A Confession and a Review of the Book “Selling Energy”

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Confession time.

I often engage in a contest with a friend, a science writer, which we call find-the-most-outrageous-industry-speak. We peruse power points, regulatory decisions, news releases and marketing materials for entries.

My friend comes up with some great gobbledygook. But as an energy writer, I usually win, thanks to the inadvertent contributions from my industry.

As energy geeks, we are masters of language that confuses. (Read any FERC NOPR’s lately?) We even have different regional dialects. An energy service company (ESCO) in New York operates a completely different kind of business than the ESCOs in the other 49 states. And how many different definitions of renewable energy credit (RECs) are floating around – or is it renewable energy certificate?

My friend and I play this game not to be unkind, but as a self-warning. It is easy to slip into jargon that is understandable only to the specialist or insider, even when we speak or write for a broader audience.  And let’s face it, the energy industry is so multi-faceted that even if you gather people who specialize in a niche, say green energy, it feels a bit like a United Nation’s meeting. There are niches within the niche (geothermal, fuel cells, demand response, energy efficiency, microgrids, biomass, solar, wind). Each niche has its own lingo.

So this leads me to why I liked the new book, Selling Energy: Inspiring Ideas That Get More Projects Approved! by Mark Jewell with Rachel Christenson. The 202-page book is an entertaining read that uses accessible language and provides concrete advice about marketing and selling energy efficiency to customers.

I didn’t expect to enjoy Selling Energy. So many energy books read like regulatory filings, chuck full of acronyms, which make you sleepier than a Thanksgiving dinner. (‘Fess up, your eyes went heavy after you read the earlier paragraph with FERC, NOPRs, ESCOs, RECs).

But Selling Energy is a kind-to-the-reader book. And its lessons are conveyed in stories, anecdotes and natural humor. (“You could probably put the words, ‘Up Yours!’ anywhere in a thick proposal…and never be called out because people don’t read them!”)

Look beyond the green agenda – the Republicans in the room may not believe polar bears are drowning.

One of my favorite stories was a confession from Jewell about a meeting early in his career with a CFO from a Fortune 500 company. Jewell launched into a myriad of technical specifications about lighting. The CFO wrote nothing down, until Jewell got to the word “chromaticity.” He asked Jewell to spell and define it. “He studiously copies my description word for word, then sets his pencil back down on his legal pad and says, “Thank you. Go on.”

Did Jewell win the sale because the executive was fascinated by light bulb  chromaticity? No,  Jewell lost the sale. It turns out the CFO had been thinking about a vocabulary game he played with his 11-year-old daughter every night. He figured ‘chromaticity’ would stump her.

The lesson: “The more information you shower on a prospect, the worse your chances are of closing the sale,” says the book.

It’s easy to forget that most energy efficiency customers have little interest in energy. They’re interested in their own businesses, and are willing to listen only to what directly pertains to their daily worries.

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Better not to kill customers with truck-loads of information. Here are a few other pieces of advice, of the many worth repeating, from Selling Energy.

  • Look beyond the green agenda – the Republicans in the room may not believe polar bears are drowning
  • Why free audits don’t work – if customers can’t afford the audits, they probably can’t afford other services
  • Become an expert in your prospect’s industry

Sometimes energy efficiency sales people focus on the wrong savings. Do employers really care about saving $2 per square foot on a utility bill, when they spend $200 per square foot on payroll? Instead of talking energy bills, it might be better to talk employee comfort and productivity, the book says.

“If you do the math, you’ll realize that if an office worker present for ten hours a day is able to work an additional six minutes a day as a result of an improvement you make to his/her workplace, you will have accomplished a 1 percent uptick in productivity,” says the book.

Energy Efficiency is a tough sell, as we all know. It’s invisible. It’s a “high dollar intangible,” Jewell says. “Your customers aren’t really buying metal chillers.”

How do other industries sell intangibles? Consider the vacation industry, the book says. It provides “emotional images about how much better you’re going to feel once you’re on vacation.”

I offer a final piece of advice from Selling Energy. It is from the chapter, ‘The Three R’s of Informed Selling.” Warning, I’m being self-serving here.  The first ‘R’ is Read; in particular, read the trade press!

Details about ordering Selling Energy are available here.

Have ideas about best ways to sell energy efficiency? Let’s discuss them on our LinkedIn Group, Energy Efficiency Markets.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

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