What is Call Tracking?

We hear a lot about how companies need to use call tracking to see the truly value of their marketing campaigns. But what is call tracking, anyhow?

Call tracking is the process of measuring the impact of marketing effort on lead generation and sales. It was born from evidence-based marketers’ desire for increased visibility into lead sources. If all leads and sales came from online form conversions, it would be easy to know which ads provide the best ROI without any call tracking whatsoever. But for most industries outside of basic ecommerce – including travel, healthcare, automotive, financial services and B2B technology – the vast majority of leads and sales are generated via the telephone.

Why Companies Undervalue Call Metrics, and What They’re Missing

Website Call TrackingIt seems that virtually every company wants a 360 degree view of their marketing ROI. The age of guesswork is gradually coming to an end. But in many organizations, Sales and Marketing exist in such rigid silos that closing the loop between marketing effort and inbound calls seems virtually impossible. Other companies either assume that it would be too difficult or costly. Still others are simply naive about how many calls their marketing efforts actually drive.

Companies are usually surprised by how much insight they have been missing when they begin tracking call metrics. Consider what Nutrisystem discovered when it began comparing sales conversion rates between its web and phone channels. Over the web, Nutrisystem’s close rate was between 2-3% of leads from web ads. When prospects called to talk to a Nutrisystem representative, the conversion rate jumped to 20%.

At evidence-based marketing agency DemandResults, Director of Marketing Jennifer Stretch reported that clients using call tracking software for the first time often discover that 50% or more of their leads actually come via telephone. “When that much ad ROI is suddenly visible, we can make much smarter decisions about where to help clients invest their marketing. And there I’m really just referring to basic channel tracking. When clients begin tracking at the keyword level, then we can get even smarter about actual messaging and inbound marketing tactics.”

In general, increased smartphone usage and adoption, and its effects on consumer behavior, accelerates the need for insight into the connection between marketing efforts and phone calls. Mobile devices are routinely used to find information, via mobile search or social search, and then to call to place orders or discover details. This is true even in cases where entire industries once sought to eliminate sales reps. In the hotel industry, for example, up to 25% of bookings are still placed by phone, despite the existence of mature ecommerce platforms. In addition, mobile sales often prove to be more lucrative than in other channels — Starwood reported a 20x increase in advertising ROI through mobile click-to-call methods.

How Does Call Tracking Software Work?

Call Tracking SoftwareCall tracking systems allow companies to instantly and cheaply create local or toll-free phone numbers with the click of a button. To companies accustomed to purchasing numbers from traditional phone carriers, the process is nothing short of a revolution. Numbers can be assigned nicknames, labels and tags so that they can easily be searched and tracked.

Next, marketers associate unique numbers with particular marketing engagements such as TV or radio ads, conference print collateral, social media ads, or even search keywords.
When a customer calls, the unique number instantly reports the ad source based on the associated phone number. Other common standard metrics include call time and geolocation reports.

Call Tracking Maturity Stages

Basic Call Tracking

In its most basic form, call tracking software can associate a campaign with a single business telephone number. This can allow a business to automatically monitor phone metrics like number of calls, location of calls and duration of calls. Basic phone call tracking can be effective if, for example, a business wants to gauge how many sales calls last shorter than 40 seconds (the voice equivalent of a bounce rate). However, more advanced insight requires more sophisticated software.

Campaign-Based Tracking

It’s not uncommon for even small-to-medium sized business to operate several advertising campaigns simultaneously. A brand might have six separate groups of ads based on different products. Campaign-based call tracking solutions offer a variety of numbers. Each number can focus on a different product, paid search ad group, individual ad or even specific keyword. Each number is assigned to a specific entity. Marketing and Sales can therefore easily separate calls that originate from specific ads.

Dynamic-Number Generation for SEO & SEM

Imagine that you are operating a large enterprise travel business. You offer flights and accommodations to literally thousands of locations across the world. Picture how many keyword combinations could lead potential customers to your site. In order to gain any true insight into which keywords are driving phone sales, you’ll need access to a large pool of unique telephone numbers. It’s not uncommon for enterprise-level businesses to reserve thousands of unique telephone numbers for call tracking.

With Dynamic-Number Generation, when a lead reaches your site by searching for a particular keyphrase, your business’ phone number will be automatically replaced by a number from a pool of unique phone numbers. This unique number will let your business know which keyphrase the lead used to find you. After your business captures that information, the unique number will return to your pool of phone numbers so it can be reused.

