Since we rank on page one of Google results for the search “solar leads,” we get contacted every month from people who want to buy solar sales leads.
We always tell them the same thing. We don’t sell leads.
But why should you care?
Because I don’t think that solar installers and developers should buy solar sales leads either. And it’s for the same reason that we don’t sell leads.
Most sales leads that solar companies buy are garbage. They convert at a low rate and may even harm the companies that use them. Buying and selling leads is toxic to the solar industry because it destroys trust and makes all installers and developers look bad.
It would be better for everyone in the industry if we stopped thinking about solar buyers as leads to be bought and sold and started thinking of them as people whose trust we need to earn.
But first, let’s look at why so many solar installers want to buy leads and why there are so many solar leads for sale these days.
How to Start A Business Selling Solar Leads
There’s a huge demand in today’s solar boom market for solar sales leads. And more and more websites are popping up to meet this demand, by offering “verified, quality sales leads” or “100 million solar leads – close more solar business today.”
Obviously, this sounds tempting to solar installers in a competitive market who go through leads very quickly. Solar salespeople always need fresh meat — er, prospects. It’s a tempting shortcut to buy sales leads right away instead of having to generate your own leads over time.
So there must be big money in selling solar leads.
Have you ever wondered what it would take to grab some of this big money and set up your own business selling solar leads?
From studying dozens of solar lead generation websites, we’ve figured out what you’d have to do.
And I’m giving the formula away for free right here — not so that you can start selling solar leads but so that you can understand why buying and selling leads is not such a good idea for solar installers and developers.
There are seven steps in generating and selling sales leads for solar buyers online. Spoiler alert: Step #7 is the money shot.
- Create a website targeted at people who are interested in getting solar. Your audience would usually be homeowners, but you could try commercial businesses also. Just be sure to keep them separate, since these two audiences expect different things.
- Post basic content about the benefits of going solar, from saving money to going green.
- Put a solar savings calculator on your homepage to generate leads. When visitors fill out the form, to get the results, they have to enter their contact information.
- If you’re smart about it, you’ll also run a blog to keep adding new content to your website and do better in search engine results. The one more effective solar lead generation services such as EnergySage run an active blog.
- Attract visitors by pumping your content out through social media, both organic posts and ads.
- Build solar buyers’ trust by sending them additional content over time, based on their activity on your website. Nurture early-stage buyers into people who are ready to get solar.
- Then, destroy that trust by selling each solar buyer as a lead to a solar installer that they’ve never heard of.
Of course, if you’re a lead generation vendor, you don’t really care whether you’ve destroyed the trust of solar buyers. You’re just selling leads, so once you get your money, it’s not your problem if the leads are poor quality and convert at a very low rate.
We Had the Chance to Sell Leads but Said “No Thanks”
We came at solar leads from the opposite direction. Instead of creating a website for consumers to gather leads, we attracted traffic from the solar industry interested in buying leads to our website.
How did we do it? Through months of publishing optimized content on the subject of solar lead generation, we earned a place on page one of search results for “solar leads” with our article “Stop Buying Solar Leads and Start Making Your Own.”
Ironically, while most of the results on that page are vendors selling leads, our article is pretty much the opposite. We’re telling solar companies not to buy the leads that all those vendors are selling.
But the article must meet a need in the solar industry, because it gets hundreds of visits each week. And it leads to many of the phone consultations that I do with solar companies.
In some of those calls, I get requests to buy leads.
And for a while, I actually considered creating a solar lead generation business using the formula I described above. Since my company does web design for the solar industry, it would be easy to set up a website aimed at homeowners about the benefits of rooftop solar. Then, we could start collecting residential solar leads.
Since we help solar companies generate leads online, why not start doing it for ourselves?
Given how hungry solar companies are for leads, this might’ve been a way to make some easy money.
But in the end, I decided against it, because I didn’t think giving solar companies more third-party leads was the solution. Really, I felt that it would have just added to the problem.
Instead, we published a page on our website called Our Values explaining why we think buying and selling leads is dangerous for the solar industry.
The Solar Industry’s Biggest Problem: Lack of Trust
The biggest risk to solar spreading around America — and the biggest barrier to solar companies making more sales — is not big monopoly utilities or cheap natural gas.
It’s the solar industry’s own reputation.
With all the stories recently in the news in hot solar markets like California, Arizona or Massachusetts about solar sales problems of one sort or another, there’s a risk that the industry will start to get branded as untrustworthy. A risk that the public would start to compare solar companies to the kind of aluminum siding scammers depicted in the movie Tin Men.
Even after reading some stories of solar scammers, if you still don’t think the solar industry has a problem with its reputation, just take a sampling of customer comments about major solar installers on review sites such as Consumer Affairs. For example, here are some customer complaints from April, 2016:
It turned out that my rates were higher than my provider and I only noticed that now, as I started receiving higher bills due to longer sun hours.
Two weeks after installation, I now have water coming in my front entrance and [the solar company] will NOT take responsibility. I am extremely disappointed in the customer service dept for what appears to be a professional establishment.
