If you’re a solar installation professional today, you already know how challenging it can be to find the best solar leads at a reasonable price. The U.S. solar industry is booming: we estimate there are currently 5 to 10 million American households considering solar adoption today, and over 3000 solar installation companies seeking to do business with them. In 2016, the country finally hit over 1 million solar installations. While it took 40 years to get to this milestone, its expected that the country will reach 2 million installations at the end of this year.
But despite all this growth, the truth is that it’s still challenging for solar installation companies to find qualified solar leads at a reasonable cost. Why is this? To borrow a well-known theory from author Geoffrey Moore: residential solar technology is currently “crossing the chasm” from its core group of early adopters (the “early market”) towards broader mass-market adoption (the “mainstream market”) – and making this transition is never easy.
Crossing this “chasm” presents an immense challenge to the sales and marketing professionals seeking qualified solar leads today, as these two consumers groups have different motivations and shopping behaviors. The early adopters – most of whom will have gone solar by 2017 – were motivated to install solar panels based on the technology’s newness and ‘cool factor’, or due to a desire to help the environment. These consumers cared less about solar installation costs and equipment quality, and were much more likely to contact your business directly or seek out your company via a neighbor’s referral or organization’s recommendation. There are still people in this consumer segment today, but they’re not representative of the future mass-market buyer.
Consumers in the mainstream market, typified by pragmatists and number crunchers, are much more focused on the costs and benefits of solar adoption. This doesn’t mean that the “cool factor” and environmental benefits of solar panels are irrelevant, but that they’re now equally considered alongside the financial benefits of going solar. In fact, a University of Texas study revealed that, for today’s solar buyer, seeing solar panels as a “good financial investment” is equally as important as having an interest in the new technology and/or reducing one’s environmental impact.
Table 1. Factors in the decision to install solar panels
|Factors in Decision to Install Solar Panels||Mean Response Score (*5 = highest)|
|General interest in energy and electricity generation||3.94|
|Evaluation that solar PV is a good financial investment||3.94|
|Reducing impact on the environment by using a renewable energy source||3.94|
|Influence of others in the neighborhood with PV systems||1.53|
|Influence of a close acquaintance not from neighborhood||1.45|
Unfortunately for companies seeking the best solar leads today, these more pragmatic and financially-minded buyers are much less likely to call your business directly or be receptive to an unsolicited phone call or email. Consumers in the mainstream market want to feel confident that installing solar panels is a good financial decision first, and are often uncomfortable speaking with a solar installation company until they have a firm understanding of how installing panels will improve their household economics. In fact, our research indicates that – when asked directly – 85 percent of homeowners prefer receiving a solar installation quote before hosting a site visit (only 4 percent wanted the site visit first, while 11 percent were undecided).
As the solar industry transitions from the “early market” to the “mainstream market”, sales and marketing professionals at solar companies must generate solar leads in new ways. At a high level, this new world of solar marketing breaks down into two categories: leads you generate organically, and leads you spend money to receive. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each approach below.
How to generate solar sales leads organically
Research from our annual solar installer survey finds that top-performing solar companies on EnergySage generate approximately 65 percent of their solar leads organically. This means that these solar companies do not directly spend any marketing or advertising dollars to find about two thirds of their prospective customers. There are three primary ways that solar companies generate these organic solar leads, ranked in order of popularity below.
If you conduct high quality solar installations at competitive prices, your customers are going to be your greatest asset. A robust customer referral network is the foundation of all organic lead volume, and can make up 30 to 50 percent of all your solar leads. You can choose to incentivize these previous customers by giving them a referral bonus for every solar lead they send your way, or simply showcase their favorable online reviews for the public to see. The downside of relying too heavily on customer referrals is that they’re unpredictable to forecast, especially for newer solar installers with a smaller customer base.
Having a clean, up-to-date company website is necessary for all solar installers trying to compete in the 21st century. Regardless of where the solar lead comes from, you can bet they will visit your website at least once during their shopping process. Use this as an opportunity to highlight your recent installations, necessary credentials and certifications, and always ensure your “Contact Us” form is easy to locate. Successful solar installers on EnergySage report that solar leads from their company’s website make up 10 to 15 percent of new customers.
Partnerships & events
Solar panels are a new and unknown technology to the majority of consumers, and as a result, a solar company’s ability to earn trust early in the shopping process is critical – this ‘trust factor’ is what makes partnerships and events stand out. Town-wide solar programs are great partnership opportunities for your company to build up its credibility while also benefitting from the town’s advertising efforts. Similarly, participation in local events is an opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with prospective buyers. Successful solar installers on EnergySage tell us that solar leads from their partnerships and events make up 10 to 15 percent of their new customers. The downside of relying on partnerships and events is that they don’t happen that often, and can be time-consuming to do well (it’s not enough to just show up!).
How to find qualified solar leads online
Since organic leads come to your business directly without an attached fee, you may be wondering – why do solar companies only get 65 percent of solar leads this way? Why not 100 percent? The main reason is that organic leads tend to be unreliable and unpredictable, and the efforts required to get them – such as participating in events or building a great website – also have costs associated with them. To smooth out the unpredictability of organic solar leads, most solar companies today now rely on two distinct strategies for the remaining 35 percent: direct sales and advertising, and partnering with online solar lead companies like EnergySage.
Direct sales & advertising
The larger a solar company gets, the more time and money it can invest in its own internal sales force and advertising efforts. This can take both offline and online forms. In terms of offline advertising, solar companies can mail out pamphlets, put up signs, and buy local sponsorships in order to bring in new customers. In terms of online adverting, solar companies may try to utilize digital advertising to bring in new customers. But monitor these efforts closely: if not done correctly, solar companies are at risk to lose thousands of dollars per month in failed digital advertising campaigns. Most solar companies report that direct sales and advertising makes up 15 to 20 percent of their solar leads on a given month.
Online solar leads
As the solar-interested consumer population transitions away from “early adopters” and towards the mainstream market, so too is the solar industry transitioning away old school “lead-gen” websites and towards more innovative online marketplaces like EnergySage. What’s behind this trend? The simple truth is that today’s solar consumers don’t want to be sold to, they want to conduct their own preliminary research, shop around, and buy solar panels just like they would make any other large household purchase – whether its buying a new car or refrigerator. Similar to direct sales and advertising, the typical solar company we surveyed relies on EnergySage for about 15 to 20 percent its solar leads per month.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, EnergySage allows today’s modern solar consumer to conduct all of their research and shopping on one easy-to-use website. These shoppers first explore hundreds of educational articles, and then use a free solar calculator to better understand the economics of solar adoption. Then, once they are ready to take the next step, consumers decide to join the EnergySage Marketplace to meet and receive quotes from our pre-screened solar installers. The highly educational, comparison-shopping process that EnergySage delivers to consumers results in close rates for installers that are 5 to 10 times above industry norms. Each month, EnergySage matches thousands of solar-interested consumers with its network of 350+ solar installation companies. To learn more about the benefits of joining EnergySage, review the table below and press the “Join EnergySage” button on this page once you are ready to get started.