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Updated Aug 29, 2023

The Ins and Outs of Customer Lifetime Value for B2B Industries

Use customer relationship management software to measure CLV in B2B industries.

Denis Zhinko, Community Member
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Companies spend significant money and time acquiring new customers, often dedicating entire sales and marketing budgets to customer acquisition efforts. But not all customers are the same. Some buy from you because you’re offering the best deal at the moment. Others are long-term, loyal customers who will do business with you repeatedly. 

Often, it costs the same to attract both customer types, even though long-term customers are preferred. For B2B businesses to truly maximize the ROI of their sales and marketing efforts – and attract loyal customers and earn repeat business – they must evaluate the customer lifetime value (CLV) metric.

Customer lifetime value explained

The customer lifetime value metric identifies the revenue a business will generate from a particular customer over the length of the buyer-seller relationship. CLV takes acquisition and retention costs into account.

This metric can also be split into “actual” and “potential” to illustrate a relationship’s potential growth dynamics. CLV is about predicting future earnings; it’s a type of predictive data analytics that forecasts a customer relationship’s future value.

By definition, CLV can’t be a constant, hard number. And different businesses will likely adopt different variables when calculating CLV. Still, the following formula illustrates how to calculate CLV when a company’s customer retention rate and average relationship “life expectancy” are paramount:

CLV = gross contribution per customer x (yearly retention rate/1 + yearly discount rate – yearly retention rate)

CLV is widely used in business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, especially retail and telecommunications. However, the stakes are higher for B2B companies because CLVs can be worth millions per account. Additionally, CLV approaches differ in B2B and B2C industries. For example, in B2B businesses, executives’ judgment and experience are often more helpful and reliable than statistics because they have considerably fewer customer accounts. In contrast, a more statistical approach makes sense for B2C companies with numerous disparate customers.

FYIDid you know
Two crucial ways to increase CLV are increasing customer retention and using personalized email and other methods to increase upselling and cross-selling.

Why Measure CLV in B2B

Adding another metric to the pile of sales estimations sales teams deal with can be daunting, especially if it will affect their key performance indicators (KPIs). To get your salespeople on board, share the following ways CLV metrics can improve and benefit sales and marketing departments’ efforts. 

TipBottom line
Implementing CRM software can significantly ease and enhance CLV measurements. Customer relationship management (CRM) software can sort account lists by CLV with one click once CLV numbers are in the system.

1. Measuring CLV can help you prioritize client activities.

CLV can highlight disproportional sales efforts spent on leads and current customers. When you understand various customer accounts’ comparative values, you can segment the most valuable ones and prioritize sales reps’ time accordingly. 

For example, say that customer A has a $200K CLV and customer B has a $10M CLV. Knowing this, your sales department can prioritize nurturing and retention efforts more efficiently. 

2. Measuring CLV can identify underdeveloped accounts.

CLV measurements can yield true revelations for account management. You may view an account as mediocre; however, calculating its CLV can show that it’s woefully underdeveloped, with more potential than your team realized. 

For example, say your team has made only a few random sales in small batches to customer A. This customer likely hasn’t made an impression on the sales department and isn’t really on the radar. However, when you calculate this client’s full potential for the expected length of the relationship, you may realize it’s actually in the top 20 percent of your business’s accounts. Knowing this, you can rethink the account’s development strategy. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Improve CLV by building a customer loyalty program and retargeting former customers who have fallen off the radar.

3. Measuring CLV can help you with long-term planning.

CLV’s predictive nature helps you tap into a company’s market potential based on its real accounts. You gain a holistic, multidimensional picture of the company’s growth potential. 

Some of the possible approaches include calculating the entire customer base’s CLV and that of strategic accounts, as well as comparing market segments by region. You can use this data in your decision-making process when a customer’s short-term value is insufficient or even misleading.

How to Make CLV Part of CRM

The best CRM software facilitates recording and using CLV metrics along with all the account-related facts and assumptions that can influence this figure. Flexible CRM software will allow you to create extra fields on customer account forms to record all the crucial factors you need to calculate and measure CLV. 

You and your sales team must agree on your CLV measurement approach. Here are some of the most critical points to consider:

1. Assumptions matter when calculating CLV. 

Recorded assumptions aren’t hard data. Still, they’re instrumental to CLV calculations at B2B companies because there are so many subjective factors to consider. 

Relevant assumptions can cover various factors, including the following: 

  • The estimated number of projects this particular lead will generate
  • The expected volume of resources that will be needed
  • Whether a customer’s expanded market will cause an upsurge 

These assumptions are part of a sales rep’s CLV formula breakdown, complete with descriptions and quick “justifications” of the variables. With no assumptions recorded, tracking a mistake or misjudgment may be impossible.

2. Consider formalized vs. participatory CLV calculations.

Businesses have accounts of varying sizes. For this reason, introducing two distinct CLV calculation types makes sense: 

  • Smaller accounts: A CLV calculation for smaller accounts would include a formalized approach with a simple equation – for example, multiplying relationship expectancy by the estimated number of orders a year multiplied by the average order size.
  • Bigger accounts: In CLV calculations for larger accounts, judgments should rest on collectively shared opinions by a specially assigned steering committee of senior decision-makers.

3. Ensure you minimize conflict of interest in CLV calculations.

When introducing CLV as a metric for measuring sales force performance, it’s critical to set up realistic quotas. Ideally, you’d set the quota at 80 percent of the actual CLV and 60 percent of the potential CLV. This ratio will encourage sales reps to work on accounts more willingly.

4. Be aware of challenges when calculating CLV. 

Mitigating the human factor in CLV calculations can be the hardest challenge. Consider the far-reaching implications of the following situations:  

  • New markets: In new markets, sales reps may not have the experience and knowledge to have a “gut feeling” about a customer’s CLV. 
  • New products: When it comes to new products, it’s challenging to “bulk raise” a CLV measurement. The new CLV can only be a very approximate reflection of new opportunities.
  • Incompatible variables: Making CLV assessments covering different geographies or customer segments with incompatible variables can be challenging. This challenge could be mitigated by working out a unified calculation method on a senior level.

Using CLV in sales

For many B2B companies, introducing the CLV metric can become a cornerstone of the corporate CRM policy. Not coincidentally, CRM software is home to CLV calculations. When you find the right CRM software, you can shape the system to store, analyze and report on this information.

CLV may have its downsides, like being heavily based on human judgment and prone to challenges in areas with high uncertainty. Still, with its potential to define individual customers’ contributions to the seller’s revenue streams, it can help you prioritize and set ambitious but realistic business goals. CLV can help sales teams identify new opportunities for account development and foster business growth.

Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article.

Denis Zhinko, Community Member
Head of CRM and Collaboration Department at ScienceSoft with 12+ years in software consulting with the multi-platform focus on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce. Denis has managed projects on CRM, CXM, Portals, System Integration and Connectivity for businesses in Healthcare, Retail, Telecom and Banking, including CRM solutions for 7+ mln bank clients and 5+ mln media subscribers. In his spare time, Denis is a keen motorcyclist, tennis player and volunteer.
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