How Can Solar Module Manufacturers Differentiate Themselves?

According to a recent Bloomberg article, it seems the top two U.S. solar manufacturers are shifting away from the domestic utility market.

(First Solar’s #1 and Sunpower’s trying harder at #2.)

Thanks to last year’s shift of the federal tax credit, utilities aren’t signing as many deals as they were 12 months ago. That’s because the tax credit was due to expire in 2016.

And so everyone and his dog rushed to get contracts signed and projects launched so they could qualify for that hefty 30% credit. However, the federal government unexpectedly extended the deal until 2021. That’s great news for solar in general.

And there will surely be another solar project gold rush that year too. But what happens between now and then?

Well, there’s a bit of a dropoff coming:

  • 4.4GW of solar farms were built in 2015
  • 8GW of solar farms are being built in 2016 this year (a huge boom get that tax credit)
  • 7.1GW of solar farms are scheduled to be built in 2017 (an 11.3% drop)

The Bloomberg article didn’t give numbers for 2018 onward, but it seems likely those numbers will be smaller than 7.1GW. Certainly First Solar and Sunpower think so.

That’s why they’re trying new approaches to deal with the problem:

Two Different Marketing Approaches

Sunpower is shifting its focus away from utilities to rooftop power. It expects “sustained strong industry growth” according to Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner on a conference call.

Meanwhile, First Solar is looking to sell panels to other companies even though First Solar CEO Mark Widmar says, “We’re seeing a lot of very aggressive pricing behavior in the market.”

Each idea comes with its own challenges:

1. Selling into an expanding rooftop solar market rather than a utility market means significantly higher per watt costs, smaller orders and a LOT more work required to get the same number of panels sold as compared to a large farm

2. Selling into a market with declining unit prices is going to really squeeze margins, especially if it combines with the first point.

How do you succeed in such a market?

While a rising tide of solar market expansion might lift all rooftop solar boats, how do you stand out? Especially if competing on price is likely to be financial suicide?

Let’s look at a few differentiators companies could use to make themselves stand out from their competition.

Some Solar Panel Differentiation Ideas

How proven is your company’s track record?

What recent successes can you highlight that would make a prospect more comfortable about doing business with you? And how long have you been delivering these successes?

Prospects worried about paperwork should be reminded that your company’s track record is proof you can quickly and easily meet local specifications, regulations and other requirements better than the competition.

Plus …are any of these successes newsworthy for being “first” or “the biggest” or “the most cost-effective”? Or maybe there’s something quirky or attractive about the location of the project, such as being near a local landmark.

The more of these that can be backed by happy testimonials from satisfied customers (and case studies), the better. Case studies can be stand-alone marketing pieces, of course. But testimonials can go everywhere: your website, brochures, sales proposals, videos, and more.

Is your payback period shorter?

This isn’t necessarily about up-front costs. A higher panel efficiency (thanks to module type) or capacity factor (thanks to tracking mounts) might cut your customer’s payback period significantly even if the initial costs seem higher.

Do you have a better guarantee or warranty?

It goes without saying that the longer and/or more comprehensive your guarantee, the better. But is there anything else unique about your guarantee that makes you stand out?

Is there a special service you can provide? Some kind of perk no one else has available?

Is your product better known and trusted?

Heavyweights Sunpower and First Solar will have fewer problems here than most. But even the biggest companies need to think about their branding and the image it generates in a prospect’s mind.

Here’s a quick test of your marketing: can you summarize your company’s biggest benefit or advantage in a 3-6 word tagline?

Do you offer complementary products that make you a one-stop vertically integrated shop?

Tesla is doing this right now with their Solar City merger, of course. But is there anything similarly integrated you can offer, such as monitoring or reporting software? Racking and tracking hardware? Inverters? Batteries for storage?

Does your product feature proprietary technology that no one else has?

First Solar’s cadmium telluride panels are relatively unique. They lose efficiency more slowly at higher temperatures (important in hot climates) amongst other advantages. What does your module offer that’s truly special?

Is your product custom-made for a specific industry?

Looking at it another way, is there something you can do to make your product specifically more attractive for rooftop installations?

Do you have a closer or more convenient location?

Sometimes being closer counts. Not just for the initial consultation and installation, of course. But customers will feel reassured about maintenance if you’re nearby and your competitors aren’t.

Why It’s Not Just About Price

If your margins are going to shrink with an increased emphasis on rooftop solar over utility solar, then you’ve simply got to compete on something more than price.

“Being the cheapest” isn’t likely to work for very long. And it’s going to be painful even when it does get you an extra order or two.

So think about using one or more of the differentiators above to make your company and your product truly stand out. And then use it consistently and persistently in all your key marketing materials.

Because if you don’t stand out, then someone else will!

Do you need some help doing that?

Contact me and let’s chat.

P.S. As a side note, it seems China is going through the same solar demand woes. In an article titled “Solar prospects dim as subsidies peter out and overcapacity builds“, the South China Morning Post highlights the key Chinese solar problems right now.

It seems Chinese firms are trying to cope with financing difficulties, a reduction in government subsidies, and power grid bottlenecks as key impediments during the second half of 2016 and 2017 too.

That suggests Chinese solar companies will be in even more need of company and product differentiators than their American counterparts.

B2B Lead Gen Marketers: Are You Part of the 61%? Here’s Help …

B2B Lead Gen Marketers:
Are You Part of the 61%?
Here’s Help …

A full 61% of B2B marketing directors say their #1 challenge is generating more leads.

