Designing an Engagement Strategy for SMBs

Designing an Engagement Strategy for SMBs
December 9, 2015 Dan Zasloff
Small Business

Over the years, our utility clients have shared with us the complex challenge of engaging small to midsize businesses (SMB). Accounting for 20% of the nation’s electricity usage but only about 3% of energy efficiency spending, there is a challenging gap to fill. In a well-known Accenture report, 9 out of 10 SMBs say they want more personalized service from their utilities but just 35% say they’re getting it. Engaging SMBs is hard – they’re just too small for utilities to have dedicated account managers. But they’re too big and unique for the type of mass-market programs that serve residential customers.

So we set off to address this challenge. But we had to get it right…

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.
—Steve Jobs

User Experience Matters

At EnergySavvy, the customer experience matters. Our online audit for homeowners, Optix Engage Residential, features some of the highest completion rates in the industry—over 90%. One of the key reasons for these high levels of completion is our focus on great “UX,” or User Experience. The Engage survey doesn’t ask unneeded questions or force homeowners to fill out complex forms. Instead, it features bright, colorful icons with simple, easy-to-understand questions.

When we embarked on designing and building Optix Engage for Business, we knew that we had to continue this focus on great UX, while at the same time addressing some of the tough challenges that make SMBs incredibly difficult to engage from a utility’s point-of-view. Over the past couple of months, we’ve talked with owners, operators and managers at more than 20 SMBs across the country from Seattle to New York, California to Oklahoma , asking them:

  • “How do you feel about your business’s current energy usage?”
  • “What currently motivates you to save energy?”
  • “What would make you want to take an online energy audit for your business?”

So, what were our top three takeaways about small to midsize businesses?

1. They’re busy and have little spare time to think about saving energy

Almost all the people at the SMBs we talked with had one thing in common: they’re extremely busy. In the SMB world, owners and operators don’t have the luxury of being able to delegate tasks to other employees in specialized positions: an SMB operator is often the CEO, CFO, and the operations manager.

Not only do SMB owners and operators have a large typical workload; they often are interrupted constantly whether in front of their desk or on on the move via their smartphones and have to respond to endless amounts of “fires” that come up.

One notable example of this was our experience talking with the owner of an auto body repair shop in Long Island, New York. The owner was interrupted more than eight times by other employees during our hour-long interview: from auto insurance people calling in to verify a claim to personnel management issues.

What does this mean? SMBs have little to no time to think about typical utility programs. Many of the businesses we talked with said that most of the mail they receive immediately is thrown away; there are more important things to do.

2. They value saving money, but are wary of offers that seem “too good to be true”

Saving money is high on the list of priorities for SMBs; quite a few of the ones we talked with remarked that they constantly were on the edge of cash-flow issues with maxed out credit lines. When asked about the payback period for capital investments, such as in equipment upgrades or retrofits as part of energy efficiency programs, the majority of SMBs said that a two-year payback period would be the point at which they would consider participating.

One interesting thing that came up was that many of the SMBs we talked with said that they had heard of opportunities to save money from their utility, but they lumped them in with offers about saving money from their phone company. The word “scam” came up a lot when talking to SMBs about these offers.

Somebody came into the store and we thought it was a scam…You don’t want to trust anybody that is just going to walk and do stuff with your business.
—Small business owner

The small business owner recalled a contractor coming in to tell her about a utility’s energy efficiency program.

3. They’re influenced by their neighbors

SMBs don’t necessarily view neighboring businesses (even those in the same industry) as competition. Neighboring businesses can often serve as a vital source of information regarding ideas for efficiency improvements.

For example, an operations manager at a Seattle distillery talked about how he would read tips on which equipment to buy from a web forum frequented by other distillery operators.

How this influenced our product design

We didn’t let the knowledge that we gleaned from SMBs just sit around, though. In a future blog post in our UX series, I’ll talk about how this user research inspired some of the key elements of the design of Engage for Business.

Interested in learning more?

Read more about Optix Engage for Business.

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About Chris Rovillos


A Washington State native, Chris joined EnergySavvy as the company’s second UX designer. He earned a BS in both computer science and human centered design and engineering from the University of Washington. Chris loves music, especially here in his Emerald City hometown.