Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Date created: Mar 28, 2018  •   Last updated: Feb 25, 2022

What is Customer Acquisition Cost?

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the cost a business incurs to acquire a new customer. This includes the fully loaded costs associated with sales and marketing to attract a potential customer and to convince them to purchase, divided across all new customers.

Alternate names: Cost Per Acquisition

Customer Acquisition Cost Formula

ƒ Sum(Sales Costs + Marketing Costs) / Count(New Customers)

How to calculate Customer Acquisition Cost

Say a company has the following breakdown of their sales and marketing expenses in one month: Sales and Marketing Salaries- $15,000 Travel Expenses- $500 Commission paid- $3000 Tech Stack-$500 Ads- $1000 In total, their sales and marketing efforts for the month are $20,000. Now, say for that month those efforts enabled the company to acquire 5 new customers. Dividing that total by 5 shows that the company spent $4,000 per new customer. Their CAC is then $4,000 for that period.

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What is a good Customer Acquisition Cost benchmark?

CAC is difficult to benchmark because it varies by industry, size of business, and target customer type. However, a reasonable CAC Payback Period is generally about 12 months.

Customer Acquisition Cost benchmarks

CAC Payback in months by ARR

CAC Payback in months by ARR
OpenView, Sep 2019

CAC Payback in months by Target Customer

CAC Payback in months by Target Customer
OpenView, Sep 2019
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How to visualize Customer Acquisition Cost?

Use a summary chart to visualize your Customer Acquisition Cost data and compare it to a previous time period.

Customer Acquisition Cost visualization example

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Customer Acquisition Cost

$524

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44.93

vs previous period

Summary Chart

Here's an example of how to visualize your current Customer Acquisition Cost data in comparison to a previous time period or date range.
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Customer Acquisition Cost

$523.86

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44.92

vs previous period

Summary Chart

Here's an example of how to visualize your current Customer Acquisition Cost data in comparison to a previous time period or date range.

More about Customer Acquisition Cost

CAC is a fundamental metric and is important to measure not only in aggregate, but also for each market segment or territory you sell into. Knowing CAC, and calculating it alongside other income metrics, allows you to assess which segments are most efficient and profitable.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the total cost of acquiring new customers, which is calculated by adding up sales and marketing costs and dividing them by the number of new customers for a specific period. 

This metric represents one of the most important KPIs for investors. It is used to understand the scalability of a business and evaluate the company’s profitability. It is also important to look at CAC in the context of the lifetime value of a customer (LTV). These metrics together are key indicators of return on investment.

Typically businesses want to reduce CAC. CAC can be reduced by improving conversion rates and increasing the number of customers acquired. However, if you are in a growth phase, you may be increasing CAC for a period of time.

To improve your CAC, make sure to analyze your top performing acquisition channels and focus on those, while minimizing or eliminating under-performing channels. Assess your sales process—are there steps that can be combined or streamlined to create an easier buying experience for your customers? Focus your efforts on qualified buyers to more efficiently use your resources.

Your CAC will also vary across your different customer segments. Make sure to calculate this metric for each segment. Your enterprise customers will likely take more money and resources to acquire than, say, your smaller customers. It’s important to know the difference so you can assess and analyze appropriately. This will also help you understand which customer segments and products are most profitable.

When applied to Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), businesses ideally want LTV to CAC ratio (LTV:CAC) to be over 3 and CAC payback in under 12 months. Typically, when factoring into LTV:CAC, a ratio of 3:1 is preferable. This would mean each customer, across its lifetime, is valued at three times as much as it costs to acquire them. If your ratio is not favorable, you can return to analyze your CAC to determine how to improve your profitability.

Recommended resources related to Customer Acquisition Cost

Startup killer: CAC. By David SkokDon't break the bank on sales and marketing. By Jason Lemkin