CHARGE Interview

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Kevin McMinn, Chief Operating Officer at Spark Energy

(4 min read)

Kevin McMinn joined Spark Energy, a gas and electricity retailer from Houston, Texas, in March of 2020. Having started his career in the chemicals and defense industries, he eventually brought his rich, multi-sectoral experience to energy retail. We catch up with Kevin ahead of his speaking slot at CHARGE 2020.

CHARGE: Tell us something about your background?

Kevin McMinn: I don’t have a college education, I am self-educated. Actually, I am very fortunate that in my life I’ve had good mentors. They have recognized things in me and they opened up doors. They saw that I was someone who was willing to work hard and learn and bring value.

CHARGE: How did you get into the energy sector?

KM: I got into the energy industry working for a chemical company in the late 1990s. They were looking for somebody that could come in and basically help them negotiate deals with their clients. I was just good at that. If you give me the opportunity, I´ll learn it and I´ll figure it out. One of my next jobs was for a company called Entergy. The state of Texas was regulating the electricity market, and they had brought me in as a consultant to help them build out a small retail management and supply division. I was with them until 2005. I then went to work for Shell energy for two years, more or less doing the same things for them, looking at their systems, looking at their processes, helping them to operate better within the deregulated energy market.

CHARGE: How did you get to test your ideas on branding and marketing?

KM: I was a consultant for US Gas and Electric, opening up markets for them and building out their operations. In the summer of 2014, I was offered the job of COO. As they had changed the management team there was no longer a CEO, so the CFO and I were running the company.  This is where I had my opportunity to take an organization that had no real brand recognition and turn it into a brand that had value.

CHARGE: How did you do that?

KM: In the first year I took over, we sent out over a million pieces of communication to our existing customer base by email. I made a commitment that if I got their email address, I wanted to get in touch at least once every three months. Just by simple messaging to get our name related to something positive. Or to make sure that when they open up their bill there was some positive communication. We ended up winning the J.D. Power awards for customer service in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland.

CHARGE: What did you learn during that process?

KM: That it all comes down to the value of the customers you acquire, and how you treat them. That from a brand perspective, you need to have types of offering that you could bring to the various strata. Sometimes certain customers just might not be the right fit for where you are going. That some customers just want to be customers, they are happy to get that email every three months, while other customer groups have a different cadence, they ask for different types of communications.

CHARGE: How did you develop these ideas at Spark Energy?

KM:  At Spark we decided we wanted to do things differently from how they were done before. We completely shut down most of our sales operations. We were doing primarily telemarketing and we decided that we were not doing it the right way. It’s not that we don’t believe in, it just wasn’t happening. The company is healthy and it is perfect time to step back and basically rebuild our entire marketing and sales infrastructure in the first six months of 2020, which is what I am doing now. Really, it is about building a winning sales team and culture. For instance, we are developing a sales culture amongst our agents in the field that it is not just about hitting a sales goal, but showing positive behavior. When someone walks away from an interaction with a sales agent, even if it was a “no”, there should be a positive impression. The other thing is you’ve got to be able to give these people a product they love and you have to put them in an environment where they can make a sale every day. That way they won’t be rushing door to door worried whether they will make a sale. They will be confident in the product and they will have enough time to make that sale. That’s all part of a branding and a marketing strategy that you’ve got to tie together.