We hear a lot about how companies use telephone numbers to track their marketing by using call tracking software to measure the success of their marketing campaign, but what is call tracking? Call tracking is the process of measuring the impact of marketing effort on lead generation and sales. It was born from evidence-based marketers’ desire for increased visibility into lead sources. If all leads and sales came from an online form process, it would be easy to know which ads provide the best return on investment without any call tracking whatsoever. But for most industries outside of basic ecommerce – including travel, healthcare, automotive, financial services and B2B technology – the vast majority of leads and sales are still generated via the telephone.
Why Companies Undervalue Call Metrics, and What They’re Missing
It seems that virtually every company wants an all-round view of their marketing Return on Investment. The age of guesswork is gradually coming to an end, but in many organisations, Sales and Marketing exist in such rigid silos that closing the loop between marketing effort and inbound calls seems virtually impossible. Other companies either assume that it would be too difficult or costly to do this, whilst others are simply naive about how many calls their marketing efforts actually deliver.
Companies are usually surprised by how much insights they have been missing when they begin tracking call metrics. Consider what Nutrisystem discovered when it began comparing sales conversion rates between its web and phone channels. Over the web, Nutrisystem’s close rate was between 2-3% of leads from web ads. When prospects called to talk to a Nutrisystem representative, the conversion rate jumped to 20%.
At an evidence-based marketing agency, Director of Marketing Jennifer Stretch reported that clients using call tracking software for the first time often discover that 50% or more of their leads actually come via telephone. She was quoted saying “When that much return on investment is suddenly visible, we can make much smarter decisions about where to help clients invest their marketing, and there I’m really just referring to basic channel tracking. When clients begin tracking at the keyword level, then we can get even smarter about actual messaging and inbound marketing tactics.”
In general, the effect of increased usage and adoption of smartphone on consumers’ behaviour accelerates the need for insight into the connection between marketing efforts and phone calls. Mobile devices are routinely used to find information, via mobile search or social search, and then to call and place orders or discover details. This is so true that entire industries once sought to eliminate sales representatives. In the hotel industry, for example, up to 25% of bookings are still placed by phone, despite the existence of mature e-commerce platforms. In addition, mobile sales often prove to be more lucrative than in other channels — Starwood reported a 2000% increase in advertising ROI through mobile click-to-call methods.
How Does Call Tracking Software Work?
Call tracking systems allow companies to instantly and cheaply create local or toll-free phone numbers with just a button click. To companies accustomed to purchasing numbers from traditional phone carriers, the call tracking system is nothing short of a revolution. Numbers can be assigned nicknames, labels and tags so that they can easily be searched and tracked.
Next, marketers associate unique numbers with particular marketing engagements such as TV or radio ads, conference print collateral, social media ads, or even search keywords. When a customer calls, the unique number instantly reports the ad source, based on the associated phone number. Other common standard metrics include call time and geolocation reports.
CALL TRACKING MATURITY STAGES
Basic Call Tracking
In its most basic form, call tracking software can associate a campaign with a single business telephone number. This can allow a business to automatically monitor phone metrics like number of calls, location of calls and duration of calls. Basic phone call tracking can be effective if, for example, a business wants to gauge how many sales calls last shorter than 40 seconds (the voice equivalent of a bounce rate). However, more advanced insight requires more sophisticated software.
It’s common for even small-to-medium sized business to operate several advertising campaigns simultaneously. A brand might have six separate groups of ads based on different products. Campaign-based call tracking solutions offer a variety of numbers, each number can focus on a different product, paid search ad group, individual ad or even specific keyword. Each number is assigned to a specific entity. Marketing and Sales can therefore easily separate calls that originate from specific ads.
Dynamic-Number Generation for SEO & SEM
Imagine that you are operating a large enterprise travel business. You offer flights and accommodations to literally thousands of locations across the world. Picture how many keyword combinations could lead potential customers to your site. In order to gain any true insight into which keywords are driving phone sales, you’ll need access to a large pool of unique telephone numbers. It’s common for enterprise-level businesses to reserve thousands of unique telephone numbers for call tracking.
