If cavemen had photovoltaics back in the Ice Age, their only choice to sell solar to each other would have been to walk from cave to cave, making their pitch.
By grunting, of course. “Solar. Big money. Save. Ugh!”
A lot has changed since then. Sort of.
Today, people around the globe think of solar PV as one of the world’s most advanced energy sources and even wonder what kind of solar panels NASA uses in space.
And fortunately for today’s solar installers, the Age of the Internet has brought plenty of new ways to sell solar unknown in the Ice Age — or even in the 1990s.
Yet, even with more effective online marketing tools widely available, many solar companies just can’t seem to kick the habit of cave-man sales. The habit, that is, of sending their salesmen out into neighborhoods to knock on doors.
Pest Control Services and Solar Installs
Whether you call it cold walking, canvassing or door knocking, many PV installers still rely on door-to-door solar sales. In hot markets for solar, it’s as common to see salesmen for Vivint or a small local installer walking your neighborhood as it is to meet a grade schooler selling chocolate bars and magazine subscriptions or a college kid pushing food storage and pest control.
That’s too bad, because while door-to-door solar sales may have worked well in the past, today this tactic is less and less effective.
“For decades, many industries relied on door-to-door sales, both direct-to-consumer and business-to-business. Now, unsolicited solicitations are not only unwanted, but in some areas are illegal unless a hard-to-come-by permit is obtained. And, in light of the surge of social media and e-commerce, door-to-door sales is simply unwarranted,” explains marketing expert Angela Stringfellow on American Express OpenForum.
Forbes has even listed door-to-door sales as one of the 10 Top Dead or Dying Career Paths, projecting an 18% decline in positions by 2018.
The Pain of Door-to-Door Solar Sales
Obviously, plenty of PV company sales managers seem to think that door-to-door solar sales still bring in business. Or maybe it’s just that those sales managers came up through cold walking themselves, so they think it builds character. Or they think that the guys under them should have to pay their dues by knocking on doors to get started.
But door-to-door solar sales isn’t just painful for the salesman. Cold walking is also a poor use of marketing resources with a low return-on-investment for a solar installer.
Case in point. Just consider this “ask me anything” discussion from an experienced door-to-door salesman found on one of the public forums on Reddit, “IamA Solar Consultant (Who does door to door!) AMA!”
It’s a dialogue between a solar salesman known as FireSuperiorityCompl and members of the forum who have questions about door-to-door solar sales.
“I’m a Solar Consultant (Sales Guy) and I am relatively new in the Solar Industry and started early this year. I get most of my leads from going door to door,” says the salesman in his short bio.
Though he’s been selling solar for less than a year, he explains that he’s already worked for three companies: one of the largest solar companies in California and nationwide, a small startup that served as a solar broker for different providers, and a marketing firm that worked for two different installers. So he knows the industry.
The discussion gets interesting when somebody asks the salesman about the results of door-to-door solar sales:
Q: How many residential front doors do you have to knock on to create a lead? How many leads turn into revenue in your pocket?
A: I have had to knock 50 times for each lead. Out of every ten leads, I would say one sells and turns into money in my pocket.
Q: You must have an iron will. That’s a lot of rejection to deal with. Much respect for your effort.
A: Thank you!
And I’ll add my own respect as well for this salesman or anybody who does door-to-door solar sales. I wish you well — and I hope your company offers you an easier way to sell solar very soon.
A story like this speaks loudly where statistics only whisper: door-to-door solar sales is a lot of hassle for very little reward.
Just consider the numbers in the example. Knocking on 50 doors yields one sales lead. And it takes ten sales leads to close a deal. Do the math: 50 x 10 = 500.
Yes, that’s right. This salesman has to knock on a staggering 500 doors just to make a single solar sale. Ouch.
Why the Doors Are Now Closing
However effective door-to-door solar sales may have been in the past, several trends have made cold walking ineffective across industries today.
Marketing expert Stringfellow quotes a real estate exec to explain why doors are now closing on door-to-door sales in his industry, which has long relied on this tactic:
Randy Tivens, vice president of marketing and communications for Forecast Land Corporation, a land investment firm, said society no longer permits such a practice. “I like to tell my newer sales trainees, the only folks who go door to door anymore with any amount of success are either poor kids selling candy from a large box or general real estate folk who are giving out pads of paper with their pictures on them to remind homeowners to use them if/when they decide to sell their house,” Tivens says.
Stringfellow identifies three trends that have led to the decline of door-to-door sales. And all of them apply to solar:
- Rise in Reported Scams — The news is full these days of solar scams, especially in hot states like Arizona and California, where salesmen over-promise and under-deliver. As a result, consumers have become more and more suspicious of solar salespeople.
