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As artificial intelligence becomes more commonplace, the role of phone calls in marketing is becoming increasingly more complex. This is particularly important for small businesses, since these technological advancements can have much greater consequences for SMBs compared to their larger counterparts.

So, as an SMB marketer, it’s only natural to ask yourself: Are phone calls still a crucial metric for small businesses? The answer is yes, and they’re more important now than they’ve been in the past — here’s why.

Phone calls and marketing: A brief history

Before we get into why phone calls are more important than ever for small businesses, it’s helpful to understand how phone calls and their role in marketing have changed over the years.

Before digital marketing became standard practice, businesses generated phone call leads by including their phone numbers on billboards, TV ads, paper mailers, radio commercials, and other forms of traditional advertising. But without analytics technology, it was difficult — if not impossible — to know which channels worked and which ones didn’t.

Fast forward to the 2000s, and digital marketing and analytics have become the norm. Businesses can now optimize their marketing for lead forms, landing pages, and other online conversions. Even better, they can now see which of their campaigns are working best, and learn valuable information about how their customers interact with their business online.

And with the advent of digital marketing and analytics came the rise of smartphones. In our increasingly mobile-first world users can now make Google searches on demand, which means businesses need to be able to handle spur-of-the-moment phone calls. It’s the reason why click-to-call ads exist, and why Google launched call-only campaigns in early 2018.

But isn’t AI killing phone calls?

While it’s true that AI-powered text and chat bots are becoming more popular, phone calls aren’t disappearing. In fact, according to a recent BIA/Kelsey report, calls to businesses are actually projected to grow to 169 billion per year by 2020 — doubling the 89 billion business calls made in 2017.

But even if calls were being replaced by bots, that doesn’t mean small businesses could adapt to AI as quickly as large enterprise companies. Marketing software like automation platforms and CRMs are considered standard in today’s day and age, yet many of those tools are too expensive for your average small business to consider. (The latest-and-greatest AI marketing tools are rarely built with SMBs in mind.)

How AI makes phone calls more valuable for small businesses

The reality is that AI technology isn’t advanced enough to completely replace phone calls for most companies, and especially not for small businesses. This is especially true for businesses that offer more complex services, such as law firms.

But even setting aside the latest advancements in analytics tech, it’s still in your best interest as an SMB marketer to invest in calls as a marketing channel. For one, phone calls convert at a 10 – 12 percent higher rate compared to lead forms. And perhaps even more importantly, phone calls are full of rich analytics that you just can’t get from online-only conversions.

In other words, savvy small businesses shouldn’t try to use AI to eliminate calls entirely — instead, you should put this technology to work to earn more leads and extract even more insightful data from your marketing channels.

This is where our SMB call tracking tools come in: Aside from helping you learn which marketing channels are generating the most calls, advanced call tracking platforms can also use AI and machine learning to analyze your calls and help you get as much insight as possible out of what your customers have to say. You can then use those insights to inform sales, marketing, product, support, and more — all with minimal effort on your end.

Let’s say you run a law firm that uses Google Analytics, and you also use a marketing automation platform to see what happens before and after prospects fill out a lead form online. You’re able to track how many people click the phone number listed on your sit, but that’s all your marketing tools can tell you. By adding call tracking to your marketing stack, you could have as much — if not more — post-conversion data for your calls as you do for your lead forms.

For example, you could use call recording to automatically qualify leads based on keywords, allowing you to focus on following up with the best of the best prospects. You could also use AI keyword tracking to comb your calls for frequently used keywords, and then optimize your campaigns based on those keywords. Both of these tools help save you time and provide deeper insight than you’d get from a lead form alone.

At the end of the day, phone calls aren’t going anywhere for small businesses — nor should you want them to. AI is making phone calls an even more useful lead and data source, and call tracking tools can help you harness the power of it.

The post AI is making calls more important than ever for SMBs: Here’s how to not get left behind appeared first on CallRail.

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There’s a debate in the baseball world around one very conventional statistic: Pitcher wins and losses.

For decades, both fans and team executives have looked to this metric as a key indicator of a pitcher’s value. And while most have all but abandoned pitcher wins as any kind of meaningful indicator of pitching performance, it remains a part of a game’s official scoring and has prominence for many old-school baseball fans.

Here’s the basic problem with the stat: A pitcher has no control over his team’s offensive output. He could lose a game by a score of 1-0 and he could win a game by a score of 10-9 — in other words, earning a win for a performance nine times worse than the game for which he received a black-mark in the loss column.

