At Wave Solar, we recently surveyed 3 leading solar companies in the Northeast to measure how much overly-aggressive outbound sales tactics were hurting their online reputation.

Solar installers realize that their online reputation on sites like Yelp, Google Local, and Facebook is critical for the health of their business. A four or five star rating on one of these sites is a powerful endorsement that can bring in significant new business, but a low-star rating can turn off customers and stop the sales process cold before it even starts. Consider the following:

  • According to a study by Harvard Business School, the loss or gain of a Yelp star can result in a 5 to 9 percent revenue change for small businesses.
  • 84% of users trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation, and 54% say the star rating is the overall most important factor.
  • 35% of users say they won’t go to a business that has 3 stars or less.

Many installers have also seen that overly-aggressive outbound sales tactics, like cold-calling or door-to-door teams, can result in negative online reviews that reduce their ratings. Which raises the question: to what degree does overly aggressive outbound sales affect online reputation?

The Study

We analyzed a total of 1,287 online reviews across New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Rhode Island. We looked at three of the top installers in that region and examined their reviews on Yelp and Google Local.

We kept the names of the three companies anonymous and will refer to them as company A, B, and C.

For each company, we looked at the total number of reviews, and focused in particular on the negative reviews, those with 1 or 2 stars. For each negative review, we noted if the text of the review cited aggressive phone calling or door knocking in the complaint. Then we measured how much higher each company’s average star rating would be if they didn’t have those negative reviews from outbound sales tactics.

We chose to focus on the Northeast because it is a strong solar market that has received comparatively less attention on this topic to date than California.

The Results

On average, complaints about outbound sales tactics dropped online ratings by almost half a star (0.4). But the effect was not uniform - there was a significant range by company:

Company

Total # Reviews

Avg. Rating Overall (out of 5 stars)

% of 1 or 2 Star Reviews Citing Outbound Sales

Avg. Rating Without Outbound (out of 5 stars)

Difference (in stars) Due to Outbound

Company A

405

4.6

48%

4.7

-0.1

Company B

724

4.4

55%

4.7

-0.3

Company C

158

3.2

55%

3.9

-0.7

For all 3 companies, nearly half or more of their negative reviews came from overly aggressive sales tactics.

When we zoom in a level to look at door knocking vs. phone calls, we see that there is a fairly even split between complaints:

Company Name

% of 1 or 2 Star Reviews citing Door Knocking

% of 1 or 2 Star Reviews citing Phone Calling

Diff. (in stars) due to Door Knocking

Diff. (in stars) due to Phone Calls

Company A

22%

26%

-.04

-.06

Company B

52%

3%

-0.2

-0.01

Company C

27%

27%

-.03

-0.3

The 3 companies have a wide range in how much outbound sales is affecting their online reputation. For Company A, the drag on their reputation is relatively minor. For Company B, the loss of half a star is starting to become significant. Company C has lost almost a full star due to outbound tactics, resting near a mediocre 3-star rating overall and likely having a significant effect on their business.

It is worth noting that out of all of the nearly 1300 reviews we examined, not a single one complained about inbound sales methods - there was no negative reputation hit from either digital or traditional “inbound” marketing, in which the customer comes to you.

What’s Next

At Wave Solar, we see three main implications following from this data and one common-sense piece of advice:

  • Assess your own outbound tactics. Look at your reviews online - if you use outbound calls and door-knocking, are you getting multiple negative one-star reviews complaining about it?
  • Consider adding inbound marketing to meet lead demand. Inbound marketing is different from outbound in that instead of imposing on the customer, you show the value of solar and allow the customer to come to you. Inbound tactics include: investing in your website, online advertising, and public events.
  • Check your lead quality. If you are purchasing leads, especially low-priced leads, ask questions about where the leads come from. Did these consumers choose to opt in, or were they brought in via aggressive offshore call center operations, spam emails, or contests? Buy leads from TCPA-compliant vendors who use inbound lead sources (like SEO websites and digital media buying) to get potential customers who are less likely to complain and more likely to close.
  • Adopt a proactive reputation management plan. Reputation management is critical for businesses that thrive on referral traffic, and the basic elements include: claiming your online listings, responding promptly to complaints, and soliciting positive reviews from happy customers. Over time these tactics can increase your star ratings and organic business.
  • Your online reputation is a precious source of leads and sales. We found evidence that in the solar industry, the negative effect of outbound sales tactics on your online reputation can range widely. The most important thing is to know where you stand and adjust accordingly.