The system has stopped working 3 different times in the term of 10 months. I pay a fixed rate of $153.00 per month to [the solar company], however when the system is not working they expect me to pay the monthly rate regardless. I am actually paying more in electric having solar than when I just used [my utility].
Two Failed Ways to Reach Solar Buyers
It should be clear by now that the solar industry needs to rebuild trust among the public in the most desirable solar markets. Of course that means dealing with customer service problems like those listed above.
But building trust doesn’t start after PV panels are installed on a rooftop. Building trust really starts at the beginning, with a solar company’s marketing. And unfortunately, even solar installers with a reputation for doing good work and offering good value often do marketing that makes them look pushy at best and sleazy at worst.
1. Make Your Sales Reps Responsible for Getting their Own Leads
Many solar companies’ marketing consists of hiring independent sales reps, handing them a box of brochures and sending them off with a hearty handshake to go out and sell solar to anyone they can find. Most of these hard-working sales reps have to prospect their own leads with little or no help from the companies that employ them.
That may seem like a sweet deal to the management of some solar installers. Imagine what they’re thinking:
Hey, we make sales but we don’t have to find any of our own leads! Let the sales guys generate all their own leads however they can. It’s 100% their responsibility. Then we pay them a commission only if they make a sale. That means the sales reps take all the risk, but the company gets all the reward. What’s not to like?
While this approach is hard on the sales reps, it’s also shortsighted for a solar installer.
Making sales reps generate all their own leads themselves creates low morale that increases turnover in the salesforce, costing a solar installer money to constantly recruit and train new sales reps. And salesforce turnover causes solar installers to close fewer deals than competitors who retain sales reps longer because they treat their salesforce better and provide them with marketing support.
2. Buy Some Leads for Your Reps
Fortunately, some solar companies give their salespeople more support. But too many of these well intentioned solar companies just buy leads instead of making their own. Usually, they get leads in one of two common ways:
- They buy lists of leads and make cold calls in-house
- They hire a telemarketing firm to make appointments for their salespeople to visit a prospect’s home and offer a solar assessment
Though solar companies have been buying sales leads for years, lately this strategy has started to deliver fewer and fewer sales. Increased competition is partially to blame. There are just more solar installers today than there were five years ago.
But with increased interest in solar and better deals, there are also more customers today than there used to be. So the real reason why purchased leads convert at lower and lower rates as time goes on is that public attitudes have changed over the last decade.
And you can blame the Internet for that.
The Internet and the Rise of Self Service and Permission Marketing
Before the Internet, solar buyers relied on solar companies to get most of the information they’d need to make a purchase decision. That put solar salespeople in the driver’s seat.
The arrival of the Internet changed all that. Now, buyers can get most of their information about solar online themselves. That means the buyer is empowered over the salesperson.
Up to 80% of visitors to a solar company website expect to find what they need through self-service, and not by talking to a salesperson. By the time a buyer is ready to talk to the company, that buyer may have made two-thirds of his decision on solar. So, a buyer only wants to talk to a solar installer once they’ve given their permission to be contacted.
Over the course of the solar buyer’s journey, a person considering solar wants to learn enough to empower himself to make the best decision he can. Then, he wants to choose a home installer or commercial developer that he can trust.
Solar Leads Are People Too
When a solar buyer gives his (increasingly precious) email address or even phone number to a solar company, that buyer is giving his permission for the company to contact him. He’s showing that he trusts that company.
If the same company then passes along that buyer’s information to another company like a hot potato, it’s a violation of that trust. The second company should not expect the buyer to be happy to hear from them. Thus, the low value of most solar leads that are bought and sold.
And as sales analyst Steve Hoffacker explains, the lead generation probably didn’t make a good first impression on the buyer to begin with. Though he’s talking about healthcare, his critique of lead generation vendors applies well to solar:
We really shouldn’t expect that an outside service — who has never met us, never discussed what products or services we offer with us, has no idea of our pricing strategy, and doesn’t know what we consider to be a good referral for us — to be in a position to provide any potential purchasers, customers, or client to us — for free or otherwise. They have no skin in the game. This is strictly a business transaction for them — a sale of perhaps questionable value (depending on useful any of the names might turn out to be). They make the same offer to anyone who will pay their fee.
If solar installers and developers outsource their marketing to lead generation vendors, some of whom may be located overseas, they are trusting someone else to make the crucial first impression with the solar buyer.
And that’s a huge risk in a solar market where trust is already fraying.
A Solar Buyer is Not a Hot Potato
The only way for solar companies to build trust — and in some markets to re-build trust — is to approach buyers themselves, honestly and openly. And then to keep building that relationship themselves.
Didn’t you hate it when, after congratulating you on your new home, your friendly local mortgage broker then sold off your mortgage to Bank of America or Chase?
Solar buyers don’t like it any better when their first contact with a solar installer is a cold call from a third-party telemarketer who then passes the buyer along to your solar company, with whom the buyer has no relationship.
Nobody wants to be passed along from company to company like a hot potato.
Thats why many solar companies that keep relying on lead generation vendors probably won’t be around in five years. If you want your solar company to remain standing after your competitors fall, then you should forget about buying solar leads.
Instead, start building your own audience of people who want solar, and who want it from you.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group