In much the same way, when it comes to marketing, many businesses still cling to ‘sacred cow’ conventional metrics. Maybe your clients are this way — perhaps their previous marketing agency or in-house marketing person was fixated on one of these metrics (like pageviews or raw leads). How do you get your client to instead pay attention to more meaningful marketing metrics?

Clearly, constantly delineate between marketing conversion types

Obviously, conversion types vary greatly in quality. If someone downloads a white paper from your client’s website, that’s great — you’ve got another prospect you can nurture.

But it’s obviously way more valuable when someone fills out a form requesting a consultation from your client’s business. So, if you have any kind of lead-scoring in place for your client, the consultation form will dwarf the white paper download in terms of points ascribed to the conversion.

But what about an inbound phone call to your client’s business — one that inquires about pricing, or results in a booked appointment? How does this compare with a form fill?

Getting your clients in the habit of immediately recognizing the difference between conversion types will give them more certainty about the ROI your agency is providing. And being able to put the spotlight on the most valuable conversions you’re generating is ultimately better than diluting your reporting by emphasizing high-funnel, low-value conversions.

Don’t be afraid of anecdotal proofpoints to give life to marketing metrics

In some circles, ‘anecdotal’ may as well begin with a scarlet-colored ‘A.’ But anecdotes can often be powerful to your clients, who may struggle to grasp quality while sifting through a sterile data set.

When you can storytell — proving that a particular campaign produced a particular customer — your clients are more likely to connect the dots between your agency’s work and their growth as a business. Agencies using CallRail do this every day, and can quickly sort calls by keywords spotted or Call Highlights and send them over to their clients in order to demonstrate the impact of a campaign or sales script they’ve designed.

John Gosselin, co-founder and CEO of Boston-based agency Earn More Do Less, spoke with us about just that last year:

“CallRail has allowed us to say, ‘Hey, listen, we know how to bring in leads and improve your processes.’ And now we have transparent measurables that go beyond simple vanity metrics. The sugar-spike-high marketing data that every business gets but might not understand –– CallRail brings that to life. There’s no theory with CallRail. It is all real data you can sink your teeth into, and there’s always plenty of meat on the bone.”

Read more: Earn More Do Less helps client capture 400% more calls with CallRail

Actually talk about the marketing metrics that really matter! Get clear (and stay clear) on client business goals

Maybe this is obvious, but “we need a better website” and “we need help with our Google Ads campaigns” are not goals. If you can dive deep with your clients to understand their strategic business goals, your agency will easily provide infinitely more value than you would facelifting a website or re-optimizing Google Ads campaigns. You could also improve client retention, by directly tying your activities to their core business goals.

Here’s how that might work.

Let’s say your client is an optometrist with three locations around town. And let’s say two primary business goals for the upcoming year are increasing booked appointments at their newest (and slowest) office, as well as moving more merchandise across all of their locations.

Working backward from those goals, it wouldn’t make too much sense to prioritize pageviews as a KPI. Similarly, it would be odd to report on social media followers to this client, though both of these metrics may very well augment your core efforts.

Let’s instead isolate these goals and consider how you might be able to support them.

Goal 1: Increase booked appointments to a particular location

To support this goal, your marketing agency is likely to run some geo-targeted paid advertising on Google and Facebook, focusing on a five- or seven-mile radius around the office you’re hoping to boost with more business.

Prospects who click through on these ads might book an appointment through your client’s website. And if that’s the case, it’s obviously important to set up attribution for booked appointments.

Many prospects will probably also call into your client’s business after clicking through on one of these paid ads and perusing their website. If so, it will be critical to set up call tracking to make sure you’re capturing these prospects, too, and getting credit for them.

When it comes to reporting, you should be able to provide an exact number of booked appointments your paid campaigns produced. You could also provide a figure for Cost Per Lead by dividing total spend by appointments booked online, plus appointments booked via inbound call. (Pro tip: You can do this right inside CallRail, without having to cobble together reports from various sources.)

And, for extra credit, you could further support this client goal by creating an answering script for office staff across all locations that helps them guide callers to the target location, highlighting the schedule openness and, perhaps, its convenient location. You could be sure you were writing something useful by listening to call recordings and browsing the keywords spotted and Call Highlights reports in CallRail.

Read more: How Seattle-based agency FreeGren uses CallRail to help with sales coaching and deepen client relationships

Goal 2: Sell more merchandise

Selling more merchandise may seem like a difficult goal for a digital marketing agency to support, especially if your optometrist client doesn’t have a great e-commerce solution. The simplest way for the business to chip away at this goal is probably through merchandising and sales training for the office staff, and it’s likely that neither activity is among your agency’s core competencies.

However, your agency is probably already highly familiar with something that will definitely boost sales: Email marketing.

