Don’t call me: Nearly 90% of customers won’t answer the phone anymore [Study]

  •   August 20, 2019

There’s an ongoing debate about the role of telephone sales and whether they’re effective anymore. Many pundits have long asserted that “cold calling is dead,” but is any form of outcalling or inside sales effective now?

Declining success rates. A new survey and report from Zipwhip (registration required), intended to promote messaging, argues the phone as a channel is experiencing decreasing effectiveness for multiple reasons. Indeed, plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates reaching prospects over the phone is a growing problem across markets, whether the targets are consumers or b2b buyers.

Widely cited data from separate studies argue that fewer than 2% of cold calls result in meetings and that cold calling is ineffective more than 90% of the time. But these statistics are from old studies that don’t appear to be available anymore, only the passing third-party citations. Yet these assertions appear to support anecdotal experience.

Conversely, there are some who still argue that cold calling can be successful if done properly.

87% mostly ignore calls. The Zipwhip survey (n=520 U.S. adults) found that 87% of respondents said they ignore phone calls from unknown numbers “often” or “very often.”

How often do you ignore/reject phone calls from businesses and unknown numbers?

Source: Zipwhip consumer survey (2019)

This is undoubtedly driven by the increase in robo calls and mobile-phone spam, which First Orion has said will represent about 45% of mobile calls in the U.S. this year. This rise in spam is leading to various anti-call-spam solutions and just plain call avoidance by consumers. Indeed, the top piece of advice from the FCC to combat mobile phone spam is: “Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.”

The Zipwhip study goes on to explore the various reasons people don’t want to answer the phone. Among them, people are too busy, calls are intrusive or they prefer to communicate in other ways.

Select why you avoid phone calls from businesses/unknown numbers (select all that apply)

Source: Zipwhip consumer survey (2019)

Only 4% don’t think calls disruptive. Beyond this, the survey asked “how often do you find calls to be disruptive?” Respondents said:

  • Always — 27.69%
  • Sometimes — 68.5%
  • Never — 3.65%

In other words, less than 4% were generally open to receiving phone calls.

None of this should be interpreted to suggest that overall call volumes are declining. Indeed, (legitimate) call volumes are growing according to call tracking companies and several studies. BrightLocal, for example, found that the phone was the preferred channel for consumers to contact local businesses. And a recent survey from Broadly found that a majority of small businesses see the phone as their most important channel.

Why we should care. There’s an overall sense that tried-and-true sales channels (e.g., email) are declining in effectiveness. As the data above show, this is also true for calls — when they’re unsolicited. While some stubborn sales executives might say cold calls have a role to play, the evidence argues this approach is getting less efficient and more expensive over time.

One response (now almost a cliche) is that in-bound marketing is the answer and dramatically improves telephone close rates. But as most marketers already well understand, brands need to diversify their prospecting and communications strategies to reach audiences through the channels they prefer. Taking pressure off the phone enables it to become much more effective in this “don’t call me” era.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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