Since it can cost about $3,000 to close a new customer for residential solar, according to GTM Research, it’s no wonder that installers are looking for more affordable ways to get solar leads.
To meet this need, in the last few years third-party solar lead generation companies have stepped in. As the PV Solar Report explains:
They employ the whole gamut of marketing techniques, then sort leads into different levels of quality using “filters.” Filters include credit scores, annual electric usage, whether both spouses are in the house at the same time, and roof shading. Installers can set their own thresholds for the filters, paying a premium for stricter requirements.
Some solar lead generation companies sell the same names to multiple solar installers. This makes each lead less valuable as the same potential customer may get calls from three or four solar companies.
For an extra fee, lead generation vendors can put “filters” on leads, for example, filtering out leads to multiple solar installers and providing leads exclusively to a single solar installer. But this raises the cost of third-party leads.
Solar Lead Generation Telemarketing: Leads Can Be Low Quality
Overall, residential installers have found that you get what you pay for when you buy from solar lead generation firms.
Cheap leads are worth little because they lead to few sales.
And, because they are bad for both the buyer and for your salesforce, the cheapest leads may in fact be worth less than zero. Telemarketing vendors can do more than waste a solar installer’s money. They can harm the solar company’s reputation and damage its brand.
For example, a sales manager with a large residential installer based out West recently shared this story with me.
His company hired an offshore solar lead generation vendor to use telemarketing to book home appointments for the solar installer’s salespeople.
But it wasn’t working out so well.
The job of the phone reps is to book as many appointments for the solar installer as possible. So, naturally, the phone reps are all about making “the close,” about getting to yes as soon as they can.
That means the telemarketers don’t take the time to build a good rapport with a homeowner.
Instead, the reps just push, push, push. They get results using the approach of a whiny six-year-old — good old persistence. And they certainly follow the advice of the alpha-male sales trainer played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin in the film Glengarry Glen Ross — “Always Be Closing.”
These telemarketers just won’t take no for an answer. It’s painfully clear on any call that the callers don’t care what the buyers want. They just want to book another appointment with a homeowner and earn their commission.
So, just to get the annoying caller off the phone, the homeowner agrees to book an appointment for someone from the company to visit and provide a solar assessment.
But then, when the salesperson arrives at the house…surprise. Nobody’s home.
The end result?
No sale. An annoyed homeowner who will tell his neighbors to avoid the solar company. And a salesperson who’s just wasted a morning and knows he won’t be earning a commission.
In this case, cheap sales leads can be quite expensive.
Cheap solar leads can damage a solar installer’s brand and make sales more difficult in the future.
But even worse, cheap solar leads can kill the morale of an installer’s salesforce, morale which is hard enough to keep up in the first place.
By now, bad solar telemarketers have become such a cliche that annoyed homeowners have started posting videos where they torment the callers. In this one from the U.K., you almost feel sorry for the poor telemarketer.
Online Solar Lead Generation Is Better — If It’s Done with Full Permission
A more up-to-date approach to solar lead generation has gone beyond telemarketing to make use of the Internet.
Since even the most ethical and respectful telemarketing will still be, well, telemarketing — which people will always hate — online solar lead generation promises higher quality leads.
Here’s how it works:
- A lead generation vendor sets up a website to attract homeowners interested in solar
- The vendor attracts visitors to its site through online ads on Google, Facebook and other popular sites
- Once they get to the site, visitors can fill out a form such as a solar-savings calculator or a form to get quotes from various solar installers
- From the form, the site collects the potential customer’s contact information so that solar installers can contact him about home solar
The best lead generation companies, such as EnergySage, offer visitors an option of contact methods. The visitor can either give their phone number to get a call from a solar salesperson or they can provide an email address instead to hear back online.
Solar installers should only buy leads from solar lead generators that provide the email option. Visitors should not be required to give their phone number.
Why? It’s all about what marketing guru Seth Godin has called “permission marketing”:
Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.
Leads that Are Not Hot
Unfortunately, other solar lead generation companies don’t play by the rules of permission marketing. And that makes their sales leads lower quality.
When these solar lead generators convert visitors online, their websites don’t give the option for the buyer to withhold his phone number and continue the conversation by email.
Instead, once a homeowner fills out their solar savings form, the site requires the visitor to provide his phone number.
For example, take this website from a solar lead generation vendor that advertises regularly on a leading online clean energy publication:
What’s so bad about it?
First, the site offers a tempting online form, offering a homeowner information about solar in his area in exchange for his address and other info. So far so good. Done right, it could be a great way to get good residential solar leads.
However, once the web visitor has spent a few minutes filling in his details, then he faces a final hurdle to get the promised report.
Before he can hit “Submit” he has to give his phone number. Email-only communication is not an option. That’s bad.
Second, and even worse, not only does the site require a phone number, but also it forces the visitor to consent to receive telemarketing calls from now until the end of time.
- And not just from the company but also from “its partners.”
- And not just from human telemarketers but also robocalls.
- And not just calls but texts too!
For the homeowner considering solar, this is means opening himself up to an awful lot of contact by phone for the foreseeable future just to get a little solar report for his home now.
Of course, the lead generation vendor explains this all in the small print on the website:
This language shows how the solar lead generation vendor is so many kinds of wrong.
Forcing a visitor to let you and other companies contact him by phone in multiple ways even after he’s bothered to put his name on the Do Not Call List?
Yes, this may be legal. And you may even think it’s ethical, since the company has presented the disclosure. The visitor does have a choice, right?
But even if the buyer bothers to read the small print, this can’t be good business.
Of course, many visitors will abandon the form at this point, as I did, rather than provide their phone number willingly to telemarketers. That loses this site a sales lead while gaining them a frustrated buyer.
I filled out all that information for nothing?
But even those visitors who do agree to give their phone number may be doing so resentfully.
Yes, sometimes a homeowner is so gung-ho for solar that they want a phone call from an installer in the next few minutes.
But usually not. Most potential solar customers would rather have the chance to communicate by email over a few days or weeks, at least at first, just to build trust.
Only when the buyer is ready will she want to talk to a salesperson.
On her timeline. Not on yours.
Unless you want to lose the sale, you’ll be patient.
Because in these days of the social Web, the seller is no longer in control of the conversation. The buyer is.
Examine Your Lead Generation Vendor
So, the moral of the story is, if you’re going to sign up with a solar lead generation company, find out how they get their leads. If they require a phone number and don’t give an email option, don’t buy their leads.
After all, residential solar prospects who resent the way your solar lead generation company does business may be worse than no leads at all.
Of course, the best solar leads will come by generating them yourself on your own website. But that can take a few months to start to show results.
So, in the meantime, a residential solar company may need to keep buying leads to feed its sales funnel. Fine.
But before they buy leads from a lead generation vendor, solar installers should make sure that any third-party leads are really worth buying.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group