marketing strategy

What EV Infrastructure Companies Can Learn from Solar Marketing

There are a lot of sales and marketing similarities across electric vehicle infrastructure and commercial and industrial solar development. EV companies have the opportunity to look back and see what has worked best for solar.

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Portrait photo of DG+Design founder, David Ganske
David Ganske

david@dgplusdesign.com

April 15, 2020 – Electric vehicle (EV) adoption is expanding very quickly. Plug-in electric vehicle sales in the United States totaled 318,000 in 2019, driven by the Tesla Model 3.

While one of the benefits of owning an electric vehicle is having the option to charge at home, these vehicles require new infrastructure for long range travel. In response, EV infrastructure companies – like ChargePoint, Electrify America, EVgo, and Tesla – are expanding quickly to serve demand and beat the competition.

While this expansion is underway, these EV infrastructure companies should know that another industry has already been down this road. The commercial and industrial (C&I) solar business development process is strikingly similar to that of EV infrastructure. More specifically, it resembles behind-the-meter solar energy that achieved great success over the last decade by working with businesses and public entities to get on-site projects integrated into facilities.

In such a competitive market, EV companies can embrace tried-and-true sales and marketing strategies across similarities with C&I solar.

Similarity #1

Buyer Personas

Whether you are selling a fleet of electric vehicle charging units or a behind-the-meter solar parking canopy, your business contacts and prospective buyers will have the same titles and roles. These are referred to as buyer personas in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. Here are some examples:

Director of Operations

This person typically has a few decades of facility management, construction, or operations experience. They are intricately aware of utility costs, billing, local permitting, and the organization’s procurement process. The Director of Operations will be quick to learn and discuss the details of charging infrastructure. They will also value transparency and give preference to trusted vendor relationships, proven technologies, and deep experience.

Alternative Titles: Facility Manager, Chief Operations Officer, Operations Manager

Questions to expect:

  • How will site safety be impacted by on-site charging?
  • Will usage be metered separately? Who will pay for it?
  • How will this impact my peak demand and electricity rates for non-charging loads?
  • Who manages and pays for operations and maintenance?

Director of Finance

Your stakeholder on the financial side also has a few decades of experience and is highly knowledgeable about their organization’s cash flow, budget, and investment opportunities. While they might be interested in implementing sustainability measures, any such proposal would have to make financial sense. The Director of Finance may not actually be a direct buyer or contact, but he or she will be involved in the decision-making process.

Alternative Titles: Chief Financial Officer, Controller, Project Finance Manager, Finance Manager, Director of Corporate Development.

Questions to expect:

  • How will charging infrastructure impact my bottom line?
  • What financing or contract options are there?
  • Who owns the chargers as an asset?
  • How predictable is pricing and revenue? How are costs and revenues structured for the network operator and the customer?
  • What financial incentives are available? Who reaps the benefit?

Sustainability Manager

Not all businesses or public entities have someone assigned directly to sustainability, but if they do, this person will definitely be involved in the decision-making process for both EV infrastructure and solar energy. They care deeply about the triple-bottom-line across social, environmental, and economic impacts. This person is also aware of local policies and incentives that might impact your product and will be an internal champion to ensuring that any sustainability-related project is a success. This persona’s responsibilities can sometimes overlap with marketing, brand, human resources, and customer care, especially if an organization does not have a sustainability function.

Alternative Titles: Director of Sustainability, Chief Sustainability Officer, Marketing Director, Manager of Environmental Programs, Sustainability Strategist, Program Manager

Questions to expect:

  • What resources do you have to help me pitch your product internally?
  • Does your company have a sustainability plan or product lifecycle assessment?
  • How can we ensure that electricity used by EV chargers is as clean as possible?
  • What reporting features does your product have?
Similarity #2

Product and Value Proposition

At first glance, it might not seem like a solar array and an EV charger have much in common. One is supplying electricity from the sun to a facility while the other one is drawing electricity from it. As both are considered electrical infrastructure, however, knowledge of one can be easily applied to the other. In fact, both products connect to the same place (i.e. a circuit breaker panel or switchgear).

