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How to Calculate and Reduce Customer Acquisition Cost

Last Updated on 06th Jun, 2024 | Ecommerce

how to calculate and reduce customer acquisition cost

Customer Acquisition Cost: Calculation Formulas + Strategies to Reduce It

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is one of the key metrics businesses need to understand and optimize in order to grow profitably. This comprehensive guide will dive deep into the intricacies of calculating CAC, comparing it against industry benchmarks, and implementing proven strategies to reduce your acquisition costs effectively. By mastering the art of customer acquisition, you can unlock the potential for scalable and cost-effective growth, ultimately positioning your business for long-term success in your target market.

What is Customer Acquisition Cost?

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is the total cost incurred to acquire a new customer. It includes both direct and indirect costs associated with acquiring new customers, such as:

  • Advertising expenses
  • Marketing agency fees
  • Sales and marketing staff salaries
  • Sales commissions
  • Promotional events
  • Discounts and free trials
  • Website development and hosting
  • Content creation
  • Customer service and support
CAC provides an understanding of how much money a company is spending to grow its customer base. It is an essential metric for making data driven decisions about acquiring and retaining customers profitably.

Why is Customer Acquisition Cost Important?

Understanding CAC is critical for several reasons:

  • Prioritize spending: Knowing CAC helps businesses allocate marketing and sales resources effectively. Companies can identify and double down on the most efficient customer acquisition channels.
  • Gauge campaign profitability: Comparing CAC to the lifetime value of acquired customers reveals the ROI of acquisition campaigns and channels. This shows whether campaigns are profitable.
  • Set growth goals: CAC benchmarks inform growth and revenue goals by indicating the cost of acquiring new customers in a given market.
  • Optimize strategies: Tracking CAC over time highlights how acquisition strategies are performing. Businesses can tweak strategies to lower CAC.
  • Value customers: High CAC indicates that acquiring customers requires significant upfront investment. This emphasizes the importance of retaining and monetizing those customers.

How to Calculate Customer Acquisition Cost

There are two main formulas companies use to calculate customer acquisition costs:

Customer Acquisition Cost Formula (Simple)

This basic CAC formula divides total acquisition marketing costs by the number of new customers acquired in a period:

customer acquisition cost calculation formula
For example, if a company spent $60,000 on sales and marketing in a quarter and acquired 600 new customers, the CAC would be:

$60,000 / 600 = $100 CAC

This simple calculation provides a high-level snapshot of the average cost of customer acquisition. However, it does not account for all costs associated with acquiring customers.

Complex CAC Formula

A more comprehensive CAC formula incorporates all revenues and costs associated with acquiring new customers:

complex customer acquisition cost calculation formula
The key elements of the complex formula include:
  • Cost of Sales: The direct costs involved in acquiring customers, such as sales commissions, travel costs, promotional offers, etc.
  • Marketing Expenses: All marketing and advertising costs, including salaries, agency fees, events, content creation, etc.
  • Incremental Revenue: The new revenue that can be directly attributed to acquiring new customers. This is revenue that would not have been generated without acquisition efforts.
  • Number of Customers Acquired: The total number of new customers obtained through acquisition efforts.
This full CAC calculation provides a clearer, more actionable view of true acquisition costs. However, it requires properly allocating revenues and expenses, which can be challenging.

Calculating CAC by Channel

Businesses can also calculate CAC for specific channels to identify the most cost-efficient acquisition sources. For example:

  • Paid search CAC: Ad spend on search campaigns divided by customers generated through search ads.
  • Organic search CAC: The portion of marketing expenses allocated to SEO divided by organic search leads and customers.
  • Social media CAC: Ad spending on social platforms is divided by new customers from social campaigns.
  • Referral CAC: Referral program costs are divided by the number of referred customers.
Analyzing CAC by channel guides budget allocation to the channels that deliver customers most efficiently.

Customer Acquisition Cost Calculation Example

1. SaaS (Software as a Service)

Let’s consider a SaaS company that invests $80,000 in sales efforts and $40,000 in marketing over a month. In that time frame, they acquired 500 new customers.

CAC= $80,000+$40,000/500

So, the CAC for this SaaS company is $240 per new customer.

2. eCommerce

Suppose an eCommerce business allocates $45,000 to sales activities and $15,000 to marketing over a quarter. During this period, they gained 800 new customers.

CAC= $45,000+$15,000/800

So, the CAC for this eCommerce business is $75 per new customer.

3. Real Estate

Imagine a real estate company that dedicates $80,000 to sales efforts and $70,000 to marketing over six months and successfully acquires 300 new customers.


So, the CAC for this real estate company is $500 per new customer.

4. Manufacturing

Consider a manufacturing firm that splits $50,000 for sales and $30,000 for marketing over a year and acquires 200 new customers during this period.


