Forbes: Top 10 “Dead or Dying” Job

Forbes magazine has called door-to-door sales one of America’s Top 10 Dead or Dying Career Paths. Only a few products continue to be sold door to door — magazine subscriptions, Girl Scout cookies, and solar panels.

Why solar? Can we blame it on Vivint, who had so much success with canvassing new markets a few years back that everyone else wanted to try it? Or is it just that solar companies took their cues from other home improvement services like aluminum siding? (Remember the Tin Men?)

Whatever the reason, in 2017 most industries would shudder to think of selling their products door-to-door. But when you ask sales managers or CEOs at solar companies why they still sell solar installations like Eisenhower-era vacuum cleaner salesmen, they just shrug it off.

“The door-to-door guys are the only ones bringing in decent leads,” I’ve heard more than one company CEO say. Of course, the CEO doesn’t have to knock on the doors himself.

The guys who do the actual door knocking tell a different story. Not only do they hate canvassing to sell solar. But they say it doesn’t work. And that’s the first reason why every solar company in America should stop knocking on doors as soon as possible.

1. Door Knocking is Ineffective

It can take a salesman knocking on 500 doors to make a single sale. “You have to go out and canvass areas which the upper management ‘believes’ that there is a high rate of people wanting solar panels. No one is interested what so ever in the solar utility. It’s hard to sell solar to people who don’t want it,” says one salesman who calls door-to-door solar “The Worst Job Ever.” 

Other sales tactics, even traditional ones including events, ads and even the hated telemarketing, give much better results. And online marketing can lead to even more effective customer acquisition.

2. Door Knocking is Expensive

Companies seem to think that hiring commissioned salesmen at $10 an hour is a good deal. Who cares if the turnover rate is high and if most D2D salesmen quit within the first week or two? They’re so cheap, that solar installation companies consider high turnover to be a small price to pay for sales.

But aside from the ethics of treating employees as disposable, high sales force turnover costs more than most companies think according to the experts. Even if you’re only giving your salesmen a few hours of training each, having to repeat that training constantly can really add up over months and years.

3. Door Knocking Hurts Your Brand

Do you need me to tell you that everybody hates when salesmen come to their door uninvited?

It’s different if you’re not selling anything. For example, if you’re campaigning for a political candidate, or asking for signatures on a petition to hire more teachers at the local junior high. That kind of door knocking is essential to a healthy democracy and it’s admirable.

But selling products door to door in 2017, unless it’s Girl Scout Cookies, is obnoxious — and makes you look desperate.

Even when it’s for real, solar canvassing gives the industry a bad name because homeowners hate it so much. But crooks apparently love it, which gives the industry an even worse reputation. Consider all the stories of solar scams in the news these days that involve canvassers like this one where burglars posed as solar salesmen so they could rob homes in Salt Lake City.

Burglars pose as solar salesmen in SLC

Even the most cold-hearted CEOs or sales managers aren’t proud that they send out salesmen to knock on doors. The best that owners and managers can do is to justify door knocking as a necessary evil. But they’ve apparently forgotten the moral lessons that they learned in kindergarten — along with the business ethics from their MBA program. Namely, that the means don’t justify the ends.

And even if the only ethics your company cares about is making money, consider the financial consequences of damage to your company’s reputation done by annoying people with door knocking. Just like your inventory of PV modules, your brand is an asset with financial value. Loss of customer goodwill can lead to loss of sales.

Imagine if your potential customers start saying this: “Hey, those are the jerks that have been knocking on all our neighbors’ doors — I’ll NEVER buy solar from that company.”

Commit to Stop Knocking on Doors in 30 Days

Selling solar should be a good thing for your company’s bottom line, for your customers and for society. But door knocking is the opposite. The sooner you kick the habit of selling solar door to door, the better for everybody.

I’m not telling solar companies to stop knocking on doors tomorrow. Why not take a month to phase out canvassing while you put in place other ways to acquire new customers? Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy more sales leads (to get better leads, use reputable sources)
  • Ask current customers for referrals
  • Schedule local educational events
  • Start generating your own leads online

Some of these tactics are quick, like buying leads, but don’t build your brand for the future. And others take time, but offer a bigger payoff down the road, like online marketing. But all of them are better than door knocking.

If you run a rooftop solar installation company, I urge you to commit today to phasing out door knocking in the next 30 days. And if you are a salesman, don’t put up with cold canvassing jobs any longer. Ask your company to let you sell solar in a better way. If they say no, then get a better job somewhere else.