This means that you can use similar tactics to sell and market your product. The table below highlights solar value propositions that can be adapted to EV infrastructure. Ideally, all of these value propositions are mentioned in sales proposals and marketing materials to increase product appeal for the buyer.

Value Proposition Solar PV EV Infrastructure Unit of Measurement
Lower Carbon Footprint Reduce consumption of electricity from fossil fuels Reduce consumption of gasoline CO2 avoided
Increased Energy Independence Reduce your reliance on a large utility for electricity Shift your fuel from imported oil to locally sourced electricity kWh, gallons
Long-Term Price Certainty Hedge uncertain future electricity costs with a long-term power purchase agreement Hedge gasoline price volatility with more stable electricity costs. Growth rate or price volatility
Cost Savings Pay a lower rate for on-site solar compared to retail electricity costs from the grid Pay less per mile to drive your electric vehicle compared to a gasoline-powered equivalent Dollars
Lease Revenue Earn stable monthly revenue by hosting a solar array Earn stable monthly revenue by hosting EV chargers Dollars

It’s important to note that the list can grow depending on specific product features or how an agreement is structured. For example, you might be able to apply additional features like no upfront cost, included operations and maintenance, online or mobile monitoring, and much more to both products.

A Note on Product Differentiation

There is also a similarity across solar and EV charging that is a disadvantage for C&I solar developers and EV infrastructure companies alike – it’s product differentiation, or rather, a lack thereof. To the buyer, your product might seem like a commodity that other vendors can easily provide. Is there really much difference between JinkoSolar, JA Solar, or Trina Solar modules?

The same question could be asked about Bosch, JuiceBox, ChargePoint, or other chargers (or even networks as a whole). The key is to find, and create, differentiation. This is discussed in more detail in our previous article on Solar Marketing Mistakes That You Can Fix. The insights can easily be adapted to EV charging infrastructure.

Similarity #3

Sales and Marketing Channels

EV charging infrastructure companies operate in both B2B and B2C (business-to-consumer) sales environments. In the B2B world, C&I solar developers utilize a specific set of sales and marketing channels to find the buyer personas we discussed earlier. Here are some of the best options that EV companies can utilize in their own efforts:

Conferences

Every key buyer persona has local and nationwide conferences to fit their needs. If you are a corporate facility manager, you might be a member of the International Facility Management Association (IFMA) or the Building Owners and Managers Association, among others. Sustainability Managers are likely to attend GreenBiz, Greenbuild, or VERGE.

EV companies can attend these major conferences, sponsor events, exhibit, and even book a speaking spot in front of a large crowd. They are a great way to get in front of the right audience and build your brand.

Webinars

Your customers are very interested in your products and they want to learn more, but they might not be willing to speak with a salesperson. Webinars offer a safe place to learn while also providing you, as the selling company, a chance to get leads from signups, showcase your product, and position yourself as a thought leader in the space.

LinkedIn Advertising

As the leading professional social network, LinkedIn has audience filters that allow you to target potential customers by industry, title, location, and more. Plus, the content to user ratio is quite low so you can get relatively high engagement and impressions for your budget. I would recommend boosting content and creating ads that provide true value to your customers. Examples include thought leadership articles, educational video content, and webinar signups.

Partnerships

The best way to scale a charging network quickly is to form a partnership with a large property owner or building manager. The solar industry has also been doing this for years. In 2007, SunEdison and Kohl’s Department Stores announced a partnership to deploy 63 rooftop solar projects across California. It is still happening today. In 2018, SunPower made a similar partnership with Walmart to have on-site solar at 19 sites in Illinois.

EV infrastructure companies are already making a great impact with partnerships, too. Electrify America partnered with Walmart to deploy 120 chargers nationwide. The company also partnered with Amazon Home Services and Arcadia to create an “EV ecosystem” to serve their B2C goals.

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