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Solar Marketing Insights: The Consumer Purchasing Process

Posted by AllEarth Renewables on December 13, 2016 in Dealers

Solar Marketing Insights: The Consumer Purchasing Process 

As you begin to think more strategically about your solar sales and marketing strategy, it’s important to understand who your customers are, where they’re coming from, and what the solar  purchasing process looks like from their perspective.

The Growing Residential Solar Industry

Residential solar is a seven billion dollar industry, twelve billion if you include small commercial installations.It’s grown over 60% per year for the past four years, a pace that’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future as rising energy costs and falling technology prices drive greater demand. EnergySage, an online solar marketplace that connects homeowners with qualified solar installers, collects and analyzes millions of data points related to the solar sales process to provide unique insights to their network of installers and the solar industry at large, to help further this growth. They track trends and data across 30+ states, over 400 installers, collecting over one million data points each month.

What they’ve found is that the consumer’s buying process mirrors the solar sales funnel, increasing in commitment as the process continues. Tactics for solar sales and marketing typically target one or more stages in the sales funnel and consumer buying process.

The Solar Sales Funnel and the Consumer Process

 

Push vs. Pull Solar Marketing

EnergySage also found that most people who go solar become interested in solar energy by way of their network, the internet, and the media—all channels beyond what’s known as “push marketing,” a strategy that involves business working to get their message in front of their potential customers, despite that audience’s lack of interest in learning more. This form of marketing is considered disruptive—think television ads or cold calling. As shown in the chart below, “pull marketing,” service a strategy that generates demand for a product or service through establishing a brand that customers will actively seek out. Pull marketing techniques are varied, but the ones that EnergySage found to be the most effective for generating interest in solar were Internet searches and websites (21%), followed by personal recommendations (17%).

Push vs Pull Solar Marketing

 

In contrast, only 30% of consumers came to solar as a result of push marketing, despite the solar industry as a whole having spent over $1.5 billion on sales and marketing to consumers using these techniques. The takeaway here for smaller solar businesses is that competing with large solar companies on push marketing is highly competitive and very expensive. Pull marketing techniques are much more cost-effective, and powerful, ways of reaching your potential customers.

“The solar industry has spent billions of dollars on push marketing to influence less than a third of solar consumers."

Today’s Solar Consumers Have Options

One of the biggest challenges facing small solar businesses is to break through in a crowded field, and to balance the realities of running a profitable business with the needs and desires of modern solar customers. Solar is no longer a “one size fits all” product, and customers want more choice than a single installer program can realistically offer. New equipment manufacturers, solar financing providers and programs, and solar installers are entering the marketing at a rapid pace, and today’s solar shoppers are faced with a wide variety of choices, as demonstrated in the chart below.Solar Consumers Face Many Options

Given the multitude of choices available to consumers, how do you differentiate your offerings? A customer-centric multi-installer program provides its audience with access to multiple solar options from multiple solar installers, making it possible for every solar shopper to find the combination of equipment, financing, and installer that’s right for their needs.

Solar Shopping

Because they have so many options, it should be no surprise that solar consumers shop around: they do their own research into solar PV options, they tend to talk to several solar companies, and they often will compare multiple offers. This might seem like an obstacle to your own success, but the reverse is actually true: your competitors can help you win business. Not only does increased exposure to solar result in a higher likelihood that someone will eventually make a solar purchase (regardless of the installation type or the installer), the more quotes a consumer receives, the higher the conversion rate from prospect to customer.

The more quotes a solar customer gets, the more likely they are to convert.

Close rates in solar sales are primarily driven by the sales process, and the ability of the sales team to capture the momentum of the customer’s interest. Some best practices to accomplish this include:

Confidence

Welcome comparisons with other providers.

Speed

Be fast to provide quote, and fast to initiate contact and conversation.

Follow-Up

Focus on persistent (but polite) engagement, and make sure it’s timely enough to capture and maintain customer momentum.

Follow-Through

Deliver on promised timelines for proposal development and modifications, and show up for site visits and follow-up calls as scheduled.

Connecting With Your Solar Customers

Additionally, the most effective sales teams find ways to connect with customers and earn their trust, often by excellent listening as well as solar expertise. Some of the best ways to accomplish this are:

Listening

Having attuned awareness of customer goals, preferences, and values, and bringing both a whole-home and a whole-building energy perspective.

Trust Building

Earn the right to guide the customer, and be forthright in answers to customer questions.

Balance

Be responsive and attentive without being pushy, and be knowledgeable and clear-minded without being rigid.

“Listening and empathy are often overlooked and underappreciated skill sets among solar sales teams.”

Paying a Premium

When it comes down to making the solar purchase, EnergySage found that consumers are willing to pay more for premium equipment, and are increasingly sensitive to differences in aesthetics, efficiencies, and warranties. Though solar prices varied by equipment, system size, and geography, solar customers paid an average of $3.50/W, with the bulk of price dispersion between $3.00/W and $4.50/W. What this shows is that price matters—but not as much as some imagine. Consumers do find value in premium equipment and high-quality installation service, as evidenced by the fact that 70% of customers do not select the lowest solar quote offered on the EnergySage Marketplace.

Given some of the suprising and revealing EnergySage insights, it's clear that taking the time to research industry buying trends and the average solar consumer purchasing process, in addition to learning about the customers in your area, is key to achieving solar sales and marketing success. 

Want more solar marketing insights? Learn how to understand, meet, and overcome your customer's needs and challenges to help you close more sales in our free white paper, "Know Your Customer."

Know Your Customer: A Guide to Understanding Your Customer's Needs and Challenges to Improve Your Solar Sales

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