With Dynamic-Number Generation, when a lead reaches your site by searching for a particular key-phrase, your business’ phone number will be automatically replaced by a number from a pool of unique phone numbers. This unique number will let your business know which key-phrase the lead used to find you. After your business captures that information, the unique number will return to your pool of phone numbers so it can be reused.
Call Tracking CRM Integration
A more sophisticated call tracking system, which potentially brings the most return – involves tracking call metrics through a CRM, such as Salesforce.com. Tracking campaign source metrics in a CRM enables metrics that go far beyond lead generation. Companies can make decisions based on the actual revenue that is generated through specific marketing efforts rather than just looking at the number of leads.
On the grand continuum, it really has to do with marketing maturity levels. Companies running ads without any associated conversion-based metrics are at the early end of the spectrum, those engaging in basic channel and keyword-based call tracking would be somewhere in the middle. at the same time, those making revenue-based decisions are the most mature.
When properly tracked, this practice has the potential to help align marketing and sales efforts through a standardized set of metrics. Since customer data already lives in your CRM, sales teams can gain instant access to a customer record immediately a lead phones in. Your sales representatives will instantly know a customer’s geolocation, ad source and purchase history. CRM integration can therefore enable sales to pitch the right product at the right time.
TRACKING OFFLINE ENGAGEMENTS
Call tracking empowers companies to determine which offline engagements add the most value. There is no longer a need to ask a lead, “How did you find us?” Direct response marketers have often struggled to gain visibility into which television and radio ads offer the best returns. For example, imagine you run a start-up company that sells exercise equipment. You want to run radio ads, but you’re unsure of which demographics will offer the best ROI. You might find yourself running ads on a talk radio station, a Top 40 station and a station that plays R&B. In order to know which ads are driving the most sales, you will need to give three separate phone numbers. Call tracking systems can then let you know which radio station drives the most sales.
In certain industries like software technology industry and healthcare industry, it is very common for businesses to have a presence at trade shows. Marketers have long-struggled to quantify the ROI of their in-person marketing investments. If your business advertises in a trade-show magazine, passes one-page fliers out at a booth and gives a powerpoint presentation, you can use assign a unique number to each of those engagements. Your business will then be able to associate their efforts with ROI, so that your in-person engagements are incrementally successful.
TRACKING ONLINE ENGAGEMENTS
Tracking Calls from Websites
There are many ways for web publishers to use call tracking. This section focuses on at least three use cases:
Tracking calls from a Business Directory Page
Sites that contain business listings are consistently surprised when they decide to start tracking calls from phone numbers listed on a page. It’s often useful as a test to see how effective page advertising is, and how much to charge for it. At a recent conference, a speaker cited a local auto-repair service listing site which displayed the phone number of each repair shop. As a test, he decided to assign unique phone numbers to each listing, and forward those test numbers to the real business numbers. An amazing one out of every six page visitors actually called a number on the page. This type of evidence can give site operators both the confidence and the metrics with which to justify a substantial advertising fee increase.
Tracking Calls from Multiple Sites
As part of a network approach to inbound marketing, many companies operate several sites, each dedicated to serving a specific customer segment. The simplest and most common way to track lead generation from individual sites is to provision a unique local or toll-free number for each site, thereby having at least basic insight into which sites are driving leads and sales.
TRACKING ANY INBOUND SOURCE WITH MARKETING AUTOMATION
Dynamic session tracking is a type of marketing automation that allows marketers to track calls from virtually any source. It’s especially useful when tracking large numbers of unique search keywords. In this scenario, brands provide a pool of phone numbers that is large enough to withstand at least a day or two of incoming phone calls from campaign sources. For example, a company receiving roughly 1,000 calls per day might provide at least that many phone numbers in order to cope. In this scenario, when a site visitor arrives after performing a Google search with the term “Hollywood Fiat repair,” a number is automatically selected from the pool and served dynamically onto the web site. This number is associated with that particular search term only long enough to store call metrics in analytics or in the company CRM. When the user’s session is over, the number is disassociated with the search term and repurposed for a new caller. The dynamic properties of this type of tracking are typically executed by inserting tracking code on each page of a website, typically as a global element. The corresponding call tracking software then automates serving dynamic numbers based on campaign source.
