The $1 Trillion Call Commerce Opportunity: A New BIA/Kelsey White Paper

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Voice has been catapulted in the smartphone era. The telephone is 140 years old but has only been recently reinvented, as it’s bolted to an always-handy search and discovery 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 influences $1 trillion in U.S. consumer spending.

This is the topic of a new BIA/Kelsey white paper. Underwritten by Marchex (making it free to read vs. paywalled), it’s available to download and contains 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, and we’ll post weekly excerpts here and in our newsletter. We’ll also cover this topic perpetually, including lots of upcoming multimedia such as analyst briefs and video interviews with leaders in the sector.

Meanwhile, download the full report for free here.

Executive Summary

Two years ago BIA/Kelsey published an industry-defining research paper titled “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 what we refer to as “call commerce.”

We have followed the sector closely since then, and its rapid evolution compels an update. How much 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 this activity?

BIA/Kelsey believes these questions deserve attention because call commerce is one of the most under-recognized opportunities of the smartphone era. Though it’s sometimes eclipsed by sexier tech topics, we stand by the 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. 140-year-old telephone technology has been reinvented in the smartphone era. Bolted to a multi-channel access device, the phone is now positioned to have a key role in driving local commerce.

The starting point is consumer usage, as is often the case. BIA/Kelsey projects 169 billion mobile calls annually 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. Combine that with an increasingly on-demand and immediacy-oriented society, and mobile calls will keep growing – especially for complex purchases like cars, travel or financial services.

But more important than call volume will be the monetary impact on consumer spending. BIA/Kelsey estimates that phone calls influence $1 trillion in U.S. spending 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. Call commerce leaders are designing ways to use a phone number or mobile device as an identifier — much like Facebook uses social identity — linked to offline conversion data such as credit card information.

Lastly, call commerce is evolving beyond marketing. Building from large-scale deployment in call centers and integration with CRM systems, call commerce can be applied equally 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 oversight of the CTO

The following pages examine all 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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