After one of my clients told me that he’s stopped buying solar sales leads, I realized that the old way of marketing solar installers, trying to put the largest number of names in the top of your sales funnel, is finally dying. What will replace it? Connecting with solar buyers in a more personalized way.
For a long time, I’ve been writing about the problems of the main marketing approach used by solar installers for the last 20 years — buying sales leads.
My claim has been that purchased leads are worse than they ever were because the expectations of solar buyers has changed. And you can blame the Internet.
Before the Internet came along at all or even before it got so big, buyers still relied on salesmen — whether by phone or on their doorstep — for information about solar equipment, pricing and financing.
But now the explosion of websites and email first and then social media and third-party review and marketplace sites (such as Angie’s List and EnergySage) has made it so much easier for homeowners and businesspeople to learn about solar on their own.
Before the Internet, solar buyers needed salesmen as the authority to educate them. Today, buyers can educate themselves. They can learn 80% of what they need to know about solar on their own.
And solar buyers, just like most American consumers, prefer self-service. They can go at their own pace without any pressure from a salesman trying to move them down the sales funnel.
So, I have contended for years that the Internet would kill solar telemarketing. But now I’m starting to get the proof, as more and more of my own clients, residential installers across the country, are dropping their contracts with solar lead vendors.
One client today, for example, told me he’s stopped buying all solar leads.
He thinks that lead gen vendors are liars who overpromise results but deliver sales leads that are essentially worthless.
Who am I to argue?
The only problem is, if you’re not going to buy leads anymore, what are you going to do instead?
Go for Numbers or Go for People
The temptation is to try something equally ineffective. You panic — you need revenue coming in now. So, you try some other way to reach lots of people. Maybe you buy some ads on Google or Facebook. Or you send out a huge email blast to a list you bought from some guy in Ukraine.
It’s a numbers game, right? The more names you put in the top of the funnel, the more signed contracts you can get out of the bottom.
This isn’t just a problem for solar installers. Every businessperson faces the same situation, that is, as marketing guru Seth Godin explains, “making effort in the face of near-certain rejection.”
“Every day, we shoot for unlikely outcomes. We send out our resume, pitch our book, ask for a donation, swipe right on a social network.” This leaves us two options. The first is to play the numbers game, to go for quantity over quality:
ONE: Realize that the odds are against you, and go for volume. This means that you should spray and pray, putting as little effort into each interaction as possible, giving you the resources to have as many interactions as you can. This is hiring a virtual assistant to spam your contacts, or sending out 200 resumes, or pounding your email list again and again for orders. This is your reaction to an unfair world, in which you deal with the noise by making more noise.
The second option is to slow down, to make fewer contacts but to spend much more time on each one:
TWO: Invest far more in each interaction than any rational human would advise. Do your homework. Invest more time in creating your offer than you expect the recipient will spend in replying to it. Don’t personalize, be personal. Create an imbalance of effort and care. Show up. Don’t spam, in any form.
I’ve always argued for approach number two, for the very reasons that Godin explains.
“The thing is, people can tell. And they’re significantly more likely to give you an interview, make a donation, answer your question or do that other thing you’re hoping for if you’ve signalled that you’re actually a caring, focused, generous human.”
Good marketing is about people communicating with people. It’s not about trying to close leads.
If you view solar homeowners as leads rather than people, you’re going to treat them like numbers. It’ll be no wonder why so few of them want to do business with you.
But if you treat solar buyers are people rather than prospects, then you’ll build their trust in you. How to do that?
Do Less Broadcasting and More Networking
You’ve heard of the “slow” food movement? Where food is not quicker but better? Where it’s about enjoyment and health instead of stuffing your mouth as easily as possible with the most calories for the lowest price?
Maybe what the solar industry needs now is “slow” marketing. That might mean doing a lot of good old-fashioned outreach that feels less like advertising and more like networking. And guess what? Not all of that will be online.
Here are some ideas to reach people as humans and to build trust for you and your company with potential solar buyers:
- Be transparent about you and your colleagues online. Add good bios with photos of your owners and key employees to your About Us page. Write blog posts with a real person’s name as the author, not “Info” or “Staff.” Post videos about your people to social media.
- Get more active on LinkedIn. Spend time helping people there before you ask them for anything.
- Do more networking offline, in the real world. Join local business networking groups and attend their lunch meetings. Give in-person talks (educational, not promotional) to local groups including civic clubs (Rotary, Kiwanis, etc), religious congregations (churches, temples, mosques) and any other groups you can think of where local people meet for networking or community service.
- Try to get local TV reporters to do a story about how to avoid solar rip-offs in your area. Be the one solar company that’s standing up for consumer protection.
The client I mentioned above is in a top-ten solar state, with a saturated market and homeowners who’ve heard every BS sales pitch from solar telemarketers and door-knockers.
Maybe your market is not yet so competitive or so tough. Maybe where you do business it still makes sense to buy a few solar leads. Fine.
But you should start to prepare now for the day when those leads will crap out. Because that day is coming whether you’re ready or not.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group