The Cost of Customer Acquisition: A Number that Every CEO Should Know

By October 5, 2017 March 24th, 2024 Business Execution

Last Updated on March 24, 2024 by Dave Schoenbeck

Running a business involves interpreting a lot of numbers. There are expenses to track, salaries to be paid (including your own!), and profit margins to be calculated. Amidst all these equations, do you know the cost of acquiring a single customer?

A slide says customer acquisition costs

Knowing your customer acquisition cost can help you analyze, modify, and propel your sales and marketing strategies in the right direction. That said, avoiding the analysis and fine-tuning of your lead generation costs is very dangerous.

So, how do you calculate this all-important number?

Calculating Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Most finance experts agree that customer acquisition costs the entire cost of sales and marketing for a given period, including your sales force headcount, commissions paid, and sales and marketing expenses, all divided by your number of paying clients. Here’s that equation in a more visual way:

Sales & Marketing Costs (i.e. Headcount + Commissions Paid + Media & Misc. Expenses)
Number of Paying Customers in a Given Period
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Still trying to understand? Here’s a quick example to better explain this concept in its simplest form:

A House Painting Business

Imagine you own a house painting business and spend $1,000 monthly marketing your services all over town via flyers, postcards, yard signs, and Facebook ads.

You have two salespeople working for you, paying $1,500 twice a month, including commissions.

In one 3-month summer season, your team paints 50 houses at $2,500 each.

So, what’s your CAC for all that work?

$3,000 (marketing materials)
$18,000 (salaries for salespeople over 3 months)

$21,000 in costs / 50 paying customers = a CAC of $402.50

Your cost of customer acquisition is $402.50.

Understanding the Costs

Once you see and internalize the cost of acquiring a customer, you might challenge your previous decisions about your sales and marketing techniques or what you charge your customers for your products or services.

Consider the house painting business example above:

To ensure you’re making enough money to keep your business growing (and can afford to pay yourself, your overhead, and taxes, not included here), you need to charge enough for your services to maintain the required margin.

For example, if you’re charging your customers $2,500 to paint their homes, and your labor cost for each house is $1,200, with a customer acquisition cost of $402.40, you’re earning $897.50 in profit per job your team completes.

$2,500 sale – $1,200 cost of labor – $402.50 cost of acquisition = $897.50 profit per house

It can take time to determine what to spend on customer acquisition. Still, reviewing your past numbers, researching alternatives, and experimenting will ultimately lead to more efficient decisions.

The results of your CAC can help you challenge the status quo and break legacy or traditional methods previously being used in your company. The more you know, the more profitable you can become. I highly recommend including the customer acquisition cost in your monthly Key Performance Indicator report.

Let’s work together to understand better how efficiently your sales and marketing efforts work. Please fill out my contact form for a complimentary one-hour coaching session.

Coach Dave


Dave Schoenbeck
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