Driving Phone Conversions – Let’s Talk

By Miles Olson | @searchforce | VP Customer Engagement at SearchForce

For the vast majority of lead gen campaigns, the ultimate goal is to get the prospect on the phone. Whether you’re driving leads for financial services, education, or home services, the final completion of a sale often requires a phone conversation to close the deal. And to address this interest in getting users on the phone, a wealth of call tracking technologies have been made available.


Trackable call extensions on ads as well as trackable dynamic phone numbers embedded onto website pages are now available to everyone directly from AdWords. So why are we all still placing so much emphasis on the completed form fill (form post), rather than trying to drive users directly to the call first? Are we just being slow to adopt new technology to shorten the conversion process? Not necessarily. Here are a couple reasons why.


Reason #1 – Conversion Rates


One obvious advantage of the form post is that conversion rates can be dramatically higher than on phone calls. B2B advertisers have known for years that it is easier to get a user to submit contact info to download a whitepaper than it is to have them call into a sales team. We even have a name for such tactics – lead bait. In the B2C world, users may be far more susceptible to a low pressure “request info” form than calling into an inside sales team to immediately complete a transaction. Buyers are cautious and sales cycles are often too long to push for a final sale off the first click.  And whether the sales cycle lasts three days or three months, this evaluation period gives rise to lead nurturing processes, which often have benefits above and beyond the immediate conversion.


Image of Walden University form


Image of NextGen form


Many consumers searching for products or services are not actively in a buying cycle. However, consumers that request info on a particular service have certainly identified themselves as a potential buyer of that service. So rather than trying to close the deal when the consumer first searches, we quite sensibly focus on building prospective buyer lists instead. Through serial email campaigns, remarketing campaigns, and phone follow-ups, we ensure that we are in front of that consumer when they do get to the final purchasing stage.


Reason #2 – Lead Aggregator Concerns


I think it’s safe to say that the biggest spenders in lead gen are the lead aggregators. LendingTree, ServiceMagic, LowerMyBills.com, AutoTrader.com. . . these brand name aggregators all have 8-figure PPC budgets to drive leads that they then sell to product and service providers. These massive lead gen advertisers have many additional reasons to emphasize the form post.


Consider a lead aggregator for the education industry driving phone calls. They might have hundreds of call center reps taking inbound phone calls, but these employees cost far more to maintain than an online conversion path. Many of the calls they may receive will not have any chance to convert. They will get calls from consumers looking for the location of the campus book store or where to apply for a job. They will get calls from consumers that don’t meet the requirements for a program, whether that be a lack of previous education, a lack of financial resources, or even as simple as not being in a supported geographical region. All these requirements can be identified and traffic filtered in an online conversion path, resulting in more efficient use of call center rep time and higher call to enrollment rates once the call has been initiated. Furthermore, the data already captured by the form post process allows the call center rep to skip tedious information gathering over the phone.


New Opportunities


We’ve discussed reasons why the form post is still king. So should we avoid the call conversion altogether? Most definitely not! While there are dozens of reasons why we shouldn’t abandon the form post, there are just as many reasons to provide consumers with the option to convert over the phone as well.


As the volume of search from mobile devices continues to grow, we are seeing more and more situations where the phone conversion is preferred. Booking a rental car, scheduling a home services estimate, or purchasing flowers for your wife can all be accomplished easily via phone over a hands-free device while driving. In these situations, the buying cycle is not long and conversion rates may improve by providing a more immediate method to convert. My search for ‘rental car in Austin’ from my mobile phone only returned one paid ad with a click to call button. As I’m driving to the airport for a last minute trip, this would be the only ad I would consider. Those advertisers insisting on a click to their website will certainly miss some conversion opportunities.


Image of mobile ad


In addition to the convenience of the click to call from a mobile device, consumer urgency can make phone conversions more desirable. And a consumer in a hurry to make a purchase is a highly desirable consumer. Whether the buying situation is urgent in and of itself (Search: ‘Car battery for 2012 Nissan Frontier’) or the consumer is simply in a motivated mood to act (Search: ‘Junk Removal Service’), we never want to make a purchase more difficult and time consuming for someone in the buying state of mind. If you don’t engage them immediately, a competitor likely will.


Image of Firestone mobile ad


For those qualified consumers that do elect phone over form, the competitive value of getting them on the phone is huge. An immediate phone conversation with a prospective customer has a number of advantages.


1)     Consumers rarely sell themselves. They likely need the coaxing of a sales person to encourage the consumer to move through the purchase process. Therefore, a lead coming through the phone will increase the likelihood of getting to the final conversion goal.

2)     Many leads never make it to the follow-up call. Call center reps may continually get voice mail when attempting to contact the lead. The consumer may screen calls from unknown numbers.  Or worst of all, the consumer may have already converted for a competitor.

3)     Motivation to act may have declined between the time of the form post and a phone follow-up hours or days after.


Conclusions & Recommendations


I’ll go ahead and state the obvious. In some situations, the online form post is more effective. In other situations, phone conversions will lead to greater success. The best conversion paths will employ a comprehensive strategy that captures both early stage shoppers for lead nurturing as well as highly motivated buyers for immediate phone call conversion. The key is to know your audience targets and set up a strategy that can capture information via form posts but also not miss out on those that are in an urgent buying cycle. That said, unless the advertiser doesn’t have a method of converting a visitor to a lead online (maybe pizza delivery without online ordering), situations where an advertiser would want to restrict users to converting by phone only are rare and will likely result in a large loss of conversion volume. So, keep the form post!


Lastly, don’t forget that the same requirements for optimizing form conversions apply to phone conversions as well. Proper tracking is imperative for effective campaign optimization, although not quite as simple as placing a tracking script on a thank you page. Map your call extensions to conversion types in AdWords. Use a call tracking service to dynamically swap out tracking numbers on your website based on traffic source. Define minimum call length to disregard calls that don’t last long enough to be a legitimate lead. If you’re not tracking effectively, you’re not optimizing effectively.


Do your campaigns include an option to convert over the phone?  How has your team approached the design of conversion paths to emphasize one conversion type over the other?  And how have you addressed the new tracking challenges and the weighting of conversion values between calls and form posts?  Unfortunately, I can only provide a form post option for readers to share their thoughts.  But please don’t let that keep you from converting.