So, the CAC for this manufacturing firm is $400 per new customer.

5. Healthcare

Let’s assume a healthcare company invests $60,000 in sales activities and $30,000 in marketing over a month. Acquiring 150 new customers in that timeframe.


So, the CAC for this healthcare company is $600 per new customer.

Customer Acquisition Cost Benchmarks

CAC varies significantly based on industry, business model, target audience, and other factors. However, individual businesses’ CAC can be very different from broader averages. Factors impacting CAC include:

  • Product type: CAC is higher for big-ticket items than low-cost purchases.
  • Target customer: It costs more to acquire enterprise customers than individual consumers.
  • Business model: Subscriptions and services have higher CAC than one-time purchases.
  • Market dynamics: Competitive, saturated markets make acquisition more expensive.
A good rule of thumb is:

CAC, which is 30-40% of customer lifetime value (LTV), is considered profitable.

This indicates that customer revenue exceeds acquisition costs. Businesses should aim to acquire customers efficiently at scale within this CAC to LTV ratio.

Balancing CAC and Lifetime Value

CAC only provides part of the picture. To make sound customer acquisition decisions, CAC must be analyzed relative to customer lifetime value (LTV).

  • LTV is the total revenue generated from a customer over their entire lifetime with a company. This factors in repeat purchases, renewal subscriptions, and referrals.
  • The CAC to LTV ratio reveals whether customer acquisition efforts are profitable.
  • A low CAC to LTV ratio is generally desirable, indicating greater ROI. This means that customers’ revenue exceeds acquisition costs.
  • If CAC is higher than LTV, customer acquisition is unprofitable. The focus should shift to retention and monetization to improve the ratio.
To maximize growth while optimizing spending, ongoing monitoring of both CAC and customer LTV is essential. CAC should be managed not in isolation but in relation to the holistic customer revenue model.

How to Reduce Your Customer Acquisition Cost – 7 Effective Ways

Lowering CAC improves conversion rates and profit margins. Here are proven strategies to reduce customer acquisition costs:

  • Optimize Targeting and Segmentation
  • Improve Conversion Rates
  • Invest in Content Marketing
  • Implement Referral and Loyalty Programs
  • Leverage Automation and Technology
  • Partner with Influencers
  • Continuously Monitor and Optimize

Optimize Targeting and Segmentation

  • Identify your ideal customer profiles (ICP): Develop buyer personas that profile your best customers. Then, target prospects who match your ICP more precisely.
  • Focus on high-value segments: To maximize ROI, prioritize prospects with the highest potential lifetime value. Offer tailored messaging and campaigns to resonate with these segments.

Improve Conversion Rates

  • Optimize landing pages: A/B testing elements like copy, headlines, and calls-to-action improves landing page conversion rates.
  • Streamline the sales process: Reduce steps in sign-up flows using guided sales funnels. Automate lead scoring rules to qualify prospects faster.
  • Personalize web experiences: Customize on-site content and messaging based on individuals’ attributes and behaviors. This improves relevance and conversions.

Invest in Content Marketing

  • Create targeted content assets: Develop blogs, ebooks, case studies, and other content tailored to attract and engage high-value prospects.
  • Focus on SEO: Earn organic visibility and traffic for content by optimizing for keywords prospects search for. This scale leads to generation.
  • Leverage user-generated content: User generated content like customer reviews, testimonials and referrals adds credibility and can convert prospects at a low cost.

Implement Referral and Loyalty Programs

  • Word-of-mouth referrals: Incentivize existing customers to refer their network to earn rewards. Referred customers typically convert at higher rates.
  • Loyalty programs: Offer existing customers rewards, tiers, and VIP access to boost repeat purchases and reduce churn.

Leverage Automation and Technology

  • Marketing automation: Automatically nurture prospects with personalized content to convert more leads into customers.
  • Chatbots: Use AI chatbots to instantly engage prospects, answer questions, and qualify leads 24/7 at a low cost.
  • Predictive analytics: Identify the highest intent prospects in your database for reps to prioritize using predictive lead scoring.

Partner with Influencers

  • Influencer marketing: Work with relevant bloggers, experts, and thought leaders in your industry to promote your brand to their engaged audience.
  • Strategic partnerships: Team up with complementary brands to co-market to each other’s audiences for greater reach.

Continuously Monitor and Optimize

  • Track KPIs: Monitor key CAC metrics regularly, including cost per lead, cost per acquisition, and conversion rates. Measure over time and across campaigns.
  • Conduct incremental testing: Continuously test and refine elements like offers, ad creative, and landing pages to reduce CAC incrementally.
  • Analyze and optimize: Analyze the customer journey to identify high-friction points impacting conversions. Eliminate these acquisition barriers.

