It’s clear that the bottlenecks to the solar PV industry are become less and less technical (though technical challenges still exist), and more about more about finance, sales and marketings. What does this mean? The companies that are the best at finance, sales, and marketing will have the best chance to survive in the future.
Here’s a few new marketing, sales, and finance resources.
- Free Commercial Solar PV Finance Model
- Website Optimization for Solar Companies Course
- How to Make More Money in the Solar Industry
- How Small Solar Companies Can Large Solar Installers with Deep Pockets
- How to Position Electrical Distributors for Growth
The companies that have created sales and marketing machines will be able to maintain profitability against competition. The competition will be stiff and it will be David vs Goliath out there. The small solar companies vs the SolarCities of the world. I think the small guys have a chance, and I want you to win.
A huge part of creating a marketing machine is having a well optimized website. Today’s guest post is by Peter Troast from Energy Circle Pro. If you’re super interested in optimizing your website, take our 3 week “Website Optimization for Solar Companies Course” for only $59. If you’re about to redesign or build your website, this course is perfect for you. Learn from a website optimization expert and use YOUR SITE in the class.
Download the full article here.
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Enter Peter Troast –
Everybody knows that marketing is in the midst of massive upheaval. The rise of Online, the death of the Yellow Pages and most print advertising, the incredible growth in social media. Combine this with the fact that in the solar industry, large, national companies have piles of IPO cash and are spending money like drunken sailors to capture market share. All in all, it makes for a confusing soup. But, there is good news — in this fast changing environment, small, local solar companies that do it right are uniquely positioned to win.
Benchmarking the Big Players
At Energy Circle, we watch the tactics of these major players closely, and we see the following core tactics dominating the world of solar marketing. These are the programs that small, local competitors need to be aware of, and need to match if you’re going to win.
Lease Financing — The concept of solar leasing has revolutionized the solar market. (Chris’s note: Leasing is nice, but it isn’t a magic bullet, SunRun recently got sued because customers were paying MORE for solar power then from the grid)
Strong, Well Communicated Brands — Things like quality advertising, name recognition, and appearance of professionalism.
Aggressive Inside Sales & Telemarketing — The big solar corporations boast multitudes of telemarketers whose job it is to conduct evaluations over the phone.
Exceptional Websites with Tools and Calculators to Evaluate Solar Potential — All the national players have beautifully designed, highly functional websites that provide great user experiences.
Robust Customer Referral Programs — SolarCity, for example, offers its customers $400 for successful referrals and has publicly stated that this is very successful (and, not surprisingly, a major part of their marketing expense.)
Marketing is Changing. Duh.
You don’t need to be an expert to know that the way contracting businesses acquire customers is in the midst of massive upheaval. In the past, we could rely on one or two tactics to drive the bulk of our leads–like the Yellow Pages or Direct Mail–but in today’s world the marketing “quiver” needs more arrows, and we’re lucky if any one approach amounts to more than about 20% of our leads. The bottom line is that we have to be good at a lot of things to win in this environment. And while this may sound intimidating and overwhelming at first, there is good news. The approaches that work today are less costly, require less commitment and, as a result, do not put your precious marketing dollars at risk of failure.
The new world order is to try, test, measure and adjust.
Success in today’s marketing world means using a range of tactics. At Energy Circle, we’ve found that in a typical marketing program, no one tactic delivers more than about 15% of your required leads. So, if you follow this math, you’ll need 6 or 7 different programs in order to accomplish your goals. Yet, it doesn’t have to be intimidating—using the new approaches is less committal than the old approaches, less costly and less risky.We won’t touch on each of these tactics, but here a few of the critical ones that we believe every solar business needs to do well in order to succeed.
9 Tactics that Should be Part of Solar Marketing Plan
Your Company Website
Your website serves two core purposes:
- It is the first place most prospective customers will go to check you out (so it better not suck.)
- If setup well and maintained, it will be a permanent and ongoing source of leads by capturing people searching for solar in your community. (Chris’s Note: Your website should be optimized to turn visitors into 1) site visits and 2) subscribers that might become site visits in the future. That’s it!)
Usability: To maximize potential, ensure that your website boasts a professional appearance. Additionally, it’s important to make a personal connection with the customer—this is where having a good “About Us” page, an explanation of your company’s philosophy or approach, and landing pages become important. After all, a customer might assume that a company who does their website halfway does the job halfway.
The first rule of writing for the web is to keep in mind that people tend to scan content. Structure your pages with sections and headers to make the scanning process easy. Use the header settings on your content management system to highlight these sections and use your keywords in your headers. When a search engine robot scans a page, your headers are one way to signify that a particular term is more important than others.
