What the Solar Industry Can Teach You About Social Selling

When a business can turn product marketing into something that’s not just about selling features, but rather into a cause that their target audience feels passionately about, they can ignite a powerful word-of-mouth movement.

Marketers have heard the gospel and slurped the Kool-Aid when it comes to the virtues of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s become a well-established fact that consumers believe and trust recommendations from their friends and family over other forms of advertising, and that people are more likely to buy when referred by a friend.

But while many businesses struggle to turn recommendations into sales, the solar industry seems to have mastered the art of word-of-mouth marketing.

Demand for residential solar systems is skyrocketing, with 2014 marking the first year that more capacity was installed by homeowners than by non-residential customers.

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And even as phone-based sales teams continue to be the primary vehicle to help guide prospects through the complexities of solar adoption, the vast majority of leads come through word-of-mouth marketing. According to GTM Research Solar Analyst, Nicole Litvak, 50 percent of all residential solar sales are derived from referrals. That’s almost four times the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s estimated market average of 13 percent. It’s also higher than the next two lead sources (Direct Response at 15 percent and Channel Partners/Events also at 15 percent) combined.

Why Are Solar Sales So Social?

There are a number of reasons that solar sales are so social, but two explanations standout.

Solar is a movement

When a business can turn product marketing into something that’s not just about selling features and benefits, but rather into a cause that their target audience feels passionately about, they can ignite a powerful word-of-mouth movement.

For solar marketers there is a large segment of the population that believes fervently in alternative sources of clean, renewable energy, hoping they will free the country from dependence on dirty coal that pollutes the skies and contributes to climate change. That passion and conviction drives volunteers to carry the solar message, turning them into some of the industry’s strongest sales reps.

And even for those who aren’t diehard environmentalists, there can be feeling of peer-pressure as they see their neighbors converting to solar and a sense of pride as they make the switch.

Solar is also new and confusing

While many homeowners may believe in the high-level benefits of clean, renewable energy, they also need to learn about the intricacies of cost and payback periods and decide if purchasing, leasing, or signing a power purchase agreement makes sense for them. They need to make equipment choices and understand how net metering, utility rate plans, and tax policies affect them. They then have to allow strangers to poke holes in their roofs and rewire their electrical systems.

There are just so many new things to consider and such fear of making the wrong decision that they 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.

What are solar providers doing to drive word-of-mouth marketing?

To maximize referrals, solar providers and solar lead generation companies are using a variety of innovative strategies to build community awareness, empower influencers and boost recommendations.

Making it easy (and profitable) for customers to spread the word

As Sungevity CMO Patrick Crane explained in an interview, homeowners often begin by evaluating a solar purchase in a very rational fashion. But by the time they make the decision to purchase they become increasingly emotional, something he calls “rational in, emotional out”. He also explains that consumers are most likely to share their experience at three points in time:

  1. When they purchase
  2. When their system is installed
  3. When their system is connected to the utility grid

Crane says it is at those times that Sungevity tries to make it as easy as possible for homeowners to share their experience with their friends through social networks.