Why Referrals Are the New Old Solar Customer Acquisition Strategy


By Pamela Cargill
A version of this post was originally published on Chaolysti.

In a race to grab market share, build better mousetraps, and define ever more deft methods for financing solar, the solar industry has lost sight of its customer. The myopic focus on building channels, creating funnels, and lowering customer acquisition costs has led us astray.

No matter how sleek and polished marketing, sales, and closing tools, if no investment has been made in creating continuity of experience post-sale, much of the goodwill built up to acquire that customer can quickly dissipate. Customers inevitably enter the rollercoaster ride of project management and the myriad ways a construction project can go sideways.

A pillar of Lean thinking is defining value from the point of view of the customer. While it’s crucial to set up easier methods of onboarding a customer, the same thoughtfulness needs to apply to the fulfillment side of the business. Ask yourself what people, tools, and process your company has integrated to guide the customer through to the moment they are most concerned about next:

  • When is my installation? How long will it take?
  • Who will be here? Can I trust the people who come to do the work?
  • Will they leave everything as clean and intact as they found it?
  • Will they leave with a to-do list that will stretch on for months?
  • When will I start saving money on my electric bill?

Solar is still a construction business in the end. There is no retained value without boots on the roof and solar modules pushing clean electrons back through an inverter into the utility grid.

Many insiders and pundits are focused on the business and finance activity happening amongst those with the highest market share. Several investment analysts have weighed in on Seeking Alpha regarding SolarCity (here, and here) and the “thick financial models” and complex business model backing third-party-owned solar.

On August 28th, Yann Brandt kicked off his daily SolarWakeup with the assertion “solar is a financial sector.” (Consequently, this led to an interesting exchange on Twitter contrasting whether the automobile industry was a financial sector using the same logic.) Third-party-owned solar is definitely a financial services-dominated area, but I would not agree that solar is itself a “financial sector.” That reduces the entire value chain down to something whose only benefit is creating profit.

If a homeowner’s reason for going solar is to lower their electric bill, their solar energy system still provides other benefits – from environmental to distributed grid relief – whether the homeowner appreciates them or not.

Whatever the reason the homeowner wants to go solar – environmental, energy independence, being a good neighbor, peer pressure, investment, etc. – the solar industry should be ready to speak that language. However, when it comes time to execute the project, we are sorely lacking in the tools, training, and processes to assure the customer that we are capable, professional, and worthy of their referral.

The trades are a referral-rich business, and solar is no different. With all the focus on lowering customer acquisition costs – including a glut of new software tools for lead generation, proposal generation, design streamlining, and more – there have been few if any innovations in the operations and fulfillment side of the house, which if managed correctly will help seal the deal for the referral.

How are you ensuring you seal the deal for the referral?

Image source: Franck Blais via flickr

Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed on this site by persons not affiliated with PV Solar Report reflect the judgment of the author and not necessarily that of PV Solar Report.