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Doorknocking and Solar Sales: Observations of an Anthropologist

6 min read



Solar Energy

Recently I've made a huge career change. My previous job was working for a non-profit that provided steady pay and hours and some meager heath benefits. Unfortunately, the energy output needed to do a good job didn't match the pay -at all- and I was exhausted by what it required. (Sure, I guess you could say  I could've just done a mediocre job, but that's not my style). So, I took a great leap of faith and ended up in the solar industry as a sales rep/energy consultant. The catch? I generate my own leads... by knocking on doors. 

Yep. Pick a spot, pick a time, start knocking and hope for the best.

They keep saying, "It's a numbers game". I suppose I believe that, but it's a bit oversimplified. What people mean when they say that is: "Keep knocking until a door opens for you; inevitably, if you knock enough doors, one will open."

I'd like to add a little perspective to that, with direct reference to the solar energy market in California.

Time of Day: It seems to me that the best hours to knock are between 4pm and 6:30pm. I can usually knock on about 40-60 doors during that time, talk to at least 15-20 people and get at least 2 people to be interested in me running an estimate for them (I give quotes for home owners interested in switching to solar energy, and lowering their utilities overall). I also knock from 10am until 1pm, and sometimes get people who aren't normally home at night, but my overall numbers are greater during the evening (on average).

However, I will say that Daylight Savings Time has screwed that up for me. Before a few weeks ago, I could knock until 7pm easily. The sun set right before that and it wasn't too dark or cold. Now, I have to quit around 6pm (although I push it to 6:30pm if I'm feeling safe and/or lucky in that neighborhood).

The obstacles: walking in pitch black (some neighborhoods don't have street lamps and I can't see where I'm going, don't feel safe, neighbors are less likely to trust someone walking in the dark, and I can't see street-signs to find my way back to my care easily).

The interesting thing, I've noticed, is that people who felt comfortable talking to someone knocking on their door at 6pm when the sun was only just setting suddenly are very suspicious -just because it's now totally dark. If they aren't worried about themselves, they urgently command me to leave for my own safety. "You need to get to your car. It isn't safe out here!" It doesn't seem to matter how nice or dilapidated the neighborhood is, the warning is always the same.

Google Earth

Location: Google Earth and Knocking Apps are your friend, although they don't tell you everything.

Checking out the aerial specs is going to give you  basic idea of the neighborhood. For example, if you see there's solar panels installed in the area, there's probably a viable need for it. Alternatively, there are some places that weren't approved for solar financing until recently (like newly developed housing projects). What matters most is knowing what kind of client you are looking for. I'm looking for houses that have pools (the cost of heating them is a considerable chunk of your bill). I look for roofs that have South-facing roofs with sun-exposure (not too many trees blocking the sunlight).

Knocking Apps are going to give you the names from Public Record lists of home-owners, and sometimes they even include soft credit checks; Unfortunately, it doesn't always update and I've knocked on a door where I end up asking for someone who has 1) died within the last year (or more), or 2) the divorced member of the party living there, causing an immediate sour taste in the home owners mouth because I brough up their ex.


Tract housing: Good sun exposure, but is it a good choice for solar if they have good insulation and up to date appliances and HVAC system?

Strategy: Size of homes, 

Big houses = big bills .... unless they are really new and have awesome insulation/up-to-date LED bulbs/efficient HVAC system

Smaller, slightly-run down houses: don't overlook them or the poorer neighborhoods. More than likely, the home owners want to upgrade their home but they haven't been able to manage their bills. Help them get one of their bills under control by getting them financed for solar. Bonus = HERO and PACE programs offer financing specifically for energy efficient home investments, including solar, astro-turf, insulation, LED lightbulbs, and....(this is a big one, especially if clients are considering solar) a new roof!

Pools = $$$     If a house has a pool, there's  good chance a lot of the bill is going towards heating it. There are actually ways to use heating pads on your roof to heat the pool, but an even better option is the 2-in-1 pool heating pads AND solar panels. The pads lay on the back of the solar panels, and take up less space on roof while offsetting the electrical usage for your pool and your home utilities.

Some companies, like Mozilla, have the concept of ethics wired into their company culture. Unfortunately, many others do not -especially greedy individuals in it for a quick buck.


Ethics and Job Outlook: As a sales veteran advised me once, "Have fun with it! Sell something you believe in, and get excited about helping others!" 

I cannot sell something to people I don't know if I wouldn't sell it to my own friends and family. I've sold to my parents and to my friends, and I don't regret it. They got a good deal and it helps them out, plus it helps the environment. I think that everyone should consider this approach. 

Why? Because you need to think about the long-term. Sure, if you sell someone this sub-par deal where you make a huge profit but they end up hoodwinked, you'll be excited about the money you just made for now. But how many referrals are you going to get? How will you grow your clientele? Will you be able to continue in sales when people start to figure out you can't be trusted? That, my friend, is called "losing face" and is considered to be one of the worst things possible not only in business, but in several cultures (Japan, Korea and China, for example, value saving-face and they are heavy-hitters in international trade). That mentality of "making a quick buck" can be detrimental to not only your career, but to your life if it comprimises your future. In anthropology, we call it the Poverty Mentality, where a person can't think beyond a day or a week. They live for now, and scrounge to make a living because in their minds, the future is uncertain and not worth investing in. 

Finally, I must  say something about door knocking in general, but I think this post has gotten too long. I'll leave that for my next post. 

I hope if you have any questions about what to look for in solar, you'll feel free to comment below. I'll try to get back to you and advise you on what to look for and how to know if you're getting cheated!

Goodnight for now.