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OWNER'S MANUAL

4 Business Metrics You Can’t Afford to Ignore
 

Profit and revenue tell you a lot--but they don't tell you everything about the health of your business.

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Every business focuses on and measures revenue. Every business focuses on profit and loss.

And they should, but there are a few other financial and performance measurements that can provide earlier warning signs of trouble—or early indications of longer-term success.

Here are four metrics your business can’t afford to ignore:

Cost to Acquire Customers (CAC). Also known as customer acquisition cost, this measures the cost of landing a customer. In simple terms, add up the cost of marketing and sales—including salaries and overhead—and divide by the number of customers you land during a specific time frame.

Spend $100 and acquire 10 customers and your CAC is $10.

What’s a good number? That depends on your industry and business model. It’s also important to understand how CAC fits into your overall operating budget. The leaner your operation the more you can afford to spend to acquire a customer.

Also keep in mind that a high CAC makes sense if you also generate a high…

Lifetime Value of a Customer (LTV). Unless your business is truly one-off, some percentage of customers will become repeat customers. The more repeat customers you have, and the more those customers spend, the higher CAC you can afford. (Some business models are built on breaking even on the customer’s first purchase; future purchases will be profitable since the CAC is at or near zero.)

LTV is often tricky to calculate and does involve making a few assumptions, at least during the startup phase. But once you’ve built a little history you can start to spot customer retention and spending trends. Then the math gets a lot easier: Determine what the average customer spends over a specific time period and calculate the return on your original CAC investment. Sense-check that against your profit and loss statement. Roughly speaking, the greater the LTV, the higher CAC you can afford.

Why do these two metrics matter so much? A rising CAC means you’ll need to start cutting costs or raising prices—or do a better job in marketing and sales. A falling LTV indicates the same measures are necessary… and means you’re failing to leverage the most important and least expensive customers you have: current customers.

Churn rate. Every business gains and loses customers; that’s a fact of business life. But still, lost customers are like failed investments. You spent money to acquire them, service them, and try to retain them… and now they’re gone.

A rising churn rate could be caused by a number of factors: Dissatisfaction with your products and services, new competition in your market, or even the coming end of a product or service cycle.

Churn rate is a solid indicator of rising CAC and lower LTV. In fact, all three are great leading indicators of problems—or successes—to come, both in other metrics and for your business overall.

Revenue percentages. Very few businesses only have one source of revenue. Most have multiple sources, and changes in the contribution percentage each makes can indicate problems are ahead.

Take wedding photography, a business I know something about. To keep things simple, say 80 percent of revenue historically comes from the initial wedding package sold to couples, 10 percent from additional sales after the wedding to the couple, and 10 percent from post-wedding sales to friends, family, etc. If post-wedding sales fall off that will impact overall profit levels since almost all marketing and sales costs go into booking weddings so margins on additional sales are naturally much higher.

Changes in revenue percentages can often signal not only changes in customer spending habits but also broader trends in your industry and market.

If you have other key metrics your business follows, share them in the comments below.

IMAGE: Flickr/MStewartPhotography
Last updated: Dec 27, 2011

JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.
@jeff_haden




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