In real estate, you’ll often hear that the three most important factors are “location, location, and location.” In a similar vein, the three most important factors for selling a product are “the customer, the customer, and the customer.” In other words, the starting point for developing a successful solar sales and marketing plan is to know exactly what your target customer wants and needs.
In the solar world there are a wide range of customers with varying needs, and it can be easy to lose your focus and try to be all things to all customers. In the process, you might lose your focus and become just another generic solar business. Perhaps if you’re a large solar company with a significant marketing budget it might be possible to have such a broad reach, but that's usually not the case. Differentiating yourself, and establishing business as an expert in a smaller segment of the market, is key.
As a smaller business, you will have two goals. The first is to ride the wave of increased awareness and interest in solar that is being pushed forward by the marketing prowess of large, mainstream companies in your area and nationwide. The second is to, within the broad market of “consumers interested in going solar,” find the customers and the niche that you can best serve, based on the results of an in-depth strategic analysis of your business’s competitive strengths and weaknesses.
Understanding Your Solar Customers
The key then, is to truly understand what it is that your customer values. What are the key problems that your product or service is solving for the customer? Every customer has a different motivation for considering an investment in a solar system, so it is important to talk to them individually and understand what is driving their thought processes. By clearly seeing their goals and priorities you will be able to offer them the right product to meet their needs.
We all think we know what our customers want. But it is surprising what you learn when you actually ask them—often, it’s something we hadn’t even considered. So go talk to as many people as possible: your existing customers, their neighbor who has a competitor’s product, the people who don’t have solar, the contractor building the houses that should have solar, the local utility that is promoting renewable energy, the customer who almost bought solar but then didn’t. Ask them what they think and you will be amazed what you learn. Here are some sample questions to ask, although you may have additional questions based on your market:
- What are the reasons they want solar?
- What problem would a solar system solve for them?
- What are the barriers to them installing solar?
- What would have to change for them to consider solar?
- What is the biggest problem with solar?
- Where do they or would they learn about solar?
- Who are the companies they think of if and when they consider solar?
Buyer Personas: Who Are You Selling To?
As you talk to people and collect information you should start to see some patterns emerge and, eventually, be able to define and group the customers into groups and types. In the sales and marketing world, these are often called personas. As defined by Hubspot, a leading inbound marketing company:
"A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Buyer personas provide tremendous structure and insight for your company. A detailed buyer persona will help you determine where to focus your time, guide product development, and allow for alignment across the organization. As a result, you will be able to attract the most valuable visitors, leads, and customers to your business.
Having a clear sense of your key buyer personas can help you tailor, segment, and target your marketing most effectively, so that each customer type, or persona, is getting the information they need and the message that’s most important to them.
You want to focus on only a few personas to start with—too few and you will be marketing to everyone, too many and you have not differentiated your customers. Remember, these do not have to describe all of your customers, just your key ones. In addition to the questions listed above, ask yourself about your customers’ other traits: How old do they tend to be? Are they married or single? What’s their average income? What type of property do they live on? What are their goals, values, hobbies, and interests? It may feel extraneous or unneccessary to compile all this background information, but it's invaluable in terms of building a well-developed picture of who you're really selling to.
You may want to also define a few personas that are not your customers. For example, there may be a customer type who does not want to spend any money upfront and is looking for a power purchase agreement or lease. This may not be something your company offers, so you’ll want to create a persona that helps you identify these customers easily so you don’t spend too much time on them.
For many people, “going solar” sounds good in the abstract but is daunting in reality. So think about what your various personas know about solar and anticipate the issues and concerns that are creating barriers for them. By understanding their challenges are and being able to present solutions to them, you show yourself to be a trusted expert who they will feel comfortable working with--and referring friends and family to down the line. Armed with this knowledge, you can now start to align the strengths of your company with the needs and interests of your customer, establish yourself as a go-to installer in your area, and close more sales.