Smartphones, Mobile Search Drive SMB Call Volume

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted April 29, 2014

Despite smartphones' advanced capabilities, their mobile apps and their knack for enabling mobile commerce, smartphones increasingly help consumers to connect with businesses using their most basic of functions: dialing phone numbers. It's a growing marketing opportunity that small businesses can't afford to ignore.

Smartphones Fuel Small Business Sales Leads

As counterintuitive as it seems, today's Internet-connected smartphones drive up the number of high-quality, telephone-based sales leads for small businesses, according to a report, "Phone Calls Are the New Click," (free download, registration required) from BIA/Kelsey and Bandwidth, a telecommunications technology and voice over IP (VoIP) specialist. Why place a call when you can click, or rather, tap with your finger?

It turns out that the same features that make smartphones Web-enabled, location-aware portable powerhouses also facilitate the process of making targeted phone calls to businesses. The reason boils down to the rising popularity of smartphones and how they fit into consumers' lives.

BIA/Kelsey forecasts that smartphone adoption will reach 92 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers in 2017, up nearly 30 percent from 2013. And of course those smartphones won’t stay at home.

"The portable and location-aware nature of smartphones means mobile users are on the go more often than not," stated the report. "And on-the-go consumers have a naturally higher degree of immediate commercial intent than at-home 'lean-back' desktop searchers."

That intent, combined with search and location awareness set the stage for more calls that generate business.

Ignore Mobile Search and Lose Money

BIA/Kelsey predicts that mobile search will drive a whopping 65 billion calls to businesses by 2016, from practically zero in 2010, at a compound annual growth rate of 42 percent. By comparison, calls generated by paid and organic search are both expected to remain flat at well under 10 billion in aggregate. Small businesses that fail to adopt mobile strategies and ignore mobile customers will lose revenue.

As Michael Boland, BIA/Kelsey senior analyst and vice president, explained to Small Business Computing, "The smartphone age has fused a powerful local search device with a phone. This has made it intuitive for on-the-go consumers to launch a phone call to qualify purchase decisions," he said. "This use shines in lots of high-value product categories where complexity and pricing require a human voice."

Boland concluded that "those same business categories highly value phone calls as incoming leads, thus paving the way for the massive call monetization opportunity we project."

Smartphones simply do a better job of matching prospective customers with local businesses. "Mobile searches also have higher conversion rates in driving calls (57 percent) compared to desktop searches (7 percent)," stated the report. Phone calls are the most valuable type of incoming lead for 61 percent of small businesses.

BIA/Kelsey sees an opportunity in the $68 billion (and growing) market for call-based ads. Small businesses account for more than a third of the market (36 percent), which is largely characterized by local ads in newspapers and on TV and radio that are specifically designed to make phones ring.

Of course, the idea is to make money from these calls. According to the report, small businesses will require simple and intuitive call-management solutions that make pay-per-call, call routing, tracking and analytics easy to track. Vendors that phone it in with complex, watered-down enterprise products meant for call centers will miss out.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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