How efficiency programs can serve hard to reach customers

Utilities have reshaped how they approach and serve ratepayers in their territory. The evolution of alternative power sources, rising environmental concerns, and new economic pressures have helped push that change. To address these industry shifts, many energy providers have launched energy efficiency programs to update outdated equipment with new, better-performing alternatives. Although utilities have seen great success with many of these programs, adoption remains slow among hard to reach customer segments—like the small business market. Lower participation in energy efficiency programs is especially seen in hard to reach areas like rural communities and areas with larger concentrations of low-income households. But what makes the small business market hard to reach, and how can utilities overcome this hurdle? A thorough understanding of the small business market paired with clear and concise messaging can increase efficiency program participation for all businesses.

What makes small businesses hard to reach?

Energy providers understand small business owners are notoriously hard to reach. But what makes connecting with this market segment so difficult? Small business owners work around the clock, often seven days a week—and free time is considered a luxury. Also, small businesses have fewer employees than their larger counterparts, which means owners are busy wearing multiple hats. Small business owners may also be unaware of the efficiency programs offered by utilities and their applications to small business. Additionally, small business owners may balk at large project sums, assuming efficiency upgrades are unaffordable. Ultimately low participation may result from a business owner’s time-consuming schedule, limited understanding of available programs, and inability to pay large project costs upfront. 

3 ways utilities can reach the small business market

Reaching the small business market is achievable with a structured outreach plan and partnership with an experienced Commercial Direct Install Program Provider, like Lime Energy. These plans can utilize several approaches like sales representatives, multichannel marketing, and affordable payment options. Here are three ways that utilities can touch base with the small business market:

1. Community-based sales representatives 

Sales representatives who are part and active in the community often have the best rapport with local business owners. When equipped with the tools to reach businesses with the most energy-saving opportunity, sales representations become very effective communicators that can bridge the participation gap in hard to reach communities. By making in-person visits to customers, these representatives can better describe efficiency programs and answer additional questions. In-person visits, especially by local representatives, are effective in making customer contact, especially if other outreach tactics are unsuccessful.

2. Multichannel marketing 

Leveraging marketing channels like direct mail, telemarketing, social media, and email help to communicate program benefits. As not all business types respond to all forms of marketing, the multiple channel approach increases the likelihood of reaching small business customers. Also, a multi-avenue approach ensures consistent messaging and enhances the credibility of the program, all while avoiding customer confusion and uncertainty. 

3. Affordable payment options

Small businesses have a tight budget, so allocating money for additional projects may be unrealistic. Capital constraints are even more burdensome in rural and low-income communities. Offering rebates and low-cost payment options – available in all of Lime Energy’s programs – help make these energy-saving upgrades affordable. With affordable payment options, small businesses can make efficiency upgrades without impacting their budget. 

Increasing efficiency program participation is possible with a comprehensive understanding of small business owners and their motivators—accompanied by a timely outreach plan. Small business owners have limited time and budgets, so crafting plans to address their needs will increase engagement. Also, these programs should be affordable, easy, and professional. This approach will help sway small business owners on the fence. Although small business owners may have been hard to reach initially, an experienced program partner and a well-conceived plan will help utilities reach their efficiency goals.

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