It’s become a cliché for homeowners who want rooftop solar: the solar installer that never returns your call.
Maybe solar companies are just too busy in hot markets like California or Massachusetts these days. Or maybe installers can’t hire and keep good salespeople. Whatever the reason, more and research is backing up what solar company managers already know:
If you’re not quick on the draw, you can lose the sale.
But speed isn’t enough. You also need to build trust among homeowners.
And that means getting your own company’s name out there so you’re not just another generic solar installer who buyers will choose on speed and price alone.
Why You Need to Call Back Sooner
The residential solar industry does have a problem with getting back to people who want to get solar on their rooftops.
A secret shopper study of solar installers by research firm Velocify done in 2015 showed that 19% of inquiries from homeowners interested in a quote for solar never received a response at all.
“Nearly 40 percent of prospective solar customers waited weeks for a quote response, and many never received a response at all,” writes Julia Pyper at Greentech Solar. “When companies wait an extended duration before responding to requests from prospective buyers, it has been shown to put them at a significant disadvantage compared to companies that respond within minutes.”
Big solar installers confirm that, if they don’t get back to prospects quickly enough, they lose the sale. As Tor “Solar Fred” Valenza writes of a meeting on residential solar sales held in May 2016,
Sunrun’s Eric Reinhardt, director of software product management, said that Sunrun’s biggest lead acquisition pain point results from the great deal of time and resources required to find customers, qualify leads, and educate them about solar. But if the company doesn’t set an appointment quickly or generate a quote fast enough, the opportunity could be quickly lost.
“They go back to their lives,” he explained. “We can keep calling them back to reschedule, but their interest window has closed, and they’re no longer interested until maybe we catch them again when we knock on their door or they come into Costco.”
How Speed Can Hurt Sales in the Long Run
Returning calls promptly is just Sales 101 no matter what you’re selling. If a residential installer has a problem responding to inquiries quickly, helping their sales reps become more responsive should be top priority.
But there’s also a danger in trying to get too quick on the draw.
Catching a customer before he gets the jitters may be crucial to making a sale for an impulse purchase. When the buyer’s whim is gone, the solar installer has lost its opportunity.
That’s why Katie DeWitt, product manager at SolarCity, says the company has sped up its process by routing any new lead that comes in to the nearest free rep with the highest closing rate, as Valenza writes:
“We’re trying to get the customers who are ready to talk to a great sales rep as soon as possible,” she explained. “Maybe you’ve done some research online, maybe you’re ready to go, and then maybe you wait and talk to someone at a dinner party that night who says that solar is a bad idea, and we never hear from you again. If we can engage you with great content and information as soon as you express interest, that would address a lot of the early stage fallout.”
DeWitt says that the company has increased sales with this approach. But at some point, focusing your sales effort on sneaking in quickly before a fickle buyer changes his mind is going to show diminishing returns.
In the short run, you can certainly close some residential solar sales as an impulse purchase, like a Flowbee, a Chia Pet or the infamous Abdominizer.
But in the long run, marketing solar infomercial-style, with “call now!” discounts to pull in
suckers buyers before they change their minds will erode the trust of homeowners. Loss of trust will hurt sales for your company while tarnishing the reputation of the whole industry.
Residential Installers Race to the Bottom, Quickly
It’s no wonder that even big national installers like SolarCity and Sunrun think that if they don’t get in exactly when a homeowner is ready to sign on the line that is dotted, that they’ll miss out on the sale altogether.
Few solar companies have been able to build much brand recognition among potential customers.
Instead, most solar installers are just generic.
They aren’t known for their service or their quality or anything that makes them better than other residential installers. That’s because they’ve outsourced their marketing to lead generation vendors and aren’t getting their own name out to potential customers.
As a result, most homeowners don’t distinguish among solar installers except by price and how quickly they respond. And if one solar installer is the same as another to the solar buyer, then she’s just going to look for the installer who calls her back first offering no money down and low monthly payments.
