Given the nature of a PV solar system, a solar contractor’s past solar customers are one of their best marketing resources. This is because, for many people, solar is an unfamiliar technology and they have a fear of making the wrong decision about it. As a result, people “often turn to their friends and neighbors to find out if their experience was positive and whether the return in energy savings is worth all of the effort.”It is not surprising then that word-of-mouth can be a significant source of solar leads. According to Nicole Litvak, Solar Analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables (formerly GTM Research), in 2015 50% of all residential solar sales were derived from referrals. This makes it all the more important for solar companies to stay in touch with their customers after the PV system is installed, as this can ensure more referrals.
Since leads are such a valuable commodity for solar contractors, it is vital to avoid the mistake of losing contact with past customers, particularly ones who have had their system for a long time. In this article, Part 6 in our 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series, we examine reasons and strategies for staying in touch with your customers.
About This Series and Related NREL Research
In this Aurora Blog series, we take a closer look at seven common mistakes contractors make when selling solar identified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). These observations are based on NREL’s Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) conducted from 2014-2016.
In the study, NREL sought to understand why certain prospects adopt solar while others don’t, to provide solar contractors with insights to help lower the cost of customer acquisition. The researchers surveyed homeowners from four states who installed solar, considered solar, or did not consider solar to understand their decision-making process. They also gathered input from approximately thirty solar contracting companies on their sales processes.
Each article in this 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales series includes observations from an interview with one of the lead NREL researchers, plus insights from the field and related research. In the first five articles of the series, we examined the need for quick follow-up with solar leads, avoiding assumptions that prospects share your opinions about solar, not confusing customers with too many options, addressing the competition effectively, and ways to ask for referrals from customers.
The Importance of Staying in Touch
Ben Sigrin, one of the NREL researchers involved in the study emphasizes the usefulness of being in contact with past solar customers, especially early ones. He notes that “staying in touch with all previous customers—even if only occasionally—can provide you with a wealth of testimonials and the trust they confer on your business.”
NREL also points out that strong referrals and testimonials are particularly important for solar businesses. This is because a solar system is not something a customer can test out before buying. Sigrin states that the solar customer “faces an all-or-nothing proposition: either you bolt a solar array onto his house or he can't experience it all.”
As a result, more weight is given to referrals, especially ones from customers who have had a system for many years. These longtime solar system owners can credibly address concerns a prospective customer may have about reliability, maintenance, and ROI.
Stay Front of Mind To Ensure Referrals
Additional research supports the importance of referrals given the nature of solar as a product. Terence A. Shimp’s Integrated Marketing Communications discusses the extent to which “trialability,” or the ability to test drive a product, helps increase adoption of innovative technology.
Shimp asserts that products that can be tested prior to purchase are adopted more rapidly. He writes that “the trial experience serves to reduce the consumer’s risk of being dissatisfied with a product after having permanently committed to it through an outright purchase.” Unfortunately, this trial experience is not possible with solar.
However, Shimp goes on to state that another key element to easier adoption of innovative technology is observability, “the degree to which...other people can observe the positive effects of new-product usage.” When a product, and its benefits, are clearly visible to others, the consumer becomes a kind of billboard for the product.
While a person observing a solar system on their neighbor’s roof does not directly see the positive impacts on their neighbor’s electric bill, the system does function as a highly visible reminder of the benefits of solar. Ultimately, you want to be front of mind when that neighbor asks your customer about their PV system. One of the best ways to do this is to stay in touch with your customers.
Staying in touch with past customers over the long term gives you access to their success stories, a very strong form of solar marketing. Residential and commercial case studies humanize your brand and are a powerful way to engage prospects since “happy customers are often the best, and most authentic, spokespeople for your company.”
A well-presented residential success story helps prospects identify with homeowners who have already adopted solar, “allowing them to better visualize what their lives will look like once they make these changes.” This makes it easier for the customer to move further along in their buying process. Commercial case studies show firsthand the financial benefits and help demystify the solar education process.
The easiest way to gain access to these stories, whether presented as short blog posts, longer articles or brief testimonial blurbs, is by maintaining consistent contact with your customers over time.
Strategies To Maintain Long-Term Customer Relationships
There are a number of ways to stay top-of-mind with your customers. One effective method of staying in touch is by sharing valuable content, such as solar and renewable energy-related news, articles, and events. You can share these insights through social media, email, or direct mail like a quarterly newsletter. However you reach out, aim to strike a balance between enough outreach to be remembered without becoming annoying.
It can also be effective to personalize your communication with details about your customer that are outside the business relationship such as birthdays, promotions, family news, or milestones. Your sales teams may consider occasionally reaching out for personal contact via a phone call, something that may help ensure future leads.
A customer relationship management (CRM) tool, such as Salesforce or Zoho, can help your team organize their efforts and information about past clients to keep outreach consistent, particularly over the long term. You can also encourage customer sharing via social media and a referral incentive program. Offering additional services like operations and maintenance, monitoring, and upsell opportunities can extend the relationship and increase customer lifetime value.
No matter how you connect with past customers, staying in touch with them beyond the installation can be a significant boon for your solar business.
How do you stay in touch with past customers? Let us know in the comments below!
About This Series: 7 NREL-Backed Ways to Close More Solar Sales
Between 2014 and 2016 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) conducted a Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Study (SEEDS) study. The study sought to better understand the decision making process of potential residential solar customers to help solar industry professionals identify ways to reduce customer acquisition costs. Following completion of the study, NREL highlighted seven common solar sales mistakes identified in their research.
In this seven-part series, we delve into each of these seven mistakes in more depth, based on a conversation with one of the lead NREL researchers, as well as on-the-ground perspectives from solar contractors and exploration of related research.
Part 6. Why and How to Keep In Touch with Past Solar Customers