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Published on March 2nd, 2014 | by Scott Cooney


Top 10 Target Strategies For Solar Marketing

March 2nd, 2014 by  

Originally published Grid Freedom.

Electrical contractor Dan Sullivan felt the temptation of expanding into the solar market in early 2002. Seeing it as a way to diversify and significantly expand his business, the San Diego based Sullivan answered the siren song and launched Sullivan Solar Power. California is one of the hottest solar markets in the country due to its progressive citizens, coupled with fairly consistent state-wide incentive packages, but marketing solar was no picnic.

“I had to scrape, kick and scream to find my first customer,” Sullivan said. A decade later, Sullivan’s still in business, and still growing, but sales are still a struggle, even now that his business is an established one with a firm reputation. He’s not alone, of course, but customers are actively seeking solar….so where’s the disconnect?

“The residential markets are lagging because of a lack of knowledge by the contractors in how to sell the systems,” says Todd Stafford, senior director of instrumentation, Alternative Energy and International Training Center Operations for National Joint Apprenticeship Training Commitee (NJATC). It’s not the lack of interest from consumers that’s keeping residential solar from going gangbusters, he says, it’s the contractors’ lack of ability to close the sale.

So what’s the secret sauce? How do you succeed in solar? Rest easy. As the media company behind the world’s biggest clean energy website, we’re here to help.

Start By Focusing on The Customer

The first thing to think about regarding marketing, whether it’s solar or bouncy balls, is the customer.Any company that begins marketing by talking about how great they are is making a mistake. It’s always about the customer, not about you. What’s in it for them? How will they benefit from your product?

marketing solar to customers

What do you think these customers’ primary pain points were that pushed them to get solar?

Marketers will tell you to tailor your offerings to the customer’s primary “pain points”. Hunger is a pain point that helps sell food, for instance. For solar, the main pain points are:

  1. Utility bills
  2. Rising costs of fuel
  3. Jealousy
  4. Guilt about emissions and global warming

The primary customer point of consideration for many people considering solar is their monthly reminder that they’re paying for every load of laundry they do and for all those lights their kids can’t seem to remember to turn off. According to SolarCity’s Jonathan Bass, however, most people still perceive solar to be expensive, even though solar prices have dropped considerably and the long term financial benefits are very clear.

Though I couldn’t find any empirical studies confirming this, many in the solar industry have told me, from experience, that more people seek out solar information within a day or two of receiving their utility bill than at any other time during the month.

Target strategy #1: Commit your advertising to educating the customer about the cost savings inherent in solar. If you know when your local utility sends out bills to customers, you may wish to target those days with geotargeted web-based advertising, or local TV, newspaper, and radio commercials.

The secondary customer pain point, the rising cost of fuel, is notable in that it’s different than the utility bill. This pain point is something that occurs to people over time, not just at the one time per month they write a check to their utility. The difference is that this one builds over time–at some point, the calculator in everyone’s heads starts to urge them to think about their long term financial health. As more news stories are written about the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and the rising costs of gasoline, people start to understand that the cost of solar, which is fixed every month, is going to be less, in the long run, than continuing down this path.

Target strategy #2: Talk to your customers about the long term costs of unstable fuel supplies. Coal, oil, natural gas, and other  fossil fuels come with a diminishing supply and an increasing demand–an economic double whammy resulting in unending price hikes. 

Certified Solar Pros-coroplast yard sign

Your customer’s yard is a chance to let them be proud of going solar, and prime advertising space for you.

The third customer pain point is also one of the 7 Deadly Sins: jealousy. Psychology and Sociology are ironclad and crystal clear on very, very few things, but one thing that seems to be a basic human emotion, regardless of where, when, and who, is that people want to keep up with the Joneses. If someone in the neighborhood gets solar, it’s a symbol of values, self-sufficiency, independence, and pride. It’s a statement. It’s a vote of confidence in solar technology. But it’s also an eye-catching reminder that your neighbor has taken a step to improve their family’s life…and that you haven’t.

Target strategy #3: Tap into the power of community. If you’re on site to do solar in a neighborhood, go talk to the neighbors. Leave flyers. Ask your customer to refer you to their neighbors. Put up signs that say you were there, and that this person trusted you to put solar on their roof. Leave no stone unturned in local marketing.

The last customer pain point is the one that is an important secondary consideration. Yes, people are concerned about global weirding/warming. Yes, they don’t like the fact that their hard-earned money goes to support big oil, coal, and natural gas companies that have contributed so much pollution and that give so much money to politicians in order to keep renewables down. Yes, they feel guilt that they’re contributing to the destruction of their children’s planet every time they flip on a light switch. But according to research published on Cost of Solar, the environmental benefits of solar are a secondary consideration. A full 74% of solar customers wouldn’t have gotten solar if it didn’t pay for itself. So 26% of the market may be primarily interested in environmental and social justice reasons, but your primary pain points are clearly the financial side of the equation.

Target strategy #4: Fill your quiver with all the right arrows. If you don’t know your customer’s primary interest in solar, ask. If you’re still not sure, or if they’re not giving you a full answer, be prepared to lead with the financial savings, but to pull out the environmental and social benefits at a moment’s prompting.

Know Your Industry

The only thing more important that making “it” all about the customer, is to make sure you know your industry inside and out. Knowledge of the industry, current events, what your competition is doing, and the options you can present to your customer are critical elements of a successful marketing strategy. It’s especially critical if your company does anything other than solar–if you are a general contractor or an electrician that is also offering solar, customers may not view you as an expert and may actually harbor some suspicions that you’re a Johnny Come Lately, even if you’ve been installing solar for a decade or more.

Target strategy #5: Do your homework and know your industry.


