Tame the Fears: Why and How to Develop Trade Ally Networks

Dec 7, 2014

“I’m afraid to trust trade allies to represent my program…” We’ve frequently heard this sentiment from our utility clients. Since trade allies often have more face-time with customers than any other person involved in an efficiency program, their actions directly influence customer satisfaction, utility brand, and program success. Instead of shying away, utilities have a real opportunity to build and leverage this network as a valuable resource.

By methodically developing a trade ally network, a utility can increase its likelihood of success in engaging trade allies, maintaining the quality of their work, and leveraging them to help meet its goals. Here are a few helpful ideas and best practices we’ve incorporated into our small business program design to ensure our programs develop strong trade ally networks:

  • Conduct a trade ally Request for Proposal (RFP) – This process allows a utility to vet potential trade allies and accept the most qualified contractors into its program. One of my favorite parts of the trade ally RFP process is talking with customer references and hearing success stories about their previous work.
  • Train trade allies with regular workshops – Conduct initial training at the start of the program as well as regular workshops throughout the year. In one of our Midwest small business programs, we’ve found that trade ally participation increases after every workshop.
  • Invite trade allies for ride-alongs – We encourage our trade allies to attend the assessments provided by the program’s energy advisors. This educates the trade allies about our messaging and the efficiency opportunities we look for, and they often contribute by selling the measure or helping the customer plan a project.
  • Provide clear feedback – As a matter of best practice, we always inspect a trade ally’s first three projects along with a percentage of their projects throughout the year. They’re scored, and then they are provided a year-end report to help identify areas for continuous improvement.

These are just a few baseline ideas for strategies to get a utility started in developing and optimizing its trade ally network. Down the road, we’ll lay out the next level of additional ideas such as reverse trade ally ride-alongs, in which our outreach staff visit customers with trade allies to help them practice their sales skills.