- Changing Technologies — In the Age of Information Overload, consumers have less patience for being interrupted by marketers. And if consumers hate TV ads and cold calls more than ever, they have no patience at all for being interrupted by a cold canvasser at home.
- Increase in Retail — Consumers don’t need to wait for a salesman to come by their house to get steak knives or carpet cleaner. They can buy it themselves at a big box store or on Amazon. As for solar, now it’s also being sold at Lowe’s and other retail locations, where consumers can see if their home might be a good candidate for a solar installation and even schedule a home assessment.
Step Away from the Door
Forget for a moment that making salesmen knock on doors may build character for a few macho men. But for anybody with any emotional intelligence, so much rejection is going to be a real morale buster.
It’s no wonder that it’s hard for companies that rely heavily on door-to-door solar sales to recruit and retain good salespeople.
Even if those companies don’t mind the staff turnover, they should start to worry about the competition.
If you’re competing only against cavemen, then maybe you can afford to keep going door-to-door for a few more years.
But if your competitors are among the growing number of solar companies, both residential and commercial, that are seeing higher ROI through inbound marketing online, then if you keep knocking on doors to make sales, your company may be about to go the way of the Neanderthal.
Towards extinction, that is.
Perhaps it’s time to evolve out of the Ice Age and into the Age of the Internet?
Generate Your Own Solar Leads Online
Online marketing tactics such as exchanging e-books for email addresses or nurturing prospects until they’re ready to buy through email drip campaigns deliver better sales leads more cost effectively than traditional marketing and sales, according to research by HubSpot.
Interested? Want to know how to get started?
To do any marketing online, the first thing you need is your own company website. Your website is your own online HQ where you can build an audience of solar buyers and show them how you offer value different from your competitors.
- It’s not enough to have a Facebook page. If you don’t have a website, where are you going to send your Facebook visitors to convert them to leads?
- And it’s not enough to have minimal a sales associate subpage on the website of the big solar company you sell for, whether it’s SolarCity or whomever. These pages do poorly in search engines and bring in little or no traffic — which means no leads.
What solar companies need is a website that’s optimized for lead generation and that does regular inbound marketing — especially blogging — to attract visitors and convert them to leads.
Then, the company needs to give those leads to their salespeople.
On top of that, larger solar companies can help their salesmen to do even better by giving them a small place of their own on the company’s website to generate their own leads.
For example, instead of providing the typical wimpy sales associate page mentioned above with a photo, contact information, and a form that sends inquiries not to the salesman but directly to the company, solar companies could offer salesmen a mini-website on their bigger company site where the leads go straight to the salespeople. In that way, the sales team will be more motivated to put in the effort to make their mini-website work.
With a robust place on their company’s website where salespeople can add and change content themselves, they can start to generate their own web traffic from web searches for solar installs, build their own email list of prospects and start generating their own sales leads.
A Website is Not Magic, But It’s Powerful If You Work It
Now, let’s be practical.
If you’re a solar salesman, you may not have time or skills to put up your own website.
And even if you can create a website yourself (these services can help), you’ll need even more time every week to put up new content, optimize it for web searches and see how your visitors are behaving online — so you can give them more of what they want.
After all, putting up a website doesn’t automatically pull in sales leads. To build an audience online that will convert to leads, you have to offer real value to solar buyers by publishing new content on your website on a regular basis.
That’s a lot of work.
The rare solar salesman will have the time and interest to do it at all. But doing it well? That’s another story.
An experienced web designer and inbound marketer will get the best results in generating solar leads. But good online marketers who know the solar industry don’t come cheap, and a salesman can’t afford to hire one himself.
Hiring good marketing help is the job of the salesman’s employer, the solar company. If management is committed to giving their salespeople the help they need to make sales, then the company should invest in an effective lead-generation website and then to provide those leads to their salespeople.
If you’re a solar salesman and your company isn’t giving you enough exclusive leads generated on their own website, you should encourage them to start. As soon as possible.
It definitely takes work for your company to get leads online. But it takes work for you and your sales colleagues to knock on doors too.
Smart solar companies know that they need to invest in marketing that will pay off in the future, instead of wasting resources on a dying sales tactic from the past.
If your sales director or company management isn’t convinced yet, give them our guide to generating solar leads on their own website. You can download the guide here for free right now.
If they’re still not ready to start giving you leads generated online, and if they still insist on sending you out to knock on doors, then perhaps you should start looking for another job. There are lots of better solar companies out there who already get it. Don’t waste your time with a caveman company whose marketing is stuck in the Stone Age.
You can start building your career in solar sales now with a company that will give you the leads you need. Or you can keep knocking on doors until the last one is slammed in your face. It’s your choice.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group