Perhaps your agency could design a new email template for your client’s general drip campaign, which includes a ‘spectacle highlight.’ Or maybe you could set up a campaign which emailed patients exactly one year after their last glasses purchase with messaging that encouraged them to get familiar with new styles before their next appointment.

For these activities, you could report on open rates and click-through rates as the KPIs that support the client’s particular business goal.

Getting your client to focus on marketing metrics like these, rather than vanity metrics, will help to make your agency more indispensable. And effort like this goes a long way towards showing how each activity your agency pursues is not arbitrary, but rather closely tailored to your client’s specific goals.

Learn more about how agencies like yours can use CallRail to prove ROI, improve client retention, and grow revenue.

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Whether you have a single clinic or a multi-location practice, here’s how to make sure your digital ads reach the right people.

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Small business marketing isn’t easy. It can often feel like there are plenty of options — but not enough time or budget — to figure out what works. Marketing is never one size fits all, but these do’s and don’ts will help you keep your small business moving in the right direction.

Don’t: Push your product too much

Gone are the old days of advertising, when companies would aggressively peddle their latest inventions. Today, consumers face overcrowded markets and are bombarded with marketing materials both online and offline.

With so many options for consumers to choose, it’s crucial to build trust first and then sell your products later.

For example, if a stranger on the street stopped you and aggressively tried to get you to buy jewelry, you would likely be annoyed and not purchase anything. However, if a friend told you about their cousin who sells handmade necklaces that perfectly match your style, you’d be more inclined to buy.

The key difference here is trust. You would feel more comfortable in the second situation because you trust your friend’s judgment of both the business owner’s integrity and the products themselves. When it comes to building marketing campaigns, you want to replicate this trust-building process, starting with a potential customer’s first introduction to your product and ending with their purchase.

Begin by showing customers you understand their needs and problems — blog content and social media posts are great for this. Once you’ve earned their interest, show (not tell) how your product or service solves the problem. (Think case studies, customer testimonials, before and after photos, and so on.). If you do both of those things well, closing the deal is the easy part.

Do: Prioritize data and analytics

Running a small shop means wearing many hats — make sure that ‘analyst’ is one of them. When you don’t keep track of which marketing campaigns generate revenue, you run the risk of being inefficient with your resources and wasting precious marketing dollars.

Luckily, tools like Google Analytics are pretty user-friendly and integrate with basically every other marketing software you may use. If you’ve never done any sort of data analysis before, it would be worthwhile to either get Google Analytics certified, or hire an agency to handle your reporting.

Do: Invest in software made for small business marketing

There are hundreds of marketing tools out there, but not all of them were designed with small businesses in mind. Many of these tools either have too many features that small businesses don’t need, while others have the right set of features but are financially inaccessible to smaller companies.

Luckily, there are many marketing technology companies that are small-business-friendly: 

  • Hubspot offers their CRM software for free, and their marketing, sales, and support tools are all reasonably priced when compared to similar platforms.
  • Mailchimp was created to fill the email marketing gap for small businesses, and today they offer a growing suite of marketing tools including email, landing pages, digital ads, and more.
  • And if your business thrives on phone call leads, CallRail offers a call tracking and analytics platform that was made with small businesses in mind.

Don’t: Blindly follow what large corporations are doing

Whether or not you aspire to become the next big legacy brand, it’s not usually wise to base your small business marketing strategy on what big corporations are doing.

There are two main reasons for this. First, an enterprise company has a much bigger budget and staff for their marketing campaigns, and those strategies won’t necessarily translate on a smaller scale. And second, plentiful revenue figures from a campaign doesn’t mean that campaign is an objectively good fit for all businesses. (In reality, it means that the campaign worked well for that specific business, which likely has a different product or marketspace than yours.)

Consider Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign. It worked so well because Coca Cola has 126 years of brand awareness, resources to create specialized cans at massive scale, and a marketing budget big enough to hire a creative agency. An artisanal soda company? Not so much — the costs would likely outweigh any potential benefits.

It’s valuable to draw inspiration from what enterprise companies are doing, but always keep in mind your business’s unique market, product, growth stage, and budget.

Do: Get creative and stand out

Just because large companies have massive marketing budgets doesn’t mean they get to have all the fun. In fact, small businesses have the unique ability to test out new ideas without going through all the red tape — take advantage of it! Try hosting community events, linking up with local influencers, joining community Facebook groups, or even canvassing your area with clever flyers.

Small business marketing isn’t for the faint of heart, but following these guidelines will help make it easier.

If you’re looking to use advanced call tracking to give your small business the edge it needs, you can start today: Begin your 14-day free trial of CallRail or request a personalized demo.

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