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Selling Energy Efficiency; The Rare Bird Gets the Worm

By October 5, 2015November 7th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

This article from Greentech Media a few weeks ago provides a great follow-on subject for this post. The subject is selling energy efficiency, and it ties the combination of Home Runs in Residential HVAC(ironically published the same day as the Greentech article) and last week’s post, Trade Allies; Care for a Nail, Sir.

The crux of the Greentech article, aside from explaining how we are doing a bad job selling energy efficiency, is how to do it right. Really, the subject spreads to commercial and industrial in almost exactly the same way. In summary:

Wrong: Selling on “energy savings and money savings” and “better financing, slicker sales pitches, faster energy audits, higher rebates”, etc.
Right: Addressing customer issues and solving their problems
This is all wonderful and correct, but it is unrealistic and simply isn’t going to work on a large scale, which is good for those who can on a smaller scale!


Last week, I explained that trade allies do fine work upselling energy efficient widgets to customers. The trade ally model is poor for knowledge-based programs that require deep expertise in fixing building and process problems, and energy efficiency. You can’t teach this stuff in a day or a week, even if the people in the chairs are engineers or have other applicable backgrounds.

For instance, we are launching an energy management information system (EMIS) program with a utility as of the day of this post. There are many EMIS product providers and just to provide a flavor for what these are, see the image below. It is a visualization tool to track performance versus many variables, including weather, production, and other factors. It becomes very complicated, and on top of all that, we need to demonstrate savings per industry best practice, which really doesn’t exist yet.

So, what’s a utility to do? Just turn the trade allies, the vendors of these things, loose in their service territory? No. Hire independent consultants to help navigate customers to one that best fits their needs and help manage all these disparate but highly capable and changing-every-day systems.

The EMIS example is at the extreme end of complexity, but I am here today to tell you that getting 50% energy savings in a home, as described in Home Runs, is realistic, but that too requires a level of expertise far beyond $13 per-hour interns or laid off HVAC technicians. First, they need to have a deep passion for what they do, as described last week. It’s an art as much as anything.

The Greentech article describes that HVAC contractors don’t understand the basics of comfort and air quality. For sure. See last week’s post.

It isn’t what they are paid to do. They are paid to do things as fast and as cheap as possible, and they probably have crumby job satisfaction as a result. This is not exactly an incubation hub for progress. If there are comfort problems, reach for… the hammer!

Relationship Building

The author describes the virtues of building relationships and trust to have pricing power and project success. This is true and ironically, he compares it to winnowing for a mate to spend the rest of his life with (getting married).

As a consultant, this is very difficult to do with end users because:

Building relationships takes a lot of time and therefore, expense.
The sale is comparatively small when selling services versus widgets.
Strong psycho-analytics skills are a big plus.
As unbiased consultants with no interest in selling stuff (see last week’s post), we have many times been uprooted by contractors who will do what we do “for free”.

Nobody does what we do for free.

The cost of doing things “for free” is either very low because they do hardly anything, and/or it is built into the price of a monster widget sale the customer is sold but doesn’t need. This explains the psycho-analytics skill requirement. The business developer needs to recognize fools who think they can get honeycrisp apples[1] for free – and then drop those prospects like a used Kleenex. One cannot build trust with someone untrustworthy on the other side of the table.

I’m sitting here thinking, how does the author of the Greentech article make this work, financially? First, the right clients are needed. I was just lamenting last week that I wish auto mechanics around here (where I live) charged more. Can you believe it? You read that right! Why? They will salvage or fix anything for practically nothing and as a result, their backlog is huge and their customer service is lousy. But if a hole develops in your catalytic converter, they have a cheap fix for that[2]!

Anyway, if you have the right clients you can make a handsome living walking and babysitting dogs. Similarly, target only the simplest energy-hog buildings and be willing to say no. Don’t forget the psychological profile of the client. A lot of skill, experience, and talent is required for this. People holding all these cards are very rare birds.

[1] In reference to the cliché, apples to apples

[2] No emissions testing in Wisconsin. Volkswagen likes this state.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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