A Step-by-Step Guide to Calculating Customer Value

by Jeremy Tang

Customer Lifetime Value (LTV, or CLV) represents the total value a customer brings to a business. Multiple methods exist to calculate LTV, each offering unique insights. It’s pivotal for strategic decision-making and resource allocation. This article talks about how harnessing LTV insights can foster deeper customer relationships and maximize returns.

Table Of Contents:

A New Perspective for Businesses

Imagine you’re holding a golden compass, one that doesn’t point north but towards the heart of your business’s success. This compass is called Customer Lifetime Value (LTV), and it’s not just a metric—it’s a story. A story of every customer’s journey with your brand, from the first interaction to the last. But how do you decipher this story? How do you calculate the true value of a customer?

Here is a step-by-step guide to calculating customer value. By the end, you’ll not only understand the importance of LTV but also possess the tools to harness its potential for your business’s growth.

The Essence of Customer Lifetime Value

What Exactly is LTV?

At its core, LTV represents the projected revenue a business anticipates from a single customer throughout the entirety of its relationship. It’s not just about the immediate transaction or the first purchase. 

Instead, LTV paints a holistic picture of a customer’s value, encompassing every interaction, every purchase, and every touchpoint they have with your business. In simpler terms, LTV is the sum total of what a customer is genuinely worth to your business, considering the value of all their repeat transactions.


The Strategic Weight of LTV in Business

Understanding LTV isn’t just a theoretical exercise; it’s a strategic imperative. Here’s why:

  • Investment Allocation: As Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” By grasping the lifetime value of customers, businesses can make informed decisions about resource allocation, ensuring that funds are directed towards avenues that promise the highest returns.
  • Profit Maximization: A focus on enhancing LTV naturally leads to higher profits. By concentrating on returning customers and understanding their value, businesses can significantly boost their profit margins. After all, the probability of converting an existing customer is considerably higher than winning over a new prospect.
  • Data-Driven Decision Making: LTV isn’t just a number; it’s a treasure trove of insights. It informs pricing strategies, customer engagement tactics, marketing campaigns, sales approaches, and even product development. 

In essence, understanding LTV allows businesses to scale faster, gain market share, and retain valuable customers.

Factors Affecting LTV

What elements influence LTV? Let’s dissect its core components:

  • Purchase Frequency: This metric reflects customer engagement. Think of a loyal customer as a heartbeat, with each beat symbolizing a purchase. Regular beats indicate a robust revenue stream, highlighting the customer’s potential LTV.
  • Average Purchase Value: Beyond how often, it’s about how much. A high average purchase value indicates customers who dive deep into your offerings, enhancing your revenue with each significant transaction.
  • Customer Lifespan: This measures the duration of a customer’s relationship with your brand. Like a novel, each chapter signifies a phase of their bond with you. Longer stories mean more revenue chapters, signifying trust and a high LTV.
  • Referral Power: Satisfied customers can boost LTV through referrals. Like ripples in a pond, one happy customer can lead to many more, each with their own revenue potential.

The Formula Breakdown

The basic formula for LTV is a culmination of the insights we’ve gathered from the previous section. By now, you should have a grasp on four pivotal components: average spend, purchase frequency, customer loyalty, and referral power. 

The formula is a straightforward multiplication of these elements: 

Customer LTV = (A) x (B) x (C) x [1 + (D)]


  • A represents the average spend per transaction;
  • B signifies the purchase frequency;
  • C denotes customer loyalty; and
  • D stands for referral power.


Yearly LTV: A Snapshot of Annual Value

The Yearly LTV is like a magnifying glass, focusing on the value a customer brings within a year. It’s a quick method, especially useful when you’re working with limited data, such as a quarterly sales report.

To calculate this: 

Yearly LTV = Total Revenue for the Year/Number of Customers during this period

For instance, if you’ve garnered $150,000 in revenue from 75 customers over a span of 4 months., the 

4-month LTV would be:

4 Month LTV =$150,000 / 75 = $2,000

To turn this into a yearly LTV, simply multiply by three: 

Yearly LTV = $2,000 x 3 = $6,000


Three-Year LTV: A Long-Term Perspective

The 3-Year LTV is for visionaries, those looking beyond immediate gains. It requires a deeper understanding of your business metrics but offers a comprehensive view of customer value over an extended period.

