Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with people regarding my version of the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) ratio. As a reminder, my version of the CAC ratio is: [($Total Sales + $Total Marketing)/$First Year Contract Value]. The objective is to make the CAC ratio less than 1 which implies a customer acquisition payback of a year or less. This is the ratio I recommend companies use to measure their sales/marketing effectiveness. I discussed this a year or so ago in this blog in a post titled “The Capital Needed to Create a SaaS Company”.
Will Price when he was with Hummer Winblad and Phillipe Botteri at Bessemer Ventures suggest slightly different approaches and put the Sales and Marketing costs in the denominator with FCV on top of the equation. This makes sense if you’re looking at a company from an investor’s view but I come at things more from an operational perspective and developed my approach in 2004 when I was running Siebel’s CRMOnDemand division. I found that my approach allowed me to easily determine whether or not my Sales and Marketing teams were paying back our customer acquisition costs within 1 year and to track the trend. With the other mathematical approaches, in my opinion, it’s a little harder for the operational executive to determine what’s going on. All approaches are mathematically sound; it’s just a matter of preference.
One of the common issues I’ve been debating is why not use Total Contract Value v only First Year Contract Value so that Sales and Marketing get complete credit for multi-year deals.
Here is how I like to think about the issue.
With early stage companies that use a SaaS business model, companies should be primarily concerned with the preservation of cash not necessarily revenue. The CAC ratio as I have proposed it focuses on actual Sales and Marketing expenses – which takes real cash – and the First Year Contract Value which represents actual first year cash inflows.
For early stage companies, I feel this is the most appropriate way to look at the CAC ratio because it measures ‘real’ cash inflows v ‘potential’ cash inflows. As the company matures and revenue becomes increasingly more important and cash less so you may want to adjust this ratio to give at least partial credit for multi-year deals.
I want to also comment a little further on the “$Total Marketing” in the CAC ratio. To really maximize effectiveness here, companies must hold the marketing function accountable for accurately creating and predicting future revenue for the company. Rather than just being responsible for managing corporate brand, marketing must be transformed and own the lead generation function and held accountable for accurately predicting out of period, future revenue.
Asking the sales organization to predict future revenue is like asking a sprinter to run a marathon. Sales is incented to predict and close in period revenue. They are terrible at predicting out of period revenue – just take a look at the garbage your CRM system contains in terms of future pipeline coverage. And, many companies make guidance statements based upon this highly subjective data – no wonder so many companies miss their forecasts.
As the former head of marketing for a multi-billion dollar software company, I am all too familiar with the pressure of delivering leads and generating statistically relevant data for Wall Street predictions. Consequently, I firmly believe the marketing function as we have known it must be transformed. Instead of just a brand organization, Marketing must become accountable for accurately predicting Q+1…Q+N revenue by building a lead generation and lead nurturing function that monitors, tracks and predicts lead conversions and conversion rates.
That’s why I am a big believer and an investor in Marketo. They are building applications for Marketing and Sales that enable those groups to minimize CAC costs and accurately predict and maximize future revenue. And, whether you choose to use Marketo or another similar application, your company must transform its marketing function and hold it accountable for creating and accurately predicting future revenue: only then can you expect to truly minimize your CAC ratio.