Renewable energy is undeniably a US growth industry driven by technology and process improvements, favorable government incentives, and rising consumer awareness. Both existing and new companies are vivaciously competing for consumers and striving for healthy operating margins. Many companies will succeed and grow with the market and grow their market share - at the loss of many other companies. In this series we drill down past industry overviews and general competitive advantage recommendations, and focus on tactical and practical advice for solar energy companies to shine above their peers.
Improving Conversion of Solar Leads: Simple tips for installers to increase sales (Part 1 of 4)
More customer sales leads equal more sales. The logic is indisputable. Lead generation is a very important part of the sales process and is accomplished through direct marketing and sales efforts and by purchasing qualified leads from a third party lead generation company. However, the common trap for solar installers is to focus on their own lead generation activities and spend little effort on optimizing lead conversion, or moving the lead to a sale. Many excellent companies have found a winning combination by purchasing a significant portion of leads and freeing up internal resources to focus on maximizing lead conversion.
Increasing lead conversion is the most cost- effective way to increase sales. For most solar companies, an increase in lead conversion by 1 percentage point would have the same impact on sales as increasing your lead volume by 10 – 20% or more. Since each lead typically represents $30,000 - $60,000 in potential new business, a leaky sales funnel in which leads are lost due to failures in the conversion process can be costly.
The good news is that there are easy measures you can quickly implement to increase lead conversion. A good way to start is to break out the process into manageable steps and tackle them one at a time.
The four steps of sales conversion include the following:
- Contacting the Customer
- Scheduling a Consultation
- Providing a Customer a Proposal
- Closing the Sale
In this 4 part series, we’ll cover simple tips for installers to improve lead conversion through each stage of the sales process.
Let’s turn our attention to Contacting the Customer, Part 1. Here are 6 tips:
1. Call quickly and frequently
. The quality of a lead degrades every minute when the lead is not contacted. Best practices indicate that the first call should be made within 5 minutes and no later than 15 minutes after receiving a lead. If you don’t get through, make 2 more calls that same day and 1 to 2 more calls over the next 48 hours. Top performing call centers often make 5 calls within the first three days and a total of 7 calls within the first two weeks to make the initial contact. This also implies that sources should delivers leads in real-time and have no delays in getting leads to the sales team.
2. Follow up on your leads and track them
. Just because a lead doesn’t call back, don’t assume they’re not interested. I’ve seen customers go solar two years after they had become a lead. It’s important to have regular contact with your leads at least twice a month. Keep tight records to schedule these follow-ups and make sure that you can easily determine the status of each lead you have. If you haven’t done so, implement an e-mail strategy to complement your follow-up calls (to be discussed in a later article).
3. Call during non-working hours
. Customers are most available on weekdays from 6 - 8PM and on weekends. Calling them during the workday is not ideal, since they are oftentimes unavailable, too busy to talk, or not with their spouse, a key decision- maker that many salespeople unfortunately neglect. You should also consider staffing your call center during these hours when it’s most convenient for your customer to discuss something as involved as going solar.
4. Consider using an answering service
. Prospective customers call expecting to speak with a person. If they call during off hours when nobody is available (as they often do), you can’t count on them leaving a voice-mail. Even if they do, they will likely not tell you when to call them. So you’re basically back to square one. By hiring an answering service to take messages, the customer can speak with a human rep, who can then schedule a time for you to call the customer. I only recommend this if you do get a lot of calls during off hours and no voice-mail. An easy way to determine this is to use a service that logs the times and phone numbers of all calls received. You can then compare the log with the messages you did (or did not) receive.
5. Have a dedicated line for sales
. Your telephone numbers for sales and servicing should be separate. Don’t force your potential customers to wait to get directed to a rep. Even worse, don’t let them hear any recording about emergency servicing needs or recalls on inverters that one could hear on a servicing line. The monthly cost of a separate line for sales is minimal compared to the loss of a potential customer on hold.
6. Leave simple and compelling messages
. We all have busy lives, and we all get bombarded with marketing messages and requests. Realize that when you leave a message whether by e-mail or phone, you are one of many who are asking the person to do something that specific day. Even worse, you may be one of several solar companies doing so. To stand out, your message needs to be short and concise; it should not sound scripted with clichés and jargons; and it should offer something distinct. Creating distinct messaging is a topic for a separate discussion. Suffice to say, it certainly helps to provide a special offer or teaser information about, say, solar rebates or pending rate hikes. Whatever you do, you should always—I mean ALWAYS— make switching to solar sound easy.
In the next edition, Improving Conversion of Solar Leads: Part 2 of 4, we’ll cover best practices on scheduling site visits and then move to the proposal process and closing a sale.
About the Author
James Tong is a contributing editor and a solar marketing consultant. He previously served as VP of Marketing of a top solar installer. He has also held multiple positions at General Electric, where he completed its premier sales and marketing leadership program and had notable successes in optimizing call center performance and improving sales force effectiveness. He has also worked for the Urban Institute, a renowned economic think tank, and served in the Peace Corps. James earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a BA in Economics from Yale University. For follow-up questions or comments, please contact james@FactsAboutSolar.org
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