Real-World Examples of Reducing CAC

Reducing Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is crucial for businesses aiming to improve profitability and sustain growth. Here are several real-world examples of strategies used to minimize CAC:

Airbnb’s Focus on Content Marketing and SEO

Airbnb invested heavily in content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) to attract organic traffic. They created city guides and travel content that drew in potential customers through search engines and social media, reducing the reliance on paid advertising.

HubSpot’s Freemium Model

HubSpot adopted a freemium model, offering basic features for free while charging for premium features. This approach attracted a large user base with minimal marketing costs. Many free users eventually converted to paying customers, reducing the overall CAC.

Slack’s Bottom-Up Adoption Strategy

Slack used a bottom-up strategy: Individual teams within companies could start using the product for free. As usage spread organically within organizations, entire companies eventually adopted Slack, reducing the need for expensive top-down sales efforts.

Tesla’s Direct Sales Model

Tesla reduced CAC by selling cars directly to consumers through its own showrooms and online platform, bypassing traditional dealerships. This direct-to-consumer approach allowed for a more controlled customer experience and lower sales costs.

Zappos’ Exceptional Customer Service

Zappos focused on providing exceptional customer service, which led to high customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth referrals. Satisfied customers became repeat buyers and brand advocates, lowering the cost of acquiring new customers.

Mint’s Content and SEO Strategy

Mint, a personal finance app, invested in high-quality content and SEO. They created informative blog posts and financial tools that attracted organic traffic. This content strategy helped them build a user base without relying heavily on paid advertisements.

Warby Parker’s Social Media and Influencer Marketing

Warby Parker leveraged social media and influencer marketing to create buzz around their brand. They partnered with influencers and encouraged customers to share photos of themselves wearing Warby Parker glasses, generating organic reach and reducing CAC.

Groupon’s Viral Marketing

Groupon utilized viral marketing to reduce CAC. Their daily deals were shared widely among friends and family, generating significant buzz and attracting new users at a lower cost than traditional advertising.

Moz’s Free Tools and Resources

Moz, an SEO software company, offers free tools and resources such as its SEO toolbar and educational content. These free offerings attract potential customers who later convert to paying customers for more advanced tools and services.

Hotmail’s Email Signature Strategy

Hotmail added a simple tagline to every email sent from its platform: “Get your free email at Hotmail.” This turned every user into a potential marketer, driving rapid growth and reducing CAC through organic referrals.

Grammarly’s Browser Extension

Grammarly offered a free browser extension that immediately provided value to users. This low-cost method attracted a large user base, many of whom upgraded to premium plans after experiencing the benefits of the free version.

Spotify’s Free Tier and Social Sharing

Spotify’s free tier attracted millions of users who could share their playlists and listening habits on social media. This created a network effect, bringing in new users at a lower acquisition cost compared to traditional marketing efforts.

Final Thoughts

Calculating and optimizing customer acquisition costs is crucial for growing sustainably and profitably. Regularly track your CAC, benchmark it against LTV, analyze differences across channels, and continuously test improvements. With an effective customer acquisition strategy that balances costs and revenues, companies can scale growth cost-efficiently.

Focus on providing value to prospects, removing friction in sales journeys, and maximizing lifetime engagement. With the right customer-centric approach, businesses can acquire quality customers at lower costs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a good customer acquisition cost?

A good CAC varies greatly by industry, business model, and other factors. As a general rule, the aim for CAC is 30-40% of customer lifetime value. This indicates profitability.

How do you calculate customer acquisition costs in e-commerce?

For e-commerce, calculate CAC as:

CAC= Total Marketing and Sales Expenses/Number of New Customers Acquired

How do you calculate LTV?

The formula to calculate customer lifetime value is:

Average Order Value x Purchase Frequency x Average Customer Lifespan

Factor in repeat purchases, average order values, and customer retention rate.

What is a good conversion rate?

A good conversion rate depends on the industry. For landing pages, strive for 2-5% conversion rates. For email marketing, aim for 15-30% click-through rates. Set competitive benchmarks and optimize for continual improvement.

How do you decrease customer acquisition costs?

Top ways to decrease CAC include improving targeting and personalization, optimizing conversion funnels, investing in content marketing and SEO, leveraging referrals and influencers, and automating lead nurturing.

What is the difference between CAC and LTV?

CAC is the cost of acquiring new customers, while LTV is the total revenue generated from a customer over their lifetime. Compare CAC to LTV to gauge the profitability of acquisition strategies.

How do you calculate the CAC payback period?

CAC Payback Period = CAC / Gross Margin per Customer

This metric indicates how long it takes to recover CAC through customer profits. A shorter payback period is preferable.