How Utility Companies can Break Through Barriers to SMB Energy Efficiency

One of the largest remaining opportunities in energy efficiency is the small business market. While utilities are often quick to implement residential and large commercial programs, small business programs have historically failed to keep up. By targeting them specifically, utilities can see large efficiency gains in a short period of time.

Traditionally, utilities have turned to energy efficiency initiatives targeting both consumers and large business customers. These programs are a necessary component of system-wide energy reform, but they consistently miss the critically important component of small business.

In many metropolitan areas, small business customers alone represent the same energy load as all residential customers combined, and half of the total commercial load. Yet few of them take advantage of the commercial programs available because of the significant barriers created by programs run in the traditional model. We’ve identified 8 barriers to entry, and examined the ways our fully integrated model addresses each and every one.  

1. Make Saving Energy Accessible to SMB Owners

Many small business owners simply don’t know what’s available or how these programs can serve them. Without a dedicated resource available to research programs and identify those that are a good match, small businesses are missing out on programs they don’t even know exist. Ignorance isn’t always bliss, and a lack of information regarding programs in a small business’s local area could mean that they fail to take advantage of energy savings.

Without a deep understanding of energy efficiency, it will be hard for a customer to find the best options available to them. Not knowing who to talk to or where to look for quality contractors can be extremely challenging for a busy small business owner. However, Lime Energy addresses this by connecting our ally force directly to the customer to make energy efficiency more accessible to small businesses. In addition, we only partner with the most reputable and competent contractors to ensure our customers are well cared for.

2. Be Hands On

Most energy efficiency programs begin with a facility audit and end with recommendations. This leaves the customer responsible for finding the right equipment and installation services to meet their needs. This is a huge barrier to follow-up and causes spotty participation.

In the end, simply performing an audit and providing recommendations may not provide any value to the customer if they don’t know how to take action. Small businesses are often inexperienced when working with contractors, and are often doubtful and skeptical of their promises. Lime’s hands-on approach eliminates this barrier by handling the entire installation process under one roof, from choosing a contractor to scheduling the installation to project completion sign off.  

3. Have Consistent Messaging

In a trade ally model, each potential vendor may provide a vastly different message regarding cost, benefits, and return on investment, which erodes customer confidence. unscrupulous may even customer around energy efficiency programs .By standardizing the process of auditing, sales, and constriction, you increase customer confidence, ensure small businesses steer clear of vendors with a bad reputation, and offer all your small business customers the highest level of service.

4. Make the Decision Easy

With hundreds of potential equipment decisions and dozens of vendors, customers get stuck trying to find the best value from a reliable supplier. This can make a small business feel overwhelmed as they are inundated with option after option. To make things more complex, each vendor may provide different recommendations for how to best solve the problem. 

In order to make a good choice for their organization, customers must become experts in energy efficiency—a hurdle that is insurmountable for most busy small business owners. The inability to make these kinds of decisions causes procrastination and further delays taking action. We streamline this decision by walking the customer through the measure selection process and having an approved member of our ally force ready upon sign off to schedule installation.

5. Become A Trusted Advisor

Because of the significant time investment required to become an expert, customers often delay decisions for months or years. By the time they decide to move forward, the technology has changed so that they must begin the decision process all over again. While it may seem that the decision making process will be expedited with a small business’s newfound knowledge, the opposite is likely true.

New technologies means new concepts to learn, and the new options will only create headaches and more indecision for small businesses. Though a small business owner may see value in energy efficiency, they will likely see more value in running their business, making keeping up with the latest energy technologies their last priority. However, Lime Energy combats this by putting highly trained energy advisors on the street to meet with these business owners and guide them through the entire processes. Our advisors are specifically trained to close sales immediately following the audit, eliminating months of deliberation and indecision and allowing the customer to return to his main focus – his business. 

6. Build Long Term Relationships

Due to the complexity of beginning an energy efficiency project and the large number of vendors in the market, customers are at risk of being misled, intentionally or unintentionally, by vendors. Many customers are aware of this. Fear of failure and lack of confidence prevent them from taking action. However, the right program can empower small businesses to feel confident they are working with a contractor who has their best interests at heart. All Lime Energy trade allies are carefully selected and vetted before being allowed to participate in the program. Auditors are trained to assuage any fears or doubts the customer might have. Our auditors are reliable and can establish trust early on to facilitate a long-term relationship.

7. Establish a Single Point of Contact

In traditional programs, for those few who make it past initial hurdles to a successful implementation, new challenges await. Given the sheer multitude of entities involved and the life expectancy for equipment, customers frequently have trouble accessing troubleshooting, maintenance, and warranty resources. In many cases, by the time a problem arises, the installation company or equipment manufacturer no longer offers support. In other cases, it may be unclear which vendor is even responsible.

To prevent these stressful situations, we establish Lime Energy as the single point of contact for all customers. Should a customer need service in the future, we quarterback the entire relationship and help the customer find the help they need. In addition, we back our energy-saving programs with robust warranties to prevent the customer from worrying about their installation.

8. Make Sure They See the Savings

Small businesses are often mostly concerned with one thing: the bottom line. Small businesses make many decisions by asking themselves the following questions: Is this saving me money, costing me money, or just wasting my time? Without clear data on current spend, cost of installation, cost of financing, and long-term savings, customers lack visibility into the true return on their investment. Further complicating things are the difficulty in calculating the impact of benefits such as better lighting increasing visibility and productivity leading to higher sales. 

In many programs, we offer no-interest, 12- and 24-month financing options to address these concerns. Often, this leads to the project being cash flow positive from day one, further demonstrating to the customer just how valuable energy efficiency is to their business. 

A New Program Design

Many of these barriers to entry are well known and discussed. Small business programs have been historically difficult to administer in a trade ally model for these very reasons. However, the integrated approach offered by Lime Energy addresses and overcomes every one of these barriers, reducing energy demand by significant, measurable amounts.

With a clear, strategic approach, transitioning to Utility 2.0 is achievable and sustainable for all modern utility companies. Plus, many of the technologies and solutions available for achieving Utility 2.0 are cheaper, faster, cleaner, and more reliable than the traditional approach of building new energy generation facilities. 

 

 

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