BrightCurrent CEO Reveals Secrets to Dominating the Solar Marketing Industry


A solar energy executive in Oakland, California, says his company is better at customer buy-in than any of his competitors because of one thing: their emphasis on consumer education.

BrightCurrent is the nation’s largest retail marketing company for clean energy in the U.S., and has a solid handle on solar in particular. The company, the largest in the Powerhouse solar startup incubator, represents the leading brands in the clean-energy sector.

It’s about what you know, not what you have

John Bourne, CEO and co-founder of BrightCurrent, says that for years the solar sales industry’s standard method to get customers primed to switch to clean energy has been about getting them ready financially. But through industry studies, he’s found that the sweet spot is not about the money.

“We think it’s really a perception in education barrier today. It’s not about technology or price anymore,” says Bourne. “About 80% of homeowners say they would do solar, but they think they can’t afford it.”

The clean energy affordability myth is BrightCurrent’s push-off point. Their sales delivery depends on proving that myth wrong. Bourne says that a large number of homeowners in California can save money immediately if they switch to a clean energy alternative. That’s also the case for many others around the country.

Providing a solar education

BrightCurrent says that clear consumer education is key to moving people toward clean energy. With this approach, the start-up, founded in 2011, has been commissioned by leading companies like SunRun, SunPower, NRG, and SunEdison to give their customers a real “solar education.” That means schooling people on the tangible benefits of switching to clean energy, and showing them that the switch is within reach.

Bourne says that consumers can “pay nothing out of pocket and save money” as soon as they walk in the door.

Major retailers like Sears and Best Buy bring BrightCurrent staff in to manage retail campaigns, boost customer acquisition, and generate sales for home solar.

How BrightCurrent competes

The biggest competitors for BrightCurrent aren’t other companies doing what they do. Instead, the competition comes from businesses like Solar City, who choose to keep much of their retail execution in house. But BrightCurrent is trying to win them over, too. As companies like Solar City grow, they’ll often call on third-party providers like BrightCurrent to help them serve consumers rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

BrightCurrent outperforms their competition’s sales per store by 28% by going the extra mile — frequenting malls and attending community events, farmer’s markets, and street fairs. They’ve even represented their client companies at San Francisco 49ers events. All these outreach efforts account for 10% of their sales boosts — a worthwhile effort even for a leading company like BrightCurrent.

The final ingredient in BrightCurrent’s secret sauce

Another reason BrightCurrent is leading is the quality of the product experience they provide in the store. That comes from the value of BrightCurrent employees.

“One big difference is that we believe in and respect our employees,” says Bourne.

Hiring employees who pride themselves on clear and healthy pathways to growth is part of BrightCurrent’s secret sauce.

For instance, selling solar meant a new life for a BrightCurrent employee who was a refugee from Afghanistan. Before joining the company, he had used rooftop solar power to power his television in his community back home. That experience not only allowed him to watch WWF wrestling in Afghanistan, but also equipped him with the knowledge and motivation needed to succeed at BrightCurrent.

“Solar is a complex sale, and you need someone who knows what they’re doing to make a trusted sale,” says Bourne. The employees BrightCurrent has brought in are doing just that.