Here’s what you need:

  • average order value
  • average gross margin
  • insights into the frequency a customer might purchase from you over a three-year span

The formula is: 

3 Year LTV = Avg Order Value x Avg Number Purchases over 3 Years 

Let’s say your average order value stands at $2,500, and a customer typically makes seven purchases over three years. The 3-year LTV would be: 

3 Year LTV = $2,500 x 7 = $17,500

But why stop there? If you’re aware of your average gross margin, you can refine this further to understand profitability:

3 Year Gross Margin = 3 Year LTV * Avg Gross Margin %

For instance, with a gross margin of 48%, the 3-year LTV gross margin becomes:

3 Year Gross Margin = $17,500 x 48% = $8,400


Customer List: The CRM Advantage

In today’s data-driven landscape, a robust CRM isn’t just a tool—it’s your strategic compass. This system, brimming with customer interactions and sales data, can streamline your LTV calculations with precision.

  1. Start by exporting total sales per customer from your CRM. 
  2. To refine this data, sort the rows by total sales, ranking customers from highest to lowest spenders. But remember, outliers can skew your perspective. You can filter out these anomalies by strategically removing the top and bottom 10%, ensuring a more accurate LTV representation.
  3. With the outliers gone, calculate the average of the remaining sales. 

This figure, distilled from your CRM’s core, offers a clear snapshot of your customer lifetime value.


Traditional LTV: The Comprehensive Approach

In the vast sea of metrics, the traditional LTV stands as a beacon, illuminating the intricate dance between your business and its customers. This method, while demanding in its data requirements, offers a holistic, nuanced perspective that few other metrics can match.

The formula, in all its glory, is:

Traditional LTV = Avg Gross Margin x ( Yearly Retention Rate / (1 + Discount Rate – Yearly Retention Rate) 

Let’s break this formula down.

Average Gross Margin (Avg Gross Margin)

This represents the percentage of profit you make from a customer after subtracting the costs of providing the product or service.

Yearly Retention Rate

This refers to the percentage of customers who continue doing business with your company from one year to the next. It can be calculated as 1 – Churn Rate, where churn rate is the rate at which customers stop doing business with a company.

The formula of the churn rate is 1 / the average lifetime of the customer. For example, if the average lifetime of your customer is 1.25 years, the churn rate would be 1/1.25, or 80%. To find the retention rate, subtract this from 100%, which gives you a 20% retention rate.

Discount Rate

In a world where economic landscapes shift like desert sands, inflation is a reality we can’t ignore. This rate factors in average inflation, recalibrating future cash flows to their present value, ensuring your LTV remains grounded in today’s economic reality.

Optional: Net Promoter Score

One element you can include to modify the overall LTV calculation is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is based on the question, “How likely are you to refer our product or service to another person?” and is scored out of 10.

For example, in industries where referrals are crucial, you might decide to apply a 2x modifier to the LTV of customers who score between 9 and 10 on the NPS. The key is to align this approach with the specific priorities and needs of your business.

Still with me?

Let’s try the formula out with an example.

Suppose your average gross margin is $3,000, your yearly retention rate is 50%, and your discount rate (considering inflation) is 2%. Plugging these into the formula:

Traditional LTV = $3,000 * ( 0.50 / (1 + 0.02 – 0.50) )

This results in:

Traditional LTV = 3000 * (0.50 / 0.52) = 3000 * 0.9615 = $2,884.62

Are the numbers making more sense now?

As mentioned in our e-book, From Sinking to Sailing, “Your future earnings are based on what you’re investing in your business now…” So, why spend excessively on acquisition if customers aren’t going to generate enough profit to meet your desired return on investment?

Case Studies

The following case studies showcase the transformative power of understanding and leveraging LTV. By calculating and optimizing it, businesses can unlock the true potential of their existing customer base, leading to sustainable growth and profitability.


Maximizing Customer Value in the Pet Food Industry Through LTV Analysis

A leading pet food retailer found themselves at a crossroads, experiencing stagnant revenues despite a large customer base. They approached us with a pivotal question: “How can we maximize the value of each customer?”

Our initial move was to dive into their LTV calculations. The data surfaced with a startling insight: a mere 18.3% of their customer base was contributing to a whopping 82.5% of their total revenue. It was evident that not all pet owners were equally committed to the brand.