Ask yourself if your site has a clear Call to Action, or CTA, an invitational, non-intimidating reason for prospects to get in touch with you. The key metric to be thinking about on your site is how many visitors to your site (traffic) convert to a call or signup. In solar, many companies now offer a Free Solar Audit and with satellite mapping technology this can be done at the desktop. To a homeowner curious about their solar potential, that’s compelling.
Great Content. The first step towards winning the battle for search traffic is to make sure your site is populated with content that matches those searches. Without a great page on “solar photovoltaics” you are unlikely to rank highly in search for that term. So it is critical to begin with a keyword strategy.
Thanks to Google, data about which terms get more search is open, at your fingertips and costs nothing. Good web strategy begins with a clear understanding of the keyword landscape, and targeted content aimed at the search terms most relevant to your particular business strategy. Depending on your niche within the solar energy market you’ll want to identify which keywords drive the highest volume of search traffic for your services, and focus on those.
Often, the data is surprising and not always intuitive. Check out the global search volume comparison between “solar pv” and “solar photovoltaics”. As you can see, “solar pv” is a much more searched-for term than “solar photovoltaics,” so as a general rule it would be a good idea to use “solar pv” in your on-page content more frequently than “solar photovoltaics.” Do a little research with the tools mentioned above to see how these terms compare with others. Because the concepts of the solar industry are not well understood by most homeowners, there is a mix of scientific and shorthand terms to consider. The term “solar photovoltaics” is the technical term but is outpaced in search by the phrase “solar pv” by a factor of almost 17. “Residential solar” might be the industry jargon but people are using “home solar” in their searches at a factor of 4 to 1. And you may think of yourself as a “solar installer” but if you use that term instead of “solar installation” you’d be missing out on almost double the search volume.
Resist the temptation to “stuff ” your pages with too many keywords. If you’re overusing a keyword to the point of a page being awkward to read, you’re probably guilty of stuffing.
While it is important to have a clear keyword focus, it’s equally critical that you have a clear strategy around the geographic service area you want to win. Whether by the user or the search engine, the search is likely to be “localized” to “solar pv, los angeles.” The challenge is that few of us concentrate our business in just one city or town––we have service areas––so we need to win in multiple places. There isn’t much to be done about the physical location of your company. That address is the primary one Google will use to “locate” you. List your address clearly on your Contact Us page and in your footer.
Driving Lead Traffic
While organic traffic—that which comes through winning search—is great, it is not going to fill your pipeline. It is very important that your marketing effort include active lead generation tactics. As the world of marketing continues to change at a stunning pace, your program needs to be diverse, flexible and highly measurable. Historically, contractors could rely on a couple of primary approaches—say a Yellow Pages program and some direct mail—to drive most leads. Today, unless you deploy door-to-door canvassers like SolarDirect, it’s very difficult to rely one particular approach to generate most of your leads.
Additionally, your website plays a crucial role. Even if a prospective customer chooses to get in touch with you by phone, there’s a very strong likelihood that they decided to make that call after thoroughly checking you out on your website.
Branding with Trucks and Lawn Signs
Lawn signs and vehicle branding are one of the unsung heroes, and often missed opportunities, of solar marketing. Your trucks are rolling billboards, and often a huge canvass for your message. The opportunity on your trucks is much more than just displaying your company name, phone number and website. Ask yourself if your trucks have a message. Take a lesson from the famous head turner of many air conditioning companies: Your Wife is Hot! People seeing that truck are not likely to forget it. Also remember that a lawn sign posted during and after an install is as much for the homeowner as it is for you. Have a message that a homeowner would be proud to display, and they’ll leave it in place long after your crew is done and gone. This House, Powered by the Sun!
Renewable energy is a hot topic, and an interesting one, yet most homeowners are generally uneducated about its benefits, potential and cost. This makes for the perfect opportunity to get out in your community and talk about what you do. Clubs and service organizations are typically starved for interesting speakers, and if you can pull together a solid presentation with decent photographs, over time you’ll give the talk in your sleep. Non-profits are always looking for donations, and a free solar assessment is something many people want, particularly at one of those well lubricated charity auctions. Also, look for where your customer demographic is gathering. The local food movement is a hot one in many communities, and very much aligned with the type of person interested in renewable energy. Many solar companies have had great success with a booth at the weekly Farmer’s Market, at a fraction of the cost of the Home Show, and every week to boot!
While clearly one of the “old school” tactics, we find that well executed direct mail can be important. Radius and other geographically targeted mailings using the Post Office’s Every Door Direct Mail program reduce postage costs to $.145 per piece. They’re a great way to announce that you’re in the neighborhood (how about: free solar assessment while we’re on your street?) or to target similar housing types that are especially ripe for solar. Or that neighborhood full of well-to-do folks that are environmentally minded. It is important when thinking about DM, however, not to measure it in isolation. A single postcard probably won’t light up your phone lines unless it’s coordinated with other tactics like door to door and PR. And make sure your Call to Action–the offer or reason that someone should contact you-is compelling.