Call Tracking CRM Integration

More sophisticated call tracking – and that which potentially brings the most return – involves tracking call metrics through a CRM, such as Salesforce.com. It’s easy to see how this adds value. Tracking campaign source metrics in a CRM enables metrics that go far beyond lead generation. Companies can make decisions based on the actual revenue that is generated through specific marketing efforts rather than just looking at the number of leads.

On the grand continuum, it really has to do with marketing maturity levels. Companies running ads without any associated conversion-based metrics are at the early end of the spectrum. Those engaging in basic channel and keyword-based call tracking would be somewhere in the middle. At the same time, those making revenue-based decisions are the most mature.

When properly tracked, this practice has the potential to help align marketing and sales efforts through a standardized set of metrics. Since customer data already lives in your CRM, sales teams can gain instant access to a customer record the moment that a lead phones in. Your sales representatives will instantly know a customer’s geolocation, ad source and purchase history. CRM integration can therefore enable sales to pitch the right product at the right time.

Tracking Offline Engagements

Call tracking empowers companies to determine which offline engagements add the most value. There is no longer a need to ask a lead, “How did you find us?”

Direct response marketers have often struggled to gain visibility into which television and radio ads offer the best returns. For example, imagine you run a startup company that sells exercise equipment. You want to run radio ads, but you’re unsure of which demographics will offer the best ROI. You might find yourself running ads on a talk radio station, a Top 40 station and a station that plays R&B. In order to know which ads are driving the most sales, you will need to give three separate phone numbers. Call tracking systems can then let you know which radio stations drive the most sales.

In certain industries like software technology and healthcare, it’s very common for businesses to have a presence at trade shows. Marketers have long-struggled to quantify the ROI of their in-person marketing investments. If your business advertises in a trade-show magazine, passes one-page fliers out at a booth and gives a Powerpoint presentation, you can use assign a unique number to each of those engagements. Your business will then be able to associate their efforts with ROI, so that your in-person engagements be incrementally successful.

Tracking Online Engagements

Tracking Calls from Websites

There are many ways for web publishers to use call tracking. This section focuses on at least three use cases.

Tracking calls from a Business Directory Page

Sites that contain business listings are consistently surprised when they decide to start tracking calls from phone numbers listed on a page. It’s often useful as a test to see how effective page advertising is, and how much to charge for it. At a recent conference, a speaker cited a local auto repair service listing site that displayed the phone number of each repair shop. As a test, he decided to assign unique phone numbers to each listing, and forward those test numbers to the real business numbers. An amazing one out of every six page visitors actually called a number on the page. This type of evidence can give site operators both the confidence and the metrics with which to justify a substantial advertising fee increase.

Tracking Calls from Multiple Sites

As part of a network approach to inbound marketing, many companies operate several sites, each dedicated to serving a specific customer segment. The simplest and most common way to track lead generation from individual sites is to provision a unique local or toll-free number for each site, thereby having at least basic insight into which sites are driving leads and sales.

Tracking Any Inbound Source with Marketing Automation

Dynamic session tracking is a type of marketing automation that allows marketers to track calls from virtually any source. It’s especially useful when tracking large numbers of unique search keywords. In this scenario, brands provision a pool of phone numbers that is large enough to withstand at least a day or two of incoming phone calls from campaign sources. For example, a company receiving roughly 1,000 calls per day might provision at least that many phone numbers. In this scenario, when a site visitor arrives after performing a Google search with the term “Hollywood Fiat repair,” a number is automatically selected from the pool and served dynamically onto the web site. This number is associated with that particular search term only long enough to store call metrics in analytics or in the company CRM. When the user’s session is over, the number is disassociated with the search term and repurposed for a new caller. The dynamic properties of this type of tracking are typically executed by inserting tracking code on each page of a web site, typically as a global element. The corresponding call tracking software then automates serving dynamic numbers based on campaign source.

About the Author

William Tyree

William Tyree is Chief Marketing Officer at RingDNA. William brings 14 years experience creating winning growth strategies for Fortune 1000 companies. His articles have appeared in Harvard Review, The Atlantic, ProBlogger, The Salesforce Blog, Entrepreneur and elsewhere.

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