I was talking to a customer the other day who had an interesting question. Through social connections he had contacts to a particular VP of Facilities for a company that has hundreds of physical locations. This company was in a consumer facing business (can't say more) that had multiple brands serving a bunch of different demographic segments. His question? How could I pitch this guy that he should use my company to do 20 solar systems on his locations as a test for what Solar can do for his company?
"Follow the branding" was my response. "Huh?" he said. Well, if this company has multiple brands serving different "demos" (marketer speak for demographic segments), then start small - pitch the PV system to the brand that seems the most green-friendly. Typically in the consumer sense, good or bad, this means the more affluent, more suburban areas outside of major cities (though not always the case). Pick the brand within your friend's company that would be a better fit for a green initiative, and ignore the rest. Showing the savvy to pitch test-and-learn and then grow from there might also be impressive.
If he really wanted to make a strong case, I even suggested that he approach a branding agency and commission a small study as to what a solar project could mean in terms of brand equity gain for his target customer. Seems like a round-about way to get a deal, but if you can get 2 locations in one year, it may be 20 locations the following, etc. Maybe worth the spend for a larger installer, and think about how prepared you'd be for that sales meeting: "Our research shows that the total out-of-pocket investment of X for up to 100 PV systems on your properties we're proposing over 5 years would result in a 3% up-tick in positive brand regard in your target markets, which translates to Y increase in your brand value." Powerful stuff, especially when Y is an order of magnitude larger than X.
There's really two lessons here: (1) although solar sometimes looks like a pure financial buy, it all starts with a green buy, and we're all in this industry because we believe the same things our customers do about climate change and we want to do our part; and (2) sometimes the biggest and most rewarding sales are those that start out as just two people talking, looking for an innovative way to work together.
So I say - happy hunting! Bring on the not-so-obvious ideas and see where they take you. Also a note: since we see a lot of these ideas due to ModSolar's position in the market place, I'll make sure to mention these on our blog when they come up.