Lead Gen: How conversion optimization for call centers is similar to (and different from) online conversion


While much of what we publish on MarketingExperiments focuses on digital marketing, our Lead Generation group works with many of our Research Partners on the development of nurture campaigns focused mainly on verbal phone conversations.

As a result of all the great work our Leads Group does on a daily basis, we also engage in phone- and conversation-based testing.

This website has expounded before on the many different ways our Conversion Sequence Heuristic can be applied to any aspect of a funnel, but I’d like to take some time to explain how it can be applied to verbal conversations with the customer. In many sales situations, conversations with the customer take place over the phone, but most of the concepts I want to discuss can be applied to any verbal sales pitch.

To remind everyone, the Conversion Heuristic is:


How it’s the same as digital marketing

Motivation online is always the part of the heuristic we have no real control over. Most people enter the funnel with a set level of motivation. There are some customers who will convert no matter how difficult or confusing the process is, and there are some who will never convert no matter how simple we make the funnel. While all of the above is true for telephone conversations, there are ways motivation can be subverted on the phone that do not exist on the world wide web.

How it’s different

Most notably, list source. Online we are driving visitors to our sites with PPC ads, banners and organic search results. In these situations, the customer has the opportunity to make a slightly informed decision about their interest in the product or value we are pushing their way.

On the phone, however, we are rather metaphorically stepping into their personal space. Unless you are using a list that was generated by choice on your site (and sometimes even if you aren’t), be sure to indicate how the customer’s phone number ended up on your call list. No matter how motivated your customer is to purchase your product, if they don’t know how you got their information, they might never convert. 

Closely related to list source is timing. Online the customer chooses when to shop, and they can easily walk away from the computer to make a sandwich, come back and complete the funnel process without you (the marketer) being any the wiser. On the phone, the customer generally must be engaged for the duration of the conversation. If not engaged, then they at least must be aware of the conversation.  Even the most highly motivated customer can fail to convert if the call comes at an inopportune time.

On the positive side, there are more opportunities to match motivation on the phone. For example, online there may only be one chance via a landing page to match motivation, and you have to guess at the motivation. However, the phone is the ultimate interactive tool. You can ask the customer what motivates them and then switch the nature of the conversation to ensure you’re doing as much as possible to match the motivation.


How it’s the same

Value is the first part of the heuristic that we can control online, and this is equally true during a phone conversation. Online, value is most commonly exchanged through written copy, although MECLABS recommends creating congruence on the page with a set of collaborative value elements.

How it’s different

On the phone, value is expressed throughout the conversation, and the actual value exchange of a call could make up more than 90% of the conversation. As a result, many of the elements of value (appeal, exclusivity, clarity and credibility) carry more weight individually than they would online.

Value on the phone is more linear than on a landing page. Online, the entirety of the value exchange exists all at once. On the phone, we are expressing the value over time and if we mention something early in the call that is important, it could be forgotten by the time we get to the “call-to-action.”  This is where the old saying “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them” can become important. Reiterating key value points can make an impact, especially when done directly before any kind of macro-yes question.


 How it’s the same:

Friction is still the psychological resistance in the sales process. Length and difficulty still remain, although, they relate more directly to calls (length of the call and the difficulty of the ask).

How it’s different:

The examples of friction can be very different from an online conversion process, and so the strategy to reduce friction must be very different. Here are some examples:

  • Asking qualifying questions
  • Requesting that the customer perform a task (i.e., Can you go to this website?)
  • Attempting to schedule an appointment
  • Requesting detailed information that might need to be looked up (i.e., when the doctor’s office asks for your insurance plan number)

When planning out a call guide, think through what you’re going to ask the customer to do and consider how difficult the requests might be or how much length it could add to the call.


 How it’s the same:

Anxiety is still the psychological concern in the sales process. And the ways to reduce anxiety are the same but must, of course, be adapted to the phone. For example, credibility indicators must be spoken, and proximity is about sentence structure instead of physical distance.

How it’s different:

Much like with friction, the examples of anxiety, and thus the reduction strategy, often need to be different. Some example anxieties that would be more prevalent in a phone call than online are:

  • Are you who you say you are?
  • Is my information safe with you?
  • How did you get my number?

Ambiguity is also more heavily weighted on calls than online. Being intentionally vague on a call can be compared to trying for curiosity clicks online. However, ambiguity is hypothesized to have better potential results on the phone. This has not yet been successfully tested.


How it’s the same:

It is exactly the same.

How it’s different:

So far, incentive has not been proven to display any differences when used on the phone.


This is not in the Conversion Sequence Heuristic, and it is only applicable to phone calls and other verbal conversations.

One of Flint McGlaughlin’s favorite adages is “People don’t buy from companies, from stores or from websites; people buy from people.” This is doubly true of any conversion attempted over the phone.

Online, the customer is able to imply the tone and inflection of any copy provided for them to read. We can attempt to influence their interpretation with punctuation, but they hear our words in their own heads, in their own voice. On the phone, the caller’s demeanor can have an impact on the probability of conversion.

When I used to work at a call center, they would actually put a mirror on our computer monitors so we could ensure we were smiling during the conversations. It really did make a difference.

Related Resources

Landing Page Optimization online certification course – Get an in-depth understanding of how to use the Conversion Sequence Heuristic to improve the probability of conversion

Call Center Optimization: How The Globe and Mail cut number of calls in half while increasing sales per hour

Call Center Optimization: How A Nonprofit Increased Donation Rate 29% With Call Center Testing

MarketingSherpa Lead Gen Summit Wrap-Up: Top 7 lead capture, qualification and nurturing takeaways

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