Phone Leads for Local Businesses: The Unsexy Cousin of the Click (Part II)

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Red telephone receiverA few months ago this column addressed call monetization, a topic with clear ties to local media. Location-based mobile search drives lots of high-value phone calls that perform (convert) well. That goes back to the location-based and commercially-oriented intent of mobile searchers.

But like all things local, the opportunity lies with SMBs and large multi-location businesses. The latter, despite their size, very much compete for localized commerce. That’s where the last column focused — but given call monetization’s gravitational pull, it’s time for part two, this time the SMB side of the story.

Any emerging digital media with local aspirations tends to start up-market at the brand level. There we see CMOs, marketing budgets and teams of black-rimmed-glasses-clad execs who use lots of acronyms. Main Street SMBs don’t have the same persona, nor the same tech adoption characteristics.

Mobile pay-per-call is no exception: Just like check-ins, tweet and any location-oriented digital media, it has long resided mostly at the brand level. Specifically, of the $68 billion spent in the U.S. on local advertising meant to drive calls, 63 percent comes from large brand advertisers.

But the remaining 37 percent is good news for SMB proponents, given more growth headroom. And unlike many of the ad formats just mentioned like check-ins, SMBs actually “get” phone calls. In fact 66 percent of SMBs we surveyed rated it their most valued lead source.

Breaking it down further, the greatest affinity for calls lies in verticals with high-margin, high-considerations products. We’re talking professional services (dentists, lawyers, etc.), and home services (big roofing job). Google further quantifies the high price points where phone calls happen.

But beyond bringing in big leads — and SMBs paying handsomely for them — call monetization will be compelled by something else: Opportunity cost. We forecast call volume to SMBs to explode (65 billion by 2016) from the above mobile usage trends. That’s going to mean a whole lot of calls to answer.

We’ve also reported that 19 percent of calls to SMBs are quality leads. The rest are things like Robo-calls and telemarketers. Telmetrics reports it’s blocking about 22 million spam calls per month in North America — a number that’s rising as do-not-call regulations shift targets from consumers to businesses.

Bring this all together and SMBs are going to get completely flooded with calls over the next five years. Even moreso than the oft-cited marketing reasons for call monetization, this is really what’s going to compel call tracking and analytics tools. It’s already driving lots of platforms such as Marchex’s CallDNA.

The key point here is that the same tracking and analytics engines that drive marketing and ROI assessments for inbound phone leads, can also be used to more optimally route calls. It’s the unsung hero of call monetization platforms, including things like real-time call qualification and IVR support.

It gets even better with another phrase you likely haven’t heard: Call Fraud. This involves masked voices that keep SMBs on the line for 30 seconds or more. Why would they do that? So the SMB gets charged for the call under pay-per-call platforms that charge advertisers for calls of a certain duration.

Perpetrated by “black hat” marketing agencies, this is parallel to what developed in the search world as click fraud. Marchex reported last week that SMBs lose a half a billion dollars annually to it. The company also reported that call fraud has grown 162 percent in the past year and ain’t going away.

We’re talking time-starved SMB proprietors that wearing many hats. That whole “time is money” phrase was invented for them. So any time spent deflecting telemarketers or giving directions is a real cost. We’ve seen lots of fortunes made by finding new ways to save people time. This will be one of them.

speaker_MichaelBolandMichael Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at