The $1 Trillion Call Commerce Engine: A White Paper Preview

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Voice has been catapulted in the smartphone era. The telephone is 180 years old but has only been recently reinvented, as it’s bolted to a universal search and access device. An on-demand culture has boosted call volume, while AI won’t be the threat everyone thinks.

These factors are the foundation of call commerce. The artist formerly known as call monetization, this is the science of driving, tracking and optimizing phone calls as a source of incoming business leads. And it’s a $1 trillion economic engine.

This will be the topic of a new BIA/Kelsey white paper. Underwritten by Marchex (making it free to read vs. paywalled), it will publish in late July with lots of brand new BIA/Kelsey data and analysis. This follows lots of ongoing coverage and our big 2014 report.

The executive summary is below as a sneak peek. Post launch, we’ll cover the paper’s takeaways, here, in our newsletter, and lots of other multi-media channels. Stay tuned for more.

Executive Summary

Two years ago, BIA/Kelsey published an industry-defining research paper, Phone Calls: The Ad Currency of the Smartphone Era. It examined the growing importance of inbound phone calls as high-value, high-intent lead sources for business. This is the area we’ve named Call Commerce.

Since that paper we’ve closely followed the sector, whose rapid evolution compels an update. How much U.S. commerce is influenced through mobile phone calls? How are marketers taking advantage of this trend? And what are best practices in driving and tracking all of that activity?

BIA/Kelsey believes these questions deserve attention because call commerce is one of the most under-recognized opportunities of the smartphone era. Though sometimes eclipsed by “sexier” tech topics, we stand by the industry mantra we coined in 2014: “the call is the new click.”

Phone calls have in fact piggybacked on the growth of one of those topics: the smartphone itself. The 180-year old telephone has been reinvented in the smartphone era. Bolted to a universal access device, it’s creating new opportunities for businesses to drive and track inbound calls.

The starting point is consumer usage, as it often goes. BIA/Kelsey projects 169 billion U.S. mobile calls to businesses by 2020. This is driven by smartphone penetration, high commercial intent, and the natural handoff between mobile engagement and phone calls (i.e. Google “call” buttons).

It’s also worth noting that despite a high degree of automation, humans are still social animals. Combined with an increasingly on-demand and immediacy-oriented society, mobile calls will continue growing – especially with complex purchases like cars, travel or financial services.

But more important than call volume will be monetary impact on consumer spending. BIA/Kelsey estimates that $1 trillion in U.S. spending is influenced by phone calls at some stage of the path-to-purchase. This value also derives from calls’ prevalence in high-value product categories.

So the name of the game in call commerce is to drive that call activity through various marketing channels (i.e. search), as well as track it. The latter is the art of call analytics, and gets more complicated with offline purchases that were influenced somewhere upstream by a phone call.

This relates to the broader topic of attribution – the holy grail of local commerce. With voice calls, call commerce leaders are innovating ways to use a phone number as an identifier – much like Facebook uses social identity – linked to offline conversion data like credit card information.

Lastly, call commerce is evolving beyond marketing. Building from large-scale deployments in call centers and integration with CRM systems, call commerce can equally be applied to operational efficiencies. That includes sales rep training, script optimization and call center close rates.

Macro trends in the tech world meanwhile empower marketers to implement all of the above. Due to cloud infrastructure and Saas packaging, CMOs can buy and manage enterprise software systems that previously required lots of budget, on-site servers and the oversight of the CTO.

The following pages will examine all of these factors and how they converge to create the call commerce opportunity for marketers: Where it is today, where it’s going tomorrow, and what you need to start doing and thinking yesterday.

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