This leads to a bad place for residential solar. If enough homeowners feel that solar is just a commodity you buy purely on speed and price, then solar installers will have no choice but to race each other to the bottom. “We’re faster and cheaper!” “No, we’re faster and cheaper!”
As profits decline, then residential installers will be left with no alternative but to put up solar fast and cheap, leading to shoddy work.
And that will lead to customer complaints, angry reviews online, TV news investigations and letters from the state attorney general’s office.
Is that the future you want for your company or for the residential solar industry as a whole?
Fortunately, there’s a better way.
Speedy Gonzalez vs Prius and Tesla
For fluffy, unnecessary purchases, getting the buyer at just the right moment is necessary to make the sale. But for serious products and services that people value for their quality and lasting value, speed of sales reps is much less important.
Indeed, for some brave and lucky marketers, making the customer wait by limiting availability is a powerful strategy to increase the value of products.
And I’m not talking about manipulative tricks used to sell Beanie Babies or big screen TVs on Black Friday. I’m talking about creating lasting demand for serious brands, from Ivy League colleges to iPhones to Tesla cars.
Consider that people who wanted to buy a Tesla Model 3 camped out in front of Tesla stores to get their name on the waiting list when reservations opened on April 1, 2016:
As the reservation list soars—from 115,000 early Thursday night, to 135,000, to 180,000 Friday morning—the length of time that reservation holders will have to wait for a cars is growing fast. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted shortly after 1 pm (est) on Friday that the list had now grown to 198,000.
Or, take a less deluxe example. When the Toyota Prius first came out in the US, buyers also had to wait, in some cases months, to take delivery of their new vehicle. In 2005, used Priuses were selling above the sticker price for a new car. Even after more than a decade on the market, well driven Priuses will command a premium over comparable cars.
Impulse purchase? Hardly.
You can be sure that someone who wanted a Prius in 2005 or who wants a Tesla Model 3 now are not going to be dissuaded by a friend at dinner who tells them think twice before opening their wallet. These buyers are motivated to buy.
Whether they hear from a sales rep at 3:30 pm or 3:45 pm isn’t going to make any difference.
Indeed, for highly desirable products, buyers aren’t hearing from a sales rep at all. Instead, the buyers are seeking out the sales rep.
Five-Star Reviews Help Acquire A Lot of Residential Solar Customers
That’s what’s happened to one local solar installer in New York State I consulted with recently.
Customers started to contact the installer on their own.
Why? Because the company had build a reputation for quality and service.
Many homeowners had a bad experience with a competitor’s sales tactics. Often, the competitor was actually moving too fast and putting on too much pressure to close the deal. These buyers sought out this local installer because the company had built a reputation for treating its customers with respect and not trying to rush them along.
Getting noticed online for doing high quality installs didn’t hurt either. A series of five-star reviews online helped this local installer build its brand. For example:
- “I would recommend them to anyone”
- “They were professional clean and extremely honest”
- “I chose this company because of the high standard they offered”
None of these homeowners bought solar from this local installer because a sales rep happened to call at just the right second before the buyer changed his mind. Instead, homeowners bought from this local installer because the company had built a strong reputation for quality and service.
This installer had done what most residential solar installers don’t do. It had recruited a loyal following of people who knew, liked and trusted the company. People who saw this company as not just a generic, commodity solar installer, but as a company that did things differently (and better).
So, yes, to step up their residential solar customer acquisition, installers should be better about returning calls. But if they think that calling homeowners back quickly is enough, these installers will be disappointed in the long run.
While becoming more responsive, residential solar installers should also become better known among potential customers. They should distinguish themselves from competitors by quality and service so that homeowners will be more patient and will insist on one particular solar installer who they’ve learned to know, like and trust — even if they have to wait a bit.
To become better known and build their own brand, residential solar installers will have to stop hiding behind lead generation companies and start doing more of their own marketing.
Are you ready to start getting your own name out there?
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group