Solar marketing, especially for local or regional, small- to medium-sized businesses, can be a challenge. Often, individuals in these companies have to wear a lot of hats (according to a 2015 Energy Trust survey, as many as five on average), with marketing simply being one of several competing priorities. When you're being pulled in so many directions, without a dedicated staffperson to execute marketing operations, it's something that can easily fall by the wayside. Given this, it's not surprising that a 2016 Chaolysti survey found that solar businesses ranked the following as a combination of "Very Difficult" and "Somewhat Difficult" to manage:
- Marketing (62%)
- Sales Operations & Process (55%)
- Cash flow & accounting, component selection, system design (tied for third)
Still, it's clear that marketing is an important piece of becoming competitive in a crowded solar market, and not something that you can let slide. So what are solar installers doing to find marketing success?
Solar Marketing Activation Channels
Installers are using a combination of activation channels, with varying degrees of success.
Referral/Word of Mouth
100% of installers use this strategy, which leverages customer networks to generate new leads and is a great example of "pull marketing." This strategy can be both formalized (with incentives for customer referrals) or one you cultivate organically by being professional, efficient, and executing your installations well.
90% of installers used some form of graphics to promote their businesses, with the most common forms being yard signs erected at install sites and truck magnets for increased visibility in your sales territory.
55% of installers participate in affinity marketing, which involves partnering with local groups and networks with similar goals and interests to increase your business's reach.
Paid Online Media
54% of installers used paid online media, such as Google Adwords or Facebook ads.
The survey also looked into which channels were the most effective. They aligned closely with the most-used strategies, including, in order:
- Referral/word of mouth
- Yard signs and truck magnets
- Affinity marketing
- Workshops and speaking engagements
Top Solar Marketing Pain Points
While marketing presents a lot of challenges that vary depending on location and size, solar installers generally agreed on three top pain points that are present across the industry.
Selecting the right marketing activation channels is only one piece of the puzzle--actually executing your marketing program will require some strategy. Even if you're one of the many solar installers surveyed who has to wear many hats, there are a few key things you can do to effectively managing your marketing.
- Secure foundational pieces (such as brand identity, a style guide, a brand guide, and customer profiles/personas) so you stay on target and save both time and money.
- Integrate disparate marketing software-related platforms into one CRM--having your data be centralized and well-organized is invaluable.
- Secure more funds into programs through co-op resources, so you can leverage additional networks and resources to expand the scope of your campaigns. Most manufacturers in the solar industry offer some kind of marketing co-op program to their installers or distributers.
As the solar industry gets increasingly crowded, with more and more businesses popping up every day, it can be difficult to establish yourself as a true player in your market and to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Some of the best ways to set yourself apart from the crowd include:
- Establish and consistently communicate your company's competitive strengths.
- Dedicate time and resources to marketing function for consistent program delivery and tracking of results.
- Develop and leverage a clear understanding of key customer groups to more accurately use lead-targeting tools and develop creative campaign content (this process is also known as profile, or persona, development).
Competitive Bid Situations
- Work to turn referral marketing into a well-oiled machine: when these programs are up and running, they will do the work for you.
- Reduce lost leads and response-to-lead time with your CRM, using tools such as "web-to-lead" forms, as close to instant response times as possible, clearly defined sales process steps, and accountable sales attention.
- Focus on your strengths versus your competition's weaknesses: this will position you as the leader, rather than the one trying to catch up.
Turning One Installation Into Many
If you have a clear, standardized, step-by-step approach to marketing, it's easy to use your first solar installation as a springboard to building your business and increasing your sales.
For every install you do, ensure that you have signage and graphics prominently displayed to consistently communicate your brand, including yard signs, truck magnets, company logos on apparel and hats, and brochures, postcards, and or/door hangers to leave behind for the customer. Make sure all your graphics are consistent, and powerfully present and support your brand.
During the Install
Take advantage of being onsite. You should be getting pictures of all your installs to use in your print and digital collateral, so be sure to get before and after photos (both with and without the clients in them--prospective customers like to see real people). Be sure to develop a permission form ensuring you can freely use these images in your future marketing efforts.
You should also take the time to establish a presence in the community, especially if it's a place you haven't done an install before. Have your sales team walk the neighborhood to talk with neighbors, hand out a letter or door hanger, or even offer a special neighborhood discount for going solar by a certain time.
Post-Install Customer Satisfaction
The most valuable step you can take post-install is to show the client that their happiness is important to you. There are many ways to do this, but you can keep it simple.
Thank the client with 30, 60, and 90 day-out letters. These are good touch points to make sure the client knows you're dedicated to their overall satisfaction. Remind them how much you appreciate their business! This is a great way to make a positive impression, especially since most solar customers in the U.S. report that they never hear from their installer again post-install. Make this process simpler by using a template (modified with personalization tokens), creating a schedule, and automating delivery within your CRM.
You should send all clients a survey to get feedback on what your crew did well, and what areas could use improvement. If they seem happy, and once they've had a chance to see the results of their solar system at work (for example, in the form of their first reduced electricity bill), ask them for referrals. If they are really enthusiastic, you could even ask them to hold a solar party for their friends and family to further leverage their network for leads.
Use social media to your advantage. Ask each customer to "like" your page on Facebook, and request that they rate your services and/or leave a review. You can also use the robust digital advertising available through Facebook to generate leads in the communities and neighborhoods where you're doing work, inviting neighbors to join go solar now and using images of real installs nearby.
You should also think about ways to promote your projects, even if they're small. Again, social media is a good place for this: tagging manufacturers when you post pictures can help increase your reach. Most solar manufacturers are on the lookout for great pictures showcasing their products, and will often repost to their audiences.
Traditional promotion is important, too: look for ways to tie into your local community with photos and customer stories. Try reaching out to local news outlets to see if they're interested in using them.
Create a checklist of everything each install should receive in terms of marketing attention and efforts. Get into the habit of using this checklist for each install, so you don't forget anything important. These can also be translated into campaign milestones in your CRM to measure long-term success.
It's also important to track referral materials and fees/incentives against the cost of new sales, to make sure you're actually getting a good return on investment. This should be a relatively low-cost way of sourcing leads, so it may require some work to get the balance right.
Remember that every customer, and every area, will be different, so track and measure what works best in each neighborhood approach to fine-tune your program.
The Customer's Experience
When focusing on strategies and best practices for solar marketing, it can become easy to lose focus of what really matters: your customer's experience. Never lose sight of the magic of this customer's journey with solar, and try to capture it in your communications. Despite financial and logistical hurdles on their end, and sales, marketing, and installation processes on yours, customers are generally excited to go solar--and you should be excited to tell their solar stories!
Focus on uncovering and communicating your customers' experiences with your team: what kinds of conversations are they having with each other? How do they describe it to their children? What excites them about solar? Use those points of view to shape your marketing and communications into something genuine and engaging that captures the customer's experience.