What are Answer Rates on Sales Calls & Why Do They Matter?

Alan Saltz

March 20, 2024

13 min

Table of Contents


  • Call answer rates, a pivotal sales KPI, are calculated by dividing the number of calls resulting in a live conversation by the number of phone calls made. 
  • Reaching contacts via phone has become increasingly challenging, leading to concerns about insufficient conversations among sales leaders.
  • Answer rates are a top priority for smart sales and outreach organizations, with PhoneBurner leading the charge in focusing on this critical metric.
  • Answer rates are not static and can vary significantly based on various factors, including spam/scam flags, dialer software, originating carrier, and lead quality.
  • Measuring and interpreting answer rates is important to help identify the most effective channels and optimize resource allocation. However it’s challenging due to their dynamic nature and fluctuations across phone numbers, team members, phone carriers, lead sources, and more.
  • Apple's Live Voicemail feature introduces a new challenge, as it may inflate answer rates on tracking software by registering voicemail pickups as answered calls.
  • To improve answer rates, businesses should focus on strategies such as improving number reputation, understanding carrier network variations, and implementing effective lead validation processes.
  • Ultimately, answer rates directly impact key sales KPIs and revenue generation, making them a crucial aspect of sales success that requires careful planning and strategy.

Introduction: Answer Rates are a Critical KPI

In the realm of sales, every phone call has the potential to unlock opportunity and expand your pipeline. 

Engage a contact in a live conversation, and their lead value skyrockets.

But getting contacts on the phone is increasingly challenging. Too many of the leads businesses invest time and money into end up unreachable, and sales leaders hear, “I’m not having enough conversations” more often than ever before. 

Understandably, answer rates are a top priority for smart sales and outreach organizations. 

They’ve been a subject of industry-leading focus and investment at PhoneBurner - for years.

Once overshadowed (or secondary to metrics like call volume) sales call answer rates are earning the attention they deserve as the lifeblood of a successful outbound operation. They represent the crucial connection between a salesperson and a prospect, the gateway to opportunity, and the foundation upon which fruitful relationships are built.

In this article, we delve into the significance of answer rates on sales calls. 

From understanding the key factors that influence answer rates to unraveling their profound (and growing) impact on sales effectiveness, to highlighting proven methods for improving answer rates, we’ll uncover the nuanced dynamics that underpin this monumental metric for sales and outreach success.

Want to reach more contacts, and generate more positive outcomes? 

This is your guide. Let’s dive in.

Call agent holding up answer rate metrics

Answer Rates Definition

Answer rates are the number of phone calls resulting in a live conversation divided by the number of phone calls made. As an example, if you make 100 calls and speak to 12 people, your answer rate is 12%.

Answer rates are sometimes referred to as:

  • Contact rates
  • Live answer rates

Answer rates should not be confused, however, with “connection rates” - a similar metric that includes voicemails, email, and other methods in which a connection with a contact was made.

While connections via voicemail or email have value, they pale in comparison to quality live conversations. Accordingly, while they may be an important metric for call centers and teams to monitor, at PhoneBurner we are laser-focused on live answer rates. 

And you should be too.

How Important are Answer Rates?

Just how much do answer rates matter?

Imagine you have a list of 1000 phone leads for your software business. You evenly divide the leads between your top 2 sales reps with the goal of generating as many appointments as possible.

After a day, you check in.

Rep 1: “I got 10 people on the phone and booked 2 appointments.”
Rep 2: “I had 4 conversations, and booked 1.”

Is rep 1 outperforming rep 2? 

It's not straightforward; the answer hinges on the number of contacts called. For instance, perhaps rep 1 called 300 leads using a parallel dialer, while rep 2 dialed manually and called 30.

This context is crucial. The anticipated output for rep 2 would far exceed rep 1 if this was the case. 

We see this exact scenario playing out across the industry. Many organizations “zoom in” and prioritize day-to-day metrics like call volume and daily connections. In doing so, they fail to see the wasted lead spend, and loss of revenue potential that answer rates keep in focus.

Would you rather get through calls faster? Or have more conversations overall?

Call agent representative smiling talking to customer

Part 1: Factors Influencing Answer Rates

What goes into whether your calls are answered, or not?

Quite a lot actually.

Even if you’re an experienced sales leader or outreach professional you may not realize how many factors play a role - and the influence each exerts.

Spam/Scam Flags

Number reputation is critical.

