Solar energy is more than a revolution in the way we generate electricity. It’s part of a revolution in the way we conduct the business of everyday life. For many companies selling solar panels directly to consumers, including many of the participants in the PickMySolar online marketplace, this means steering clear of telemarketing, door-to-door sales, and other annoying tactics that give all kinds of businesses a bad name.
There’s a reason why companies continue investing in methods that are wholly unpopular with their consumer audience. The US Labor Department reports that US companies employ about 227,000 telemarketers, paying out a total of $6 billion in wages. They wouldn’t be spending this kind of money if they weren’t getting back at least as much value in the form of newly acquired business. But there are other costs associated with aggressive sales tactics. When solar companies engage in these kinds of practices, the whole industry pays a price.
We’re talking about telemarketing because on June 1, residents in Massachusetts and Connecticut sued SolarCity Corp. in federal court over the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law that’s supposed to protect people from getting flooded by unsolicited sales calls. Here’s a copy of the official complaint. In addition to complaints from the two people named in the class action lawsuit, the legal papers include online feedback from people who claim to have received sales calls from SolarCity phone numbers, prompting reactions like this one: “They keep calling and calling. I want them to stop calling me.”
Wide-scale telemarketing campaign, without consent
Carole Gibbs, one of the people who filed the suit, says SolarCity telemarketers have been calling her regularly for two years, ever since she received a visit from a SolarCity salesman, even though she said she wasn’t interested in doing business with SolarCity, her phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call registry, and she has asked them to stop calling.
Arthur Colby, another complainant, also met with the SolarCity sales team. He was told that his house was not well positioned for a solar installation, and he would not be able to use the company’s services. But he still wound up on the telemarketers phone list, and he received calls regularly for about six months.
SolarCity has not yet formally responded to the accusations in the lawsuit. To stay updated on the case, visit the Public Access to Court Electronic Records website. Or check back here at the PickMySolar blog.
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a relentless telemarketing campaign, you can probably understand why people would go through the slow and expensive legal process to try and gain a measure of accountability. Telemarketers operate with impunity knowing that there is very little enforcement of consumer protection laws, and the last thing most consumers would do is turn to the legal system for help.
SolarCity is not the first or the only solar company to put old-fashioned sales ideas into practice. Vivint Solar and Solar Universe have used door-to-door sales campaigns to target potential customers. Visit enough street festivals or farmers’ markets, and there’s a good chance you’ll see someone in a brightly colored t-shirt peddling solar panel systems.
The problem for other solar companies is that these sales tactics give the entire industry a bad name. The salesman is trying to tell people how much money they could save on their electric bill by going solar, and all these people can think is, I didn’t ask to have this conversation right now. Please stop wasting my time!
Hassle-free solar sales
Solar companies that participate in the PickMySolar marketplace know there’s a better way to get out the message that solar energy is not only good for the environment but it can save you money on electricity. It’s called inbound marketing. The idea is, instead of cold-calling potential customers or knocking on their doors, provide high-quality information on websites, social media, newsletters, or in other venues, and let people decide for themselves what they want to do next.
There are several advantages of inbound marketing.
- It’s not annoying. If you’re happy with the information you find on a blog or a website, keep reading. If not, feel free to close the page and go do something else.
- It’s informative. There’s only so much a telemarketer can teach you about getting solar panels on your roof in a 30-second phone call when all he’s trying to do is keep you from hanging up the phone. Reading a website is a more relaxing experience, one that lets you take the time to find what you’re looking for, think about it, then make up your mind before someone asks you to make a purchase.
- It’s more cost effective. Companies can spend money however they want, but if you’re buying a solar panel system from them, you probably won’t appreciate paying extra to help fund an expensive telemarketing sales campaign. Better for companies to spend marketing dollars wisely and provide lower-priced solar panels systems.