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Telephone-based lead conversion:
How SMBs Can Level the Marketing Playing Field

Integrating their Web sites with easily configured telephone applications, SMBs can increase lead conversion and close more business.

Over the past ten years, the Internet has expanded from information highway into mega-mall, conveying millions of customers to both online and traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. Thousands of new enterprises have arrived and thrived along this e-infrastructure.

Unfortunately, millions of small businesses have been left behind, far from the flow of e-buyers. Left behind because they sell products that do not fit neatly into a shopping cart. Or left behind because the sale of their products require a live conversation. Or left behind because as small businesses, they lack access to the newest technology, expertise or infrastructure.

The solution to this new digital divide between big and small business, created by the World Wide Web? As often as not, it’s the much-disparaged, plain-old telephone. Not a fancy new iPhone, smart phone or PDA but any telephone. Every minute of every day, someone, somewhere in the world stares at a beautifully designed Web page, asking: “How do I contact this company to ask a question?" It is up to the marketer to get that person to the phone, and ultimately to the person who conducts the conversation that leads to the sale.

Enterprises have call centers to handle 800-number traffic
Large enterprises start their direct marketing efforts with the aid of call centers, outbound voice broadcasts and expensive media advertising campaigns. They can afford expertise that delivers email messages that bypass prospects’ spam filters. Their budgets support 24- by-7 customer service. A small business’ customer service line may rest in the cell phone of the business owner.

For many large businesses, the Web site is not where lead gen starts or even takes place at all: it is used more for product or service fulfillment. Small businesses, in contrast, hope their Web sites will both drive new business and contribute to service fulfillment. But without professional marketing savvy and technology, this hope is not realistic.

Small businesses need to pace their inbound calls
The people best suited to help SMB marketers bridge this divide are telephone application providers (TAPs), leveraging years of accumulated expertise in automated customer interaction across both phone and Web media. We are the ones to level the playing field by moving Web viewers the last mile from Web page to sales and services. We TAPs can make this transfer possible only if we make our technology easy, obvious, smart and affordable.

First, we need to make it very easy for a browsing prospect to contact a company. A large business site may encourage calling with click-to-call technology, but it has a whole call center waiting for inbound calls. An SMB’s click-to-call (or its toll-free number, for that matter) has to track down one or very few call takers, without testing the caller’s patience. That requires an application that “knows” how to route the call based on the time of day, the day of week, or by consulting a forwarding number that the SMB owner/staffer can update at any time.

Alternatively, that application may need to try multiple telephone numbers, such as a businesses’ office, owner’s cell phone, or even a home phone, sequentially or at once. When no one is available to take that call, voicemail won’t cut it. An intelligent automated agent needs to collect the appropriate information and forward it to the business for later live follow-up.

These services must accommodate traditional wired and wireless phones. Mobility boom notwithstanding, we cannot assume that consumers will own, understand, or suffer the fat-finger frustration or eyestrain of smart phone mini-keyboards and styluses. The plain voice phone – the Rodney Dangerfield of tech – can, if intelligently used, automate simple interactions and make sure live conversations take place when needed.

The plain-voice phone excels for discrete transactions. It’s not a good vehicle for literally browsing – searching through books or vacation destinations, for example. It is, however, an excellent way to find out if your couch is scheduled to be delivered tomorrow, and when. Or if your plumber has received the part he needs, or your backorder has arrived, or your lawyer has scheduled a closing date on your house.

Service businesses are, in fact, the perfect SMBs for telephone applications, because they have nothing to put in a shopping cart – they rely on conversations to transact business. They also have many local competitors, and many local customers to satisfy with very limited human resources. Click-to-call buttons get that Web-browsing customer to the phone – or even to the right department. Hosted automated attendants provide a big-company presence for companies of any size. Voice broadcast campaigns with intelligent call transfer are able to reduce lead follow-up costs.

Most important, these automation advantages can be gained at an SMB price point, because the telephone application services provider can leverage Web 2.0 technologies to make the creation of a telephone application as easy as browsing a web site. Any direct marketer can fill in the blanks, just as he or she has done with Web page templates. In this way, a marketer can save his client hours every day with an application that takes an hour or two to configure.

Optimizing lead-gen
That marketer can go further: he or she can drive and optimize the lead-gen process. He can drive it with well-targeted, well-designed voice broadcasts. Outbound but still interactive, these calls can give customers some information, ask a question, and route the call back into different responses or different areas of the business, based on the answer. Where a big-business voice blast can crank out hundreds of calls per hour, an SMB broadcast is timed and staggered to match the company’s ability to take those routed calls.

The SMB marketer can optimize lead gen, by tracking the search terms that browsing prospects use before hitting the click-to-call button. From there, he extracts the search terms most often used by those callers who turn into customers. He takes that term, raises its prominence on his Web site, or pays Google to boost it in paid search results, and so attracts more leads of better quality.

Telephone applications, easily configured and “mashed up” with the efficiency of the Web, make it easy to track campaigns, Web sites, and quantify results. They can do for the SMB’s bottom line what Quickbooks did for its accounting function: scale a big-business solution to the feature-set and price of small and medium-sized business. And for the reseller, direct marketing or SEO organization, they can form the basis of value-proven consulting services.

Kernel of Popcorn Retailer’s
Phone Orders, Market Research

A good example of this three-way working relationship is World & Web, an internet marketing company, and Papa Dean’s Popcorn, a gourmet popping corn company, both in San Antonio, Tex. The specialty retailer was having too much of a good thing when its product took off, attracting more traffic than counter staff could handle. World & Web fixed the bottleneck by automating phone order-taking through telephony application provider Ifbyphone.

The IVR (interactive voice response) application answers 800-number callers and browsing click-to-callers. It not only provides information and takes orders, but keeps a record of contacts. If the call comes in from the Web site, it also gives World & Web the Google search terms that brought in the caller, helping his client hone its selection of Google ad words.

Says Garth Dennis, founder of World & Web: “Ifbyphone is the tail that wags the dog. It gives small-to-medium companies the kind of telephone power that only larger companies have had up to now.”

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