Spam and scam flags wield an outsized influence on answer rates, acting as a formidable barrier to effective sales outreach.

Surely you’ve wondered, why are my calls being flagged as spam?

The answer is complex. Each carrier and app employs a different algorithm to apply and remove flags, so a number can be flagged on one carrier or app, and not another.

Unfortunately, legitimate sales calls inadvertently get caught in the crossfire, mislabeled as potential spam or scam by wary recipients or automated filtering systems. This can devastate answer rates, and bring outreach to a screeching halt. 

If you’re thinking “Just toss the number and get a new one,” think again. This tactic, abused by scammers, is the reason that brand new numbers are often flagged at the outset. Carriers favor numbers with an established call history, and positive reputation signals. 

Accordingly, mitigating the risk of being flagged as spam or scam is imperative for sales professionals. It directly impacts your ability to establish genuine connections and foster meaningful conversations with potential customers.

More on this in a bit.

Dialer Software

A common myth around sales outreach is that dialer software doesn’t impact answer rates.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Dialer differences can play a pivotal role in influencing answer rates as carriers heavily weigh analytics related to call frequency, duration, and consistency to identify patterns indicative of nuisance calls - and adjust their call blocking and filtering mechanisms accordingly.

Does your software:

  • Drop or abandon calls (when an agent is unavailable)?
  • Have an awkward pause that results in hangups or “short duration” calls? 
  • Contribute to inconsistent/unnatural call frequency patterns?

Utilizing reputable dialer software that supports industry best practices is crucial for maintaining favorable call behavior analytics - thereby increasing the likelihood of your calls reaching prospects' phones and improving overall answer rates.

Originating Carrier

The originating carrier of a phone call influences answer rates, with notable disparities between Tier 1 carriers and interconnect carriers.

What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Tier 1 carriers, boasting extensive infrastructure and direct connections to other major carriers, enjoy higher call completion rates and lower call blocking probabilities. Their robust network reliability and prioritized routing ensure smoother call delivery, resulting in improved answer rates for sales calls.

In contrast, interconnect carriers serve as intermediaries between smaller carriers and the larger telecommunications network. Less regulated and trusted, interconnect traffic is lower priority and may encounter challenges related to routing efficiency and network congestion.

Consequently, calls routed through interconnect carriers may experience higher instances of call drops or delays and increased risk of spam/scam flags, all of which can diminish answer rates.

Understanding the nuances between tier 1 and interconnect carriers is crucial for optimizing call delivery and maximizing answer rates in sales outreach efforts.

Want your calls originating from a Tier 1 Carrier?

PhoneBurner is the only dialer software with a Tier 1 carrier - an accomplishment we are very proud of and worked hard to earn.

Lead Quality

It should be no surprise that the quality of your leads influences how likely they are to pick up the phone. 

But quality is dependent on a lot of factors. While some are obvious, others will surprise you, and what you perceive as high quality may actually be far from it.

Here’s what to consider from a lead quality standpoint to drive higher call engagement in both the short and long term.

Consent: First and foremost, it’s critical to obtain (and maintain) proper consent from those you contact, both in adherence to laws and regulations and as a matter of sales ethics. Targeted contacts who express interest are naturally far more likely to engage with sales representatives, resulting in higher answer rates. 

Cold or bulk lead lists, on the other hand, aren’t just less likely to answer, they’re more likely to block and report your numbers, or simply hang up - signaling to carriers that your calls are a nuisance. Beware of the impact this has on your number reputation and propensity for scam/spam labels.

Recency: Fresher leads answer the phone with greater frequency - often by a significant margin. By implementing smart lead distribution processes you can reduce speed-to-lead, and increase live connections. 

LeadStream, a lead distribution software included with PhoneBurner, intelligently and automatically routes leads so they’re worked faster, and redistributes unworked leads to ensure they don’t go cold.

Familiarity: The more familiar a contact is with your brand, the more inclined they are to pick up the phone when you call. A multi-channel approach that leverages voicemails, email, SMS, website retargeting and/or social connections can complement your multi-touch call cadence, increasing familiarity and improving your live answer rates. 

Identity validation: Ever wonder many numbers on your list are outdated, inaccurate, or disconnected? 

Did you know that many inactive numbers become “honeypots” - used by carriers to track and ensnare spam callers? Some businesses we speak to are shocked to learn how many bad/wrong numbers they call, the time this wastes, and how it impacts answer rates and number reputation.

