By Erik Curren, CEO, Curren Media Group
Since my marketing agency started offering a free 20-minute consultation to any solar company in the United States about a year ago, I’ve gotten the chance to talk to dozens of people with solar companies from San Diego and Las Vegas to Baltimore and Boston. If I didn’t know it already, these calls have provided me yet more evidence that the solar market, especially in residential, is booming.
Many of the calls are with sales reps for large solar companies who want to ride that boom market by going out on their own. Their top question: How do I generate my own sales leads without having to buy them from vendors?
Of course, people want to save money. But they also want better leads. And based on these phone calls, a lot of solar lead generation out there these days is just a waste of money.
One solar sales rep in South Carolina told me that 70% of the leads that his company buys from telemarketers turn out to be, as he put it, “garbage.”
Another sales associate from the Philadelphia area told me that his company pays vendors to set appointments with homeowners for free solar home assessments, but that more than half of the homeowners aren’t at home when the salesperson shows up for the appointment.
And yet another outside sales rep in Maryland told me that his company doesn’t give him any leads at all. He works 100% on commission and is responsible for getting 100% of his own leads. His toughest sales tactic is “cold walking” neighborhoods where one house already has solar. He says that he has to knock on about fifty doors to get one serious prospect.
After hearing enough stories like this, I can understand why solar salespeople want to generate their own leads, and they want an easier way to do it.
I want to help them, so I’ll start with the good news. Yes, in the Age of the Internet, inbound marketing online is a well-established system that all kinds of businesses use to generate sales leads.
Since most of the people on my consulting calls have come to me after reading my e-book “Stop Buying Solar Sales Leads and Start Making Your Own Better Ones,” they understand the principles of inbound marketing.
Unlike traditional “outbound” marketing where you reach for potential customers with ads or direct mail, inbound marketing tactics make solar buyers come to you. First you create original content that homeowners or other solar buyers want to see, especially advice and information to empower them to make the best decision on solar. Then, you spread that content through social media and email.
You give away this content for free. For the more advanced content, such as e-books, you require website visitors to fill out a form to download the material. Then, once you get their name and email address, that visitor becomes a sales lead. And they’re a high-quality lead not only because they’re fresh but because they’re 100% yours. A lead that comes through your website is a lead that you don’t have to share with any other solar company.
But then comes the point on the phone call where I have to share the bad news.
To generate solar leads through inbound marketing, you need four things. First, you need a website that you control. Second, you need to add original content to that site on a regular basis. And third, you have to spread that content around the Web. And finally, you need between six months and a year to start generating leads online, as inbound marketing needs time to work.
Sadly, I have to break the news to these budding entrepreneurs. One or two guys leaving a big solar company to start their own firm putting up solar panels locally are just not going to have the time, or maybe skills, to build their own website, keep filling it with new content that goes beyond a sales brochure and then optimize it for search engines and post it on social media on a regular basis. And until they can start generating cash flow, they won’t have the money to hire an agency to do it for them either.
That means they’ll have to wait until they’re bigger before they can start generating their own leads online. For now, they’ll have to be satisfied with Plan B, which is to buy leads from vendors.
I urge them to make sure those vendors are higher quality ones. I advise them to stay away from telemarketers, who are most likely to produce bad leads for unwilling prospects, and instead hire vendors who generate leads themselves online through inbound marketing, such as an online solar marketplace like EnergySage.
That’s what I tell people who want to start their own one- or two-person solar sales shop. But when I have calls with bigger companies, say at least ten employees and $1 million in revenue, the news is much better. Most established solar companies can and should be generating at least some of their own leads online.
Indeed, there’s no excuse for an established solar installer to do outreach that’s all-sales and no-marketing. Increasingly, as my phone consultations have proven, it’s dangerous to rely entirely on buying leads from third-party vendors since those leads are often very low quality. In some cases, hiring a lead-generation vendor, such as a pushy telemarketer who annoys homeowners, can actually hurt your brand by destroying goodwill among potential solar buyers.
Inbound marketing is a simple but effective method with a proven track record across industries, as research from marketing software company HubSpot has shown:
- 54% more leads are generated by inbound tactics than traditional paid marketing
- Twice many marketers say inbound delivers below average cost per lead than outbound methods
- Companies save an average of $20K per year by investing more in inbound marketing vs. outbound
Because it’s such a good investment, the bigger residential solar companies from SolarCity and Vivint Solar on down are all doing some form of inbound marketing these days. Not only is inbound marketing more cost effective, but unlike buying ads or attending trade shows, inbound marketing online is 100% measurable. That means you can show a clear return-on-investment for such activities as blogging, SEO and posting on social media.
I conclude my free consulting calls with established solar companies by advising them to try some inbound marketing. And that’s the best advice I can give here to any solar company that’s been around for a while and isn’t satisfied with the quality of its sales leads. Instead of doubling down on outbound marketing like cold calls, cold walking and cold direct mail, when not try a few hotter inbound marketing tactics such as blogging, social media and exchanging e-books for prospect emails?