You don’t need to like Facebook, or be active on it personally. However, in our view, it is no longer optional for solar contracting companies. If word of mouth has always been our very best marketing, think of Facebook as word of mouth on steroids! When your customer proudly shows off the gleaming photo of their new roof full of PV, and your company is mentioned, that transmits to all of their Facebook friends. Get just a few people to display their envy by sharing the Jones’ photo and you’re spread to all their friends too. Google+ is up and coming, and has disproportionate value in search because….well, it’s Google. It remains a bit of a ghost town, but content links there are very important. Twitter is optional, in our opinion, but can be very effective. But how do you staff this newfangled social media, you ask? The best examples in our industry are when some member of your crew who has an orientation towards social media (and typically is under 30) raises their hand. Alternatively, a twenty something intern can be very productive.
As all Google search users know, the real estate on a search result page is increasingly dominated by paid ads–what Google calls Adwords: the listings at the top and in the right hand column of a search. If you haven’t tried these, they’re charged each time a user clicks on them (hence the name pay per click advertising or PPC) and can be a high impact and reasonably cost effective approach. If you’re going to try PPC, it’s very important to understand your cost per acquisition economics. Solar keywords, given the value of the install, are typically expensive terms to buy in paid search, so you might end up paying $5 to $10 for every click. So the rate at which you convert a click to a lead and then a lead to a job is critical. If it takes 50 clicks to get one job, you could be spending as much as $500 for that one piece of business. A mistake many companies tend to make in PPC is not having dedicated pages designed specifically for your campaign. The right way to approach this is to have a dedicated “landing page” for each of your major ad groupings, essentially a content page with form submission form on it. This way you can create pages that are highly relevant to the ad (Google will reward you for this) and, most importantly, have a clear and easy way to measure whether your campaign is performing. Once metrics like this are in place, it becomes apparent in short order whether your dollars are being well spent. And that is one of the beauties of paid search–put a little bit of your budget on the table for a month or so and see if it performs. If so, rock on. If not, shut er down. Compare that to the old Yellow Pages program in which you had to sign an annual contract for regardless of performance.
A relatively new phenomenon on the web is the whole area of “local search.” For virtually all terms related to solar, Google and the other search engines pre-determine that the searcher is looking for someone to purchase or install a solar system and orient the results to companies providing those services in that locality. When Google detects this, the search engine displays a blended result–combining your primary web site, a map, and your Google+ Local page (formerly known as Google Places.) So it is increasingly critical to perform well in these local search results. Step one is to make sure your Google+ Local page is in place and well cared for, because if you don’t have one, you CANNOT be included in a blended result. As I like to say, you have two websites–yours and your Google+ Local page. It’s important to make sure this page is solid. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to keep up. Add photos and videos and try to keep it looking fresh. Most importantly, keep a steady stream of reviews from your happy customers. We see a strong correlation (remember there are no guarantees when Google is concerned) between review quantity and blended search performance. Just be careful not to get a bunch of reviews all at once (Google sniffs this out) and never fake or incentivize reviews. If they catch you doing this, you’re toast. Once Google+ is taken care of, then do the same for Bing and Yahoo. They’re fighting over the remaining 30% of search traffic that Google doesn’t have, but have relevance beyond their volume. Lastly, be cognizant of your links and citations–references throughout the web to your company. This is one of the ways that search engines algorithms measure your company. Firms that have lots of mentions and references and links are looked upon more favorably, because the search engines treat this as a validation that your company is legitimate, established and well-liked.
If you have a system for identifying your most satisfied customers–your “promoters”–these people are naturally inclined to recommend you to their friends. But when you put some incentive behind referrals, you can create a machine capable of driving a significant part of your business. And when the incentive is only paid on the job (versus the lead), there is essentially no risk. As long as you know what cost per acquisition your business model can afford, you’ve theoretically got that much to offer as a referral incentive. Many of the larger national players in solar pay hundreds of dollars for each closed lead. We don’t think you have to offer financial incentives necessarily, but you know your customer base best. If you think they’d be motivated by $250 for every referral you close, why not try it?
If any of these ideas make sense to you, dive in and give it a try. Remember: The new world order is to try, test, measure and adjust. Good luck and let us know how it goes.
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About the Author
Peter Troast is the Founder/CEO of Energy Circle. He is a passionate advocate for renewable energy and efficiency and drives innovation for the Energy Circle PRO web and marketing toolset, built exclusively for renewable and energy efficiency contractors. He contributes to the popular Energy Circle blog for energy professionals nationally, maintains the EnergyCircle presence on twitter, and is a frequent presenter at national conferences on topics of contractor marketing and communication, use of social media and energy monitoring.