Are Local Business Phone Leads Sexy Again?

I’m working on a big white paper and forecast on call based monetization — an update to the report we released last year. Phone calls as a lead source are getting more attention in the age of smart phones, and our data indicate that they’re highly valued by businesses, especially in some key verticals.

The space is also heating up as shown by two large funding announcements within a few days of each other. Ifbyphone announced a $9 million series D round on Friday and another big player in the space is announcing funding tomorrow (it’s currently embargoed so I can’t disclose details yet).

I got the chance to catch up with Ifbyphone CEO Irv Shapiro on Friday to talk about the funding and what it means. Those comments and some other activity in the space are included in my monthly Street Fight column, and i’ll do a deeper dive on the Ifbyphone news here later today.

Meanwhile, check out the column excerpt below and you can read the entire thing here. We also did a webcast on the topic recently and you can watch the replay here. Much more to come on this big topic.

We’re seeing tech and media worlds finally come around to what we’ve been saying for years: phone calls are what businesses want. That’s especially true in high value categories like professional services, autos, travel and insurance. Clicks and impressions, despite a sexier image, aren’t as valued in lots of cases.

This notion is getting more attention in the age of smartphones when the search device also makes phone calls. So calling a business post-engagement is intuitive for users, in addition to being valued by businesses. That’s compounded by smartphone users’ high local commercial intent.

These were key inputs in a forecast we did last year (update in progress) that shows $68 billion is spent annually across media on localized ads to generate calls to businesses. Meanwhile, BIA/Kelsey data indicate that 61 percent of SMBs consider phone calls the most valuable form of incoming leads.

But call monetization and its many flavors collide with local beyond just the SMB segment. Like the overall local media opportunity, we can’t forget about national brands and agencies (included in the $68M figure) that target specific local markets. This is also where most mobile-local ad spend comes from.

Call monetization leaders are zeroing in on this national-local opportunity, given the sector’s spending power and evolving localized ad strategies. This is one place Marchex hangs its hat, and is doing very cool things with deep analytics on 300 million annual calls to better derive meaning and ROI.

“Examples are helping a group of hundreds of auto service shops understand how to better close consumer appointments,” Marchex President John Busby told me, “or letting a national home-services brand know which products consumers are calling about; and helping a national travel company understand their return on ad spend from call-based advertising.”

Further evidence of the sector’s growth comes in a set of funding announcements this week. The first is Ifbyphone, which received $9 million led by River Cities Capital, bringing its total funding to $30 million. The second announcement is embargoed (tomorrow) so I can’t disclose, but it’s a $20 million sum.

Read the rest.

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