Phone Book ROI- Can You Actually Calculate Your Cost Per Lead?

We have had a lot of customers ask us how we are able to figure out the cost per lead (CPL) for a client’s phone book advertising.  The math is simple- the monthly budget divided by the number of calls/leads equals the cost per lead.  The equation looks like this:

Monthly Budget / Monthly Leads = Cost Per Leads

Shouldn’t an advertiser be able to get a report that explains exactly how many leads came in from a particular advertising piece and what each of those lost?  Not necessarily…

The days of unique tracking numbers that are held to one advertising piece are over- if you are a phone book advertiser.  Most of the phone book companies play a shell game during the contract renewal period in order to get an annual commitment.  Here are some of their tactics:

  1. We are going to give you all of your print ads for free and charge you only for the digital portion!
  2. We are going to track all of the calls from each print ad, independently of your other advertising, so you know that it is working!
  3. We are going to charge you a monthly amount for all advertising and guarantee X amount of calls each month so that you know everything is working together to reach the right audiences!

In theory, each one of those tactics sounds great.  But let’s break each one of them down separately:

1.  The print ads are never free.  If you question that statement, simply ask your sales rep to cancel all of the non-print advertising and ask what the cost would be.  Ironically, your bill will come out to the exact same amount of money- or even cost you more!  The perceived value of print advertising is very low, which is why the phone book companies are willing to “give it away” in order to move the revenue to digital advertising.

National phone book advertisers don’t play that shell game.  They hold the phone book companies to a higher standard since they have the metrics and data in-house to determine if an advertising program is working or not.  They prefer to  lean on pay-per-call for any print advertising.

Most phone book pay-per-call programs have an 11-14 second limit before billing begins, and anywhere from 10% to 20% of the calls are not billed due to wrong numbers, telemarketers, repeat calls, etc.  A local business would be wise to request a pay-per-call program just like the national advertisers do if they truly want to see the value of their phone book advertising.

2.  It is very easy to see if a “print only” call tracking number is truly only in one ad.  Ask Google!  If you do a search for your phone book call tracking number, and you see it showing up on random websites across the world, you can be assured that your reporting is not accurate.  Often these phone numbers are showing up on websites like Mapquest, which means that there are unlimited ways a desktop or mobile user of that site can access that tracking phone number.

Don’t be fooled.  This is an intentional strategy used to ensure existing customers will use that number to call, in addition to any possible new customers.  By placing a print tracking number on an internet directory a phone book company is able to pad the numbers in their favor.  This strategy works great for advertisers, IF they want to pay for customer service calls, telemarketers, wrong numbers, etc.

3.  A lead program that is assigned to a budget can be an extremely valuable piece of a thoughtful media plan.  However, the way they are typically sold immediately raises concern.  Sales reps position the program as a “guaranteed number of leads”, but the sales contract specifies that the number is only a target.  Many phone book advertisers have already lived through the pain of trying to hold their sales reps accountable for a lead guarantee that never materializes.

Some phone book companies offer to pad the program by adding additional advertising pieces for free if the lead target is not reached, including direct mail.  What they are saying in effect is this, “We are advertising your company in numerous places that are owned by our company, and yet we cannot even get you the minimum number of leads that were promised during our sales call.  So now we are going to place your phone number in even more places, without telling you where, just to just make your phone rings more!”

The majority of phone book customers who are able to internally track the success of guaranteed lead programs have found that a high percentage of calls are actually from telemarketers, wrong numbers and existing customers who have misplaced the main phone number.  When a “guaranteed number of leads” doesn’t live up to it’s potential, the non-sales related calls increase even more.

There is a very easy solution to tracking your leads from an individual advertisement: make sure that the phone number only shows up in that advertisement.  It’s a lot easier and less expensive for an agency to combine all of the advertising data into one report.  The problem is that the advertiser bears all of the risk of the program not working and they do not have accurate data either.