Solar Marketing 101: Adding a Solar Calculator to Your Site

Solar Calculators for Better MarketingIn an earlier post, we explored an incredibly disturbing statistic in which 97% of Americans grossly overestimate the cost of installing solar on their homes.

Whereas the true cost can be in the low thousands (sometimes even zero upfront) the perceived cost is closer to $20,000.

You’d think that with all the information out there – all the offers, sales, blogs, literature – misconceptions like this could never surface.  But unfortunately, this is wishful thinking.  97% is a pretty telling number.

As solar marketers, we have a lot more work to do.

So I asked myself – how could that many people be so wrong?  What are we not doing correctly?

Then I took a closer look at several solar energy sites – companies that primarily target residential and commercial customers.  And I realized that the current solar marketing approach simply isn’t working.

Current Solar Cost Estimation Practices

If you’re like most solar firms in the residential market, you probably have lead generation forms in which interested parties fill out their details and request a free on-site estimate.

On the surface, this makes perfect sense.  “Let us know where you live – and we’ll come over to give you a free, no-obligation inspection.”

Simple.

But for Web visitors, I can imagine a very different thought process going on.  After all, they’re just researching – exploring.  They want to know (more or less) what an installation might cost and how much money they’ll save on their electricity or heating bills.

I can imagine them thinking:

Great.  I give these guys my contact information.  Now I’m in their system and will begin receiving junk mail.  

What’s more, I now have to block out a Saturday afternoon so I can be at home to receive solar inspectors. 

And I gotta do this with each and every company I contact.  I just want a ballpark figure for now.

As you can see – it’s kind of a hassle.  There are probably a lot of folks who visit but never fill out the “free consultation” form because they’re simply not ready to go through all the trouble.

With iPods, cars, vacations – you know what you can expect to pay.  But with solar, you have to commit even before you’re ready to commit.

How a Solar Calculator Can Boost Your Marketing Efforts

A solar calculator (or solar cost/savings estimator) is a solution that I wish more companies adopted.

For users, it’s easy to see the advantages.

They can shop around and understand pricing options from the comfort of a computer.  Instead of inaccurately believing that solar panels will set them back $20K, they can learn (for free) what the “true” cost of an installation is.

A solar calculator makes your site more user-friendly, period.

But there are also huge benefits for your company as well.

  • You chip away at the solar cost myth, making it more likely that homeowners and business owners will adopt the technology (your technology hopefully).
  • You benefit from more qualified leads.  If after using the calculator, a visitor still requests an on-site estimate, you know that he or she is more primed to buy.
  • You receive fewer unqualified leads, thus, saving you money.  Anyone who uses the calculator and decides not to request a free on-site estimate is a lead you don’t have to chase down in person.

In short, you boost sales and reduce costs.  From a solar marketing standpoint, I count this as a double win.

You can still collect leads if you require that people fill out their contact info to use the solar calculator.  In fact, they would probably have to input their street addresses to locate their homes on a map.

But instead of sending your inspection team to those houses (at a fairly high cost), you can simply add these leads to your newsletter or direct mail campaigns (at a much lower cost).

Making Solar Calculators a Reality

The marketing benefits of a solar calculator are very real.  The execution is a little bit trickier.

First a disclaimer – I’m neither a programmer nor an installer.  I’m a solar copywriter and marketer.  Obviously, the technical and logistical challenges of creating an accurate platform are enormous, and I’m in no position to help you overcome them.

You have shading, orientation, incentives, slant, regional utility rates, and countless other variables to factor in.  Using satellite mapping technology will only address a handful of these.

And yet, a growing number of solar calculators are popping up all over the place.  Some even claim to have overcome many of the challenges outlined above.

I just read a story about Geostellar’s new online platform that shows tremendous promise.

Here are a few more solar calculators you might want to check out for inspiration.  Some are very basic, others are more detailed:

I can’t really say how accurate these solar calculators are.  If I had to guess – probably not very.

But the goal is to provide accessible estimates that aid potential customers in their shopping, thus, making your solar marketing efforts more effective.

Accurate or not, having a solar calculator makes your site more useful, helps you generate more qualified leads, and lowers your on-site inspection costs.

The goal, obviously, is to make your calculator as accurate as possible.

And with time, I believe that these calculators could become more and more precise.  If the estimated cost is consistently 17% lower than the true cost (after your team has completed an on-site inspection), you can simply adjust for the difference when making future online predictions.

My Solar Calculator Wish List

I’d love to see a truly universal platform.  Anyone who created such a platform could then license it out as a branded tool for other solar companies to use on their own sites.  This may be the model Geostellar is pursuing.

How might this work?

  • On the front end, the calculator uses mapping technology to pinpoint the user’s home or business.
  • The user can outline her property using a mouse – and the calculator will capture the potential rooftop or ground area.
  • Next, the user inputs her utility company and average monthly bill.
  • Using aspects of Geostellar’s approach, the calculator can factor in slant, shading, orientation, etc.
  • On the back-end, licensees of the technology (i.e. individual solar companies) can customize efficiency rates and energy output, depending on the PV technology used.
  • These solar companies could also factor in discounts, incentives, rebates, and tax credits on the back-end (depending on the region).

And voila – the calculator spits out a ballpark figure that shows estimated cost and utility bill savings.

If there were a feedback mechanism in which data from on-site inspections or completed installations could be funneled back into this online platform, the calculator would become more and more precise with time.

How much would such a platform cost?  I have no idea.  But how much do you currently spend chasing leads and sending inspection teams that never materialize in actual sales?

Do you think accurate solar calculators could be a reality?  Are they already?  Share your thoughts down below.

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