Every small business owners understand the importance of ROI. Operating on tight budgets requires the justification every penny invested, and this is especially true for small business marketing ponds. Understanding how well your marketing efforts perform is an important part of long-term success. Tracking helps small business owners keep their fingers on the pulse of marketing effectiveness—from online advertising and SEO initiatives to email campaigns and the reach of print flyers—so they can adjust their marketing strategies accordingly. Call-tracking software can help illuminate marketing effectiveness by showing the origination point of phone-based leads and the route that some consumers take from research to purchase.
What is Call-tracking Software?
Many small businesses already track their online customers through Web forms and similar tools. But that method only captures a part of the big picture. If customers opt to call the business rather than use the online contact form, you lose important information. “The phone call is the hottest lead for any business,” says Sean Leonard, CEO of ActiveDemand, a call tracking solutions provider. “If you’re not tracking the calls, you’re not tracking the business.”
Call-tracking platforms give small businesses specific phone numbers for marketing campaigns, Web advertising, and other customer contact points. “In its basic form, a call to a specific number tells you that conversion is a direct result of this specific marketing expenditure,” Leonard explains. Business analytics, once the purview of big enterprise, now help small businesses compete. “Optimizing marketing budgets to drive sales is just as important for small companies as it is for large multi-nationals,” says Leonard. If, for example, a person types “computer store Chicago” into a search engine and then calls a firm that came up in the search results, call-tracking software captures that lead. “Call tracking lets you attribute that phone call to the money you paid for the keyword ‘computer store Chicago,'” says Brendan Jackson, Director of marketing at call tracking software vendor, DialogTech.
That type of information isn’t typically reflected in the Web forms that many small businesses use, but it helps you spend your marketing dollars effectively. “It shines a light on that missing piece of the puzzle,” says Jackson.
Data from the Pew Research Center shows that 68%of adults in the U.S. have a smartphone almost double the figure from just five years ago. Mobile devices reside in an increasing number of coat pockets, which makes call tracking an important part of a small business marketing strategy.
Call-tracking Software Features and Functions
Designed to work alongside whatever phone system or calling platform you already use, call-tracking solutions rarely require specific hardware. A short snippet of code—added to your company website—directs callers to the tracked number. But when shopping for a call-tracking solution that fits your needs, other cost factors come into play. “Much of the cost comes from buying different phone numbers,” Jackson explains. “Try to find a solution that recycles the numbers quickly, so you can buy fewer numbers.”
Guarding those numbers against spammers is also an important consideration, and any prospective call-tracking platform should have mechanisms in place to address it. “Spam calls are a big issue in our industry; even more so as we enter the political season,” Jackson says. “It’s important to choose a company that offers controls to filter out potential spam calls.”
Businesses must also understand the cost breakdown of potential call-tracking solutions. Leonard recommends asking about these important expenditures:
- the cost per number,
- Air-time cost, and
- the minimum commitment required.
“Vendors vary greatly here,” Leonard warns. He also suggests asking how the call-tracking solution reports its results.
- “Is it automated?
- Are dashboards available?”
Without a way to dive into the data, small business owners may find out that the platform doesn’t deliver as much cost efficiency as expected. Even as you consider the expenses your company can bear today, it’s also vital that you know what additional functionality your chosen system can offer as your business needs grow and change. Ask vendors for pricing on other modules or complementary systems that could be valuable tools down the road, such as interactive voice routing (IVR) and conversation analytics
How Do I Know If I Need Call Analytics Software?
Before you take the plunge and start calling vendors for demos, make sure that call analytics is a good fit for your business.
Ask yourself these basic questions:
- Do we make enough revenue from inbound phone calls to justify this investment?
- How well are we currently analyzing our data from phone calls?
- What type of capabilities do we need — basic tracking or more sophisticated features like conversation analytics?
- Do we have someone on staff who will use it, and is management OK with that person becoming the “owner? (A software tool is only as good as its user.)
- Will it integrate with our existing systems?
- If we do buy this software, how will we know it was worth it? How do we define success?
The answers you are able to provide to these questions will determine the best call tracking system that would help in enhancing your marketing campaign.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from food service to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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