6 ways your solar company can compete against Tesla and Sunrun

By Scott Nguyen, CEO of Bodhi

There’s an anecdote I share with almost every installer I speak to because it illustrates the challenges smaller solar companies face. The story goes like this:

Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL

A homeowner explained that she had two houses, both with solar energy. With her first home, she settled at Tesla and had a terrible experience. For her second home, she decided to try a local solar company and had a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, she couldn’t remember the name of her second installer.

This anecdote illustrates the sheer power of a brand name, and when it comes to solar energy, there is no stronger name than Tesla. There’s a cache built by its EVs and, of course, the acknowledgment of its CEO, Elon Musk.

So how can your solar company compete with Tesla, Sunrun or any major national player? Below are six concrete ways to put your business on top and make sure your customers always remember your business name.

Piggybacking on Tesla’s Market Power

Instead of seeing Tesla or Sunrun as competitors, get on with each other and capitalize on their marketing efforts. Companies that are large and expanding into new regions are spending astronomical amounts to penetrate this new market. This means that they really do the work of market education for you.

Use their marketing and sales efforts as a springboard for your own initiatives. Start thinking of your sales process as two distinct phases: people are convinced to go solar, where Tesla can do the heavy lifting. Then there is convincing people to go with solar energy you† The latter is where you should focus your marketing efforts.

People are shopping for solar energy these days. It’s in the comparison stage where your business can be discovered and really shine. Instead of trying to outdo Tesla’s brand — which is nearly impossible — focus on efforts that will help you win in the proposal phase.

Make sure you are easily found on Google under the search term ‘solar installers near me’. Emphasize your distinguishing features and sharpen your quotation process. These efforts are all much more likely to yield noticeable results to help you win against national players.

Embrace the ‘Buy Local’ Brand

Did you know 93% of consumers do you prefer to buy locally? Use this to the benefit of your solar business. The buy local movement provides you with an easy network to leverage and get support for your business from bigger brands like Tesla and Sunrun.

Set yourself apart as a local player by emphasizing your community roots. Share your founding story and your involvement in the local community on your website. Participate in events that are iconic in your community – from sponsoring local sporting events to exhibiting at trade shows or events.

People are attracted to solar energy because it makes them feel like they are part of something bigger. You can confirm that feeling by reminding them that they are part of a local community of progressive energy consumers.

Use your local knowledge

While you can’t spend Tesla or Sunrun, you can be more strategic than them. I guarantee that you are more aware of what is happening in your local market than with a national player. Tesla’s sales and marketing may be well-funded, but it’s generic.

Credit: Werner Slocum/NREL

Customize your messaging and sales practices to match your customers’ unique likes and dislikes specific to regional culture. For example, the Austin company Freedom Solar Power hired Willie Nelson for its marketing to appeal to its customer base in Texas.

You should also use your knowledge of your region to give yourself an edge on other fronts. You probably know the right people at the permit and inspection office to give the opportunistic visitors a push with an application. Constantly monitor the local recruiting market so you can scale as needed.

Tesla needs to acquire local knowledge – you have it built into your business.

Be more agile

Tesla is a huge company. As erratic as its leader Elon Musk may seem on Twitter, expanding into new regions requires a coordinated growth and marketing strategy. This takes time – often a lot. The same goes for Sunrun. With more than 11,000 employees, nothing goes fast.

Just as you can use local knowledge to stay ahead of national installers, you can also use speed as a weapon. Be agile in every department and in every phase of the solar process. From delivering proposals on tighter timelines to responding to customers faster, you should be able to fulfill a reasonable customer request without tons of red tape. There’s a reason Tesla has: bad reviews

Solar installation is never a cookie-cutter process (as much as we’d like it to be), and the big companies will be much slower to react to changing circumstances.

Embrace your network of customers and referral program

Earlier this summer, Tesla quietly reduce their solar roof referral program from $500 to $300 per installation referred. If you have a more competitive referral program, put it forward as a differentiator.

Referral programs also work best when there is a high customer density, an advantage local companies have over larger national installers. When a prospect hears about your company multiple times from those around them, they will trust you more.

You should also use your customers as referrals when their friends or neighbors receive a quote from Tesla. Our customer Lighthouse Solar won a homeowner’s business specifically because Tesla, then Solar City, originally knocked on the customer’s door. The Tesla prospect had a satisfied Lighthouse customer in their network and they made the decision to trust their friend’s referral and go for Lighthouse instead.

Make use of third-party software tools

Big companies like Tesla like to build their own software and keep everything from proposal and site design to customer experience in-house. To do this, they employ an army of product managers, UX researchers, designers, and software developers — not to mention all the managers needed to manage that workforce.

However, for small to medium-sized solar companies, building software rather than buying it is a mistake. Third-party software companies are more effective and efficient than anything you could build yourself. They are also always improving their product based on how the solar landscape evolves. These companies focus 24/7 on the niche area they serve so you can focus on what you do best: selling and installing more solar energy.

Finally, these software companies often have a branded app and digital experience that meet the expectations your customers set during their solar journey. For example my company Bodhi has conducted extensive research into the ideal post-installation experience for homeowners so that solar companies can generate more reviews and referrals. Take advantage of these types of platforms so that you can meet the digital expectations of your customers.

By following these six tips, you can ensure your business gets the customer attention it deserves. More and more homeowners are turning to solar – this is your chance to beat the competition and create a community of loyal customers who will never forget your name.

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