Validate your contact data. Keep contact lists clean and updated. Track answer rates by lead source. You need to be able to trust your data. PhoneBurner can help.

Calling Days & Times

It’s no surprise that call answer rates vary by time of day. And day of the week (Tuesday FTW)! Our data even shows that more calls are answered at the beginning of the month than at the end. Of course, every business is different. You can gain an edge by tracking your own results and building processes around when answer rates are highest for you.

Caller ID Considerations

Both the number and name that display when you place calls can shape answer rates. There are several strategies you can employ to enhance credibility and influence pickups. CNAM registration, and more modern Branded Caller ID solutions give you control over the name that displays when you make calls. This can pay big dividends, especially when calling contacts who are familiar with your brand, and/or expecting your calls.

Local Presence can also have an impact displaying familiar area codes that may instill a sense of familiarity and trust among recipients. That said, data suggests that neighborhood spoofing, a tactic employed by spammers in which a Caller ID closely resembles the number of the call recipient, has subdued the benefit derived from using local numbers. Using Local Presence with the intent to deceive by suggesting a business presence where one does not actually exist can also run you afoul of the Truth in Caller ID act.

Woman call agent laughing on phone with customer

Part 2: Measuring & Interpreting Answer Rates

Measuring answer rates is easy enough. 

Just divide the number of calls answered live by the number of calls placed.

But monitoring and interpreting answer rates isn’t as simple as the calculation might suggest. In Part 2 of our guide, we’ll explain why, along with the insights you need to see the full picture.

Answer Rates are Dynamic

It’s important to remember that answer rates are not a static metric. They can vary significantly over time, even day-to-day. A critical component of your outreach strategy should be to monitor your rates over time, so you can quickly address and adjust to changes - both positive and negative.

Variations Across Your Team

Measuring overall answer rates is helpful. But knowing how answer rates vary across your team of SDRs/BDRs is critical too. Low answer rates can be a signal that a rep is engaging in practices that damage number reputation (e.g. double/triple dialing), calling low-quality leads, or intentionally avoiding conversations.

By tracking across your team, you can fix what’s broken, double-down on what’s working and build a long term strategy for success.

Variations By Network

Answer rates can vary dramatically from one carrier network to another. Since each network (e.g. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T) uses different algorithms, your number(s) may be flagged on one network but not another. With visibility into answer rates by carrier you pinpoint issues early, and more importantly, remediate in a way that reduces the risk of future flags.

Variations by Lead Source

By analyzing answer rates based on the origin of leads, businesses can identify which sources yield the highest engagement and conversion rates - and which are riddled with bad or outdated data. Tracking answer rates by lead source is invaluable for discerning the most effective channels and optimizing resource allocation in sales efforts.

Live Voicemail Considerations

Apple’s game-changing Live Voicemail feature - essentially a modern-day call screening tool - transcribes voicemail messages in real-time and lets iPhone users answer your call mid-message. 

PhoneBurner has been educating sales teams on the opportunities and implications of Live Voicemail even before it was released.

Our experts have recently uncovered an unexpected twist: As Live Voicemail is a live, on-device feature, some 3rd party tracking softwares inaccurately register these instances as answered calls. 

This discrepancy can distort the true effectiveness of sales outreach efforts, leading businesses to believe that their answer rates are far higher than they actually are.

Call agent leaving a live voicemail to customer

Part 3: Strategies to Improve Answer Rates

Now that you understand the importance of answer rates, the factors that influence them, and how to monitor them, we can get into the heart of the matter.

How do you improve your live answer rates?

Rather than highlight the strategies here, we’ve developed some comprehensive resources dedicated specifically to this topic. They cover spam/scam flags, which can quickly damage your call answer rates, along with other factors that can improve number reputation to drive your answer rates higher.

Conclusion: The Impact of Answer Rates on Sales Success

It’s hard to overstate the importance of answer rates on sales success.

They directly influence your team’s most vital KPIs including:

  • Conversations
  • Talk time
  • Meetings set
  • Deals won
  • Revenue generated

On the flipside, when calls go unanswered it results in

  • Lost opportunities
  • Wasted lead spend
  • Time on remediation, not calling
  • Agent inefficiency and layoffs

Answer rates are too important not to have a plan.

With PhoneBurner as your partner, you have a platform built for high answer rates and call engagement, along with the industry’s most experienced team of answer rate experts.

Trial or demo our software to learn how we can help you get more contacts on the phone, and have more meaningful conversations.

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