivers, combined with the power of social media can create a perfect storm for a good local company with a halfway decent focus on marketing. Solar is something to be proud of, it’s something to be excited about, it’s new and different and of interest. People are looking to share that exact sort of thing on social media; the biggest marketing failure of most companies is they don’t help people do this marketing for them, they don’t provide the tools or content to share, making it harder to spread the word effortlessly and continuing to make the consumer self education process difficult and time consuming. Why is that?
“I want, I want, I want”
97% of the solar installer websites I’ve reviewed give the same stark message: “Want a Quote?” – kind of like going to a bar to meet people and wandering around saying “Wanna get married?” – mostly the answer is “No”. If they don’t want a quote, you’re dead in the water. It seems everybody is doing this because everybody is doing it. This is what’s known as “Red Zone Strategy” – it’s just me-too marketing and it’s all about making a sale today. Here’s a news flash: Not Everyone is Ready to Buy Today.
Truth is; not every customer is ready to become your customer today. You really need to have a Plan B. Whats missing from many installers is this “Plan B” – the relationship build, the educational process, the followup that established you as the expert, makes it easy to do business with you and natural to talk about you to others.
How-To; Educating Consumers About Solar; Be the Expert
The next phase of the home solar market in the U.S. is the “Early Majority” – these folks are shaping up to be a billion dollar market – but they need some care and feeding, they want (need) to learn more before they buy. The companies who are the quickest to shift from “Wanna Quote?” to “What Would You Like to Know?” and “Here is some valuable and useful education so you fully understand how solar power will make your life better and it’s easier/faster to make a decision” are the ones who are going to win.
Installers who educate along the sales cycle with find two things; that sales cycle will shorten (down from the current 8+ months) and that sales interaction will produce far more referrals that result in new sales, because you care; you’re giving good information, education about the benefits of home solar power, to interested people who are then highly likely to share some of this new found passion online, with their friends (those friends who are most likely to get to know, like and trust you on their way to becoming your new customers).
Face First, Technology Second
As locally owned and operated solar businesses, it’s so easy to put the ‘face’ on your business; it’s yours. Putting that real life personality into your marketing makes sense; you aren’t some big behemoth corporation with a fancy office building, you’re the guy who cares about them (as neighbors do) and will be part of the community long after this single sale is made. Your face (in a literal or metaphorical sense) and reputation is one of your two biggest assets (your customer and prospect email list is the other) but you’ll need more than that. Too many balls get dropped, too many leads go cold, too many questions go unanswered. You’ve got to implement systems to make all this ‘marketing stuff’ work, while you work – on your business. You can direct mail to micro-targeted neighborhoods with special messages, you can have a strong and effective presence on social media – right where you are – and you can install automatic systems in your business to make your like easier (and business more profitable).
What Are You Doing Right?
As local solar installers begin to transition to educational marketing and relationship marketing to build leads, referrals and sales, it’s critical to be prepared; you’ve got to have good content (informative blog posts, articles, eBooks or eBrochures) that tell the story, you’ve got to have a simple way to collect people’s name and email in exchange for this education (online landing pages) and then an automated email responder system that allows you to followup hands free, keeping prospects informed, interested and in the loop so they do call you when it’s time to get a quote. Without the right content (posts, articles, videos) and the right follow up system, you’ll drive yourself crazy, drop a lot of balls and miss too many deals. Your face opens the door, using the right technology the right way, closes the deals.
It’s All About the Neighborhood
This can seem overwhelming, don’t let it, it’s just being a good neighbor. This is really simple: Local Solar companies are the most competitive on price, they are able to give the bast customer service, they are uniquely qualified to followup after the sale (which leads to great referrals, when you do it right) and people tend to feel that are more trustworthy, because they are known in the neighborhood.
This new/old sales strategy is known as “Neighborhood Domination” – you can’t buy it, you have to earn it.
We have gone deeper into the current challenges and opportunities faced by local solar installers, and we’ve laid out some excellent, actionable strategies in our new report “Neighborhood Domination for Local Solar” – download your copy right now, click right here.