I’m surprised that number isn’t higher.

Because without leads you have no sales. And without sales you have no renewable energy business.

So let’s see how we can make your lead generation efforts more effective than they are right now.

Who’s Your Prospect?

If you don’t have a crystal clear idea of your ‘most wanted prospect’ then that’s the first issue you have to address.

We’re talking about more than a job title here.

  • What are your ideal prospect’s concerns, needs, and priorities?
  • What ‘language’ do they speak best – financial, technical, marketing or something else?
  • What’s their biggest pain point?
  • What will make them look awesome at their job and impress their boss?

If you’re too vague (or off target) on any of these, then your lead gen efforts are going to be a waste of time.

Think about how your offer helps your prospect. Does it save them time, generate more money, or both? How does it make their day easier? What pressing, urgent problem is it solving?

Your headline and body copy need to be 100% focused on the solutions to these questions.

So What About Your Offer?

That brings us to your lead generation offer, which is necessarily different from your product.

Your product might be wind farm O&M services, or high performance solar modules, or a better and cheaper inverter or battery management system.

But that’s not your offer. Your offer’s the ‘bridge’ to help you sell the product later. It’s going to nudge your prospects as effectively as possible to the next stage of your sales funnel.

Are you asking them to attend a webinar .. download a white paper … request a free demonstration or information kit … invite them to a trade show … or solicit a phone consultation leading to a demonstration?

  • Which offer is likely to give them the best decision-making information as quickly and easily as possible?
  • Which offer is most convenient to them?
  • Which offer makes them want to respond RIGHT NOW?

There might be more than one correct answer, of course. You’ll probably have to test several different offers to see which one resonates best with your prospects.

But any successful offer is going to be one that’s totally focused on your prospect and his or her most urgent needs. Create the right offer, and suddenly your task of selling that offer becomes infinitely easier.

You’re not going to catch a fish with the wrong bait no matter how attractively you present it.

So understand your fish first … and then present exactly the kind of tasty bait your fish will find irresistible.

Do you have any questions about creating offers and the lead generation materials to ‘sell’ them to your ideal prospects? Feel free to Contact Me any time.

2 Fast Ways To Grab Your B2B Prospect’s Attention

2 Fast Ways To Grab Your B2B Prospect’s Attention

No renewable energy company can survive without sales, and no sales are possible without leads.

So how do you get leads?

It all starts with getting your prospect’s attention immediately. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters.

Whether you’re reaching out with a press release, web page, video script, socia media post or online or offline advertisement … the problem stays the same no matter what your medium or format.

The solution is a strong headline.

Sure, a professional presentation, catchy graphic and so on all help. But if you want your prospect to do more than glance at your carefully crafted message, there’s no substitute for a strong headline.

So let’s look at headlines now …

Why You Want A
Benefit-Oriented Headline

A strong benefit-oriented headline is crucial. It must do two things very well:

  1. Communicate a clear benefit, and
  2. Tell (or ask) your prospects something they can clearly identify as a problem right now or in the near future

That’s because your prospects all busy people just like you.

So you can’t waste their time with a vague headline that’s mysterious or trivial. Show you understand exactly what they need and that you’ve got a solution of great interest to them.

A bad headline:

We’ll Make Your Solar Day Brighter

This is way too mysterious. There’s absolutely no reason to read any more. This marketing piece is destined for the delete button or the trashcan ASAP.

A better (but still bad) headline:

Get Better Solar Monitoring Results Today

That’s still too vague. What does “better” mean? What kind of solar are we talking about here? Why should your prospect care?

A much better headline:

Cut Your Utility Solar Costs 17.3% In 3 Simple Steps

Now this headline is much more specific. It’s targeted at utility-scale solar prospects, there’s a very clear benefit, and it promises a simple solution that shouldn’t take much time to learn more about.

So address your prospects’ needs with laser accuracy and they’ll almost certainly read your headline.

What’s next?

The rest of your marketing piece needs to be both scannable and readable.

How to Get Your Prospect Past
That Critical First 10 Seconds

By “scannable”, I mean that in the first 10 seconds your prospect reviews your materials, he or she can quickly see you’re following up the promise in your headline.

Your prospects won’t be reading your copy word for word in that first 10 seconds.

But they’re going to read your sub-headlines.

They’re going to read your bullet lists.

They’re going to read several of the captions on your charts, illustrations, and photos too.

Plus they’ll also notice at least some of the following if they’re well positioned at strategic points in your piece:

  • Sidebars and text boxes
  • Pull quotes
  • Lists
  • Tables and feature summaries
  • Worksheets, checklists, and questionnaires
  • Starbursts
  • Indented paragraphs
  • Bolds, italics, Capitalization, and other methods of emphasis
  • Informative and eye-catching graphics

How To Go the Extra Mile
With Scannable Writing

Give yourself the best possible chance of transforming a ‘scanning prospect’ into a ‘reading prospect’ by ensuring your sub-headlines tell a complete sales message on their own.

All the biggest points you need to make – your best features, biggest benefits and key differences from your competition … every one should get their own sub-headline.

And if you’re limited by space then use bullets, starbursts or graphics to do the same end to end ‘story-telling’.

That’s how to give your prospect enough useful and clear information to decide he or she should read your entire message.

Then they have the opportunity to see your company, product and offering as essential to their business.

Do you have any questions about catching your prospect’s attention and drawing them into your renewable energy B2B marketing piece? Feel free to Contact Me any time.