Solar seems like a commodity product to many potential customers, but there are clearly differences in the quality, durability, and performance of solar panels. I recently had a contractor present me with two options–one for cheaper, less productive panels, and one for SunPower panels that he called, “The Rolls Royce” of solar panels. The difference was clear:

Solar savings

Compared to the other panels that were somewhat cheaper, I would have felt like a cheapskate (and not a very good economist) if I had gone with the others. It’s important to note that not all consumers are going to be able to afford the better system, but give people the option, and those who can afford it will see the clear difference. If your competitors are offering just the cheaper panels, it’ll be clear to the customer who has their best interest in mind in the long haul.

Target strategy #6: Be able to clearly differentiate your products and services. Whether that’s your long term service plan or your brilliant track record, focus on your strengths and be able to handle questions about the areas in which you’re not so strong.  

Feed Your Sales Funnel

Many solar companies spend a lot of money on advertising, whereas others spend money trying to get referrals. Revolusun, Hawaii’s biggest residential solar company, gives people $500 if they refer someone to Revolusun who then ends up buying a system. This has sprung a network of young go-getters who patrol their neighborhoods and go door to door recruiting for the company. According to the company, this referral strategy does really well, especially in ethnic and close-knit family neighborhoods, where outsiders (salespeople) are often viewed with skepticism.

Target strategy #7: Nurture your customers and other word-of-mouth disciples. Whether those folks are in it to help the planet or in it for their own financial gain (or both), give them the ammunition they need to help you close your next deal.

The other major way to get leads is to partner with organizations whose business it is to generate those leads for you. Our company uses the online solar savings calculator Cost of Solar for exactly this purpose. If you Google “cost of solar” our website consistently shows up among the top three results, and between that and partnering with CleanTechnica and the rest of the Important Media network, we generate thousands of leads per month of people actively looking for information about going solar at their home. We give people a free report on solar, specific to their lives and homes, and then call them to follow up. Once we verify that they’re for real, we send the leads to solar contractors across the country. One major thing that sets us apart from other solar lead generators? We only give exclusive leads–there’s no bidding war and we’re not selling the lead to more than one contractor.

Target strategy #8: Get in front of interested homeowners–people actively seeking information about putting solar on their roof. Join GridFreedom today to get a steady flow of leads to local homeowners seeking solar.

Co-Market With Strategic Partners

One of the big keys to marketing solar is finding great strategic partners. On the surface, the best strategic partners you may be able to find are other companies in the “green” field that are already saving people money while saving the planet. Think energy auditors and organic food co-operatives. Sure, these businesses will have access to a great, fairly well off demographic that is sustainability minded, and they will have built up a layer of trust that is critical to closing a sale. Getting a referral from these companies would go a long way to finalizing a deal.

According to Tor Valenza, solar blogger extraordinaire, however, some of the best strategic partners may be high on the trust scale and low (or less relevant) on the sustainability scale. Think T-Ball leagues and bowling teams. Sponsor those types of community activities, and the general impression of your business will rise substantially within that community. There are also likely to be less competitors working that space than working the natural foods co-op.

Target strategy #9: Potential customers are everywhere, and solar is a large purchase that requires trust. Build it by making friends where potential customers are…meaning in places you wouldn’t think of first.

Use humor

Let’s be honest. There are a lot of reasons people buy. The feelings of goodwill and warmth toward those that make us laugh is unmistakable however, and there are plenty of marketing studies showing that these feelings do translate into sales. Entertain to captivate. Entertain to build trust.

Target strategy #10: Entertain and engage your customer. They’ll remember you and appreciate you for brightening their day. Here’s an example from a solar company called SunRun:

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About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai’i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai’i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott’s current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world’s biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride.

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  • Indeed these is a top tips that i read so far.It tells about the reality on how to market and to attract potential customers in all aspects.pretty awesome.

  • Great article. Well, I somehow see it difficult to generate leads in a solar company. But nevertheless, you have presented your ideas well in a way that you want it to be presented. Keep it up.

  • I think the ‘focus on customer’ should be emphasized here. The solar industry is turning into one where you need to provide real value to consumers in exchange for trust. Educational marketing is one way to do it – an approach that addresses the concern of the consumer by giving them the information that they need to know. This should be a whole point in and of itself. Something like what Solar Sell Marketing is doing

  • Great article but I don’t see how your illustration titled Custom Photovoltaic (PV) Systems supports your point about “no-name” vs. “Rolls-Royce” PV modules. While high-end manufacturers like SunPower may be on the leading edge to produce the highest wattage modules, there is usually very little difference in the output of the total system because very few residential systems are roofspace constrained. One extra module on the roof more than makes up for the difference between the top rating of SunPower vs. the top rating of one of the Chinese manufacturers who dominate market share today.

    The real issue is long-term: will the more cheaply made Chinese modules have small manufacturing defects that show up as faster-than-expected degradation of output? And if so, will they still be around and willing to stand behind their 25-year warranties? That, plus a desire to “buy American” is the major reason to go with a higher-end, more expensive option like SunPower.

    • Matthew Hirsch

      Kathy is right about the difference between Sunpower modules and Chinese modules. Module output is not as important as the value of the PV system as a whole. And it’s not true that more efficient modules always increase PV system value. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.

      Residential installers should take note of marketing in the commercial space and adapt their message for homeowners. You don’t have to talk down to homeowners or appeal to the lowest common denominator. Give solid information to your customers, and you’ll get their attention in return.

  • plainview2

    Zach: I follow the residential solar debate and development fairly closely but still could not tell you the “Roles Royce” or the most bang for the buck panel to consider.
    When are you going to produce a consumer friendly report on the existing panels?

    • Matt

      This could at best be a point in time report, or maybe a historically this company panels get a % rating. Since the panels are all still evolving and prices still dropping. But a general quality rating would be wonderful. I too could not tell a Yugo from a RR.

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