Armed with this knowledge, we helped the retailer focus their attention on this high-value segment. These were customers who not only purchased premium pet food lines but also showed high responsiveness to nutritional supplements and limited-edition flavors.

We recommended a budget reallocation to better serve these VIP pet owners. Strategies were fine-tuned for this segment, including exclusive early-access offers to new nutritional blends, loyalty points for bulk purchases, and personalized pet nutrition consultations.

Our analysis also created a basis for their customer acquisition strategies. Within just four months, the pet food retailer saw a 31.2% surge in sales from this high-value segment, propelling a 22.7% growth in overall revenue.


Elevating a Cosmetics Brand Through LTV Analysis

A top-tier skincare brand was grappling with a conundrum. Their customer numbers were on the rise, but revenue growth lagged behind. 

We stepped in to illuminate the situation by calculating their customer LTV. The numbers spoke volumes: a select 21.4% of their clientele accounted for a staggering 84.1% of total revenue. These weren’t casual buyers; they were committed patrons frequently purchasing high-end skincare items.

Recognizing the goldmine in this 21.4%, we set out to understand them better. Our research showed that these were not just any skincare aficionados; they were particularly interested in organic products and often responsive to seasonal skincare lines.

With this newfound understanding, we advised a strategic shift. Instead of casting a wide net for customer acquisition, we suggested a targeted approach aimed squarely at this valuable segment. Budgets for marketing and acquisition were adjusted accordingly.

To sweeten the deal for these prized customers, we rolled out an exclusive loyalty scheme. Membership perks ranged from first dibs on new organic lines to special seasonal discounts and one-on-one skincare consultations. The client also implemented a virtual “Skin Health Check” feature, offering personalized advice based on individual skin types and concerns.

In just seven weeks, the company experienced a 19.3% increase in engagement from this elite segment, leading to a remarkable 12.9% uptick in overall revenue. This targeted strategy also paved the way for attracting new customers who shared similar traits with these high-value patrons. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I use the lifetime value of a current customer in terms of acquisition?

Understanding the LTV of a customer is pivotal in setting realistic acquisition budgets. If, for instance, you identified that the potential LTV of this customer is $100, it would be counterproductive to spend more than $40 to acquire them. 

It’s about striking a balance between what you spend to get a customer and the value they bring over their lifetime.

How often should businesses re-evaluate their LTV?

The frequency of LTV re-evaluation largely hinges on several factors. 

For subscription-based businesses, where customer interactions are frequent, LTV assessments might be more regular. Conversely, businesses selling one-time products or services might re-evaluate less often. 

Industries undergoing rapid changes or those with fluctuating customer behaviors should reassess LTV more frequently. Moreover, if a business rolls out new marketing or sales strategies, it’s prudent to re-evaluate LTV to gauge the impact.

What steps can I take to increase customer LTV?

Boosting the lifetime value of your customers is a strategic process that requires a combination of efforts. Here are some actionable steps to consider:

  • Reducing Churn Rate: The longer you retain a customer, the bigger opportunity you have to increase their lifetime value. Focus on strategies that keep customers engaged and loyal.
  • Effective Communication: Understand your customers’ needs and preferences. Tailored offerings lead to increased satisfaction and sales.
  • Deepening Customer Relationships: This can involve loyalty programs, exclusive offers, or personalized content. 

    What You’ve Learned: Key Takeaways from the Article

    In our journey through the intricacies of customer lifetime value, we’ve unearthed some pivotal insights that can reshape the trajectory of your business. Here are the key takeaways:

    • Holistic Perspective: LTV isn’t just about a single transaction; it encapsulates the entire spectrum of a customer’s relationship with your brand.
    • Strategic Imperative: Understanding LTV is crucial for informed decision-making, from resource allocation to pricing strategies.
    • Quality Over Quantity: It’s not just about acquiring customers; it’s about acquiring the right customers. The top tier of customers often contributes disproportionately to revenue.
    • Referral Power: Never underestimate the ripple effect of satisfied customers. Their referrals can significantly amplify your revenue streams.

    Actionable Advice

    As we pivot from understanding to implementation, here are some actionable steps to harness the power of LTV:

    • Data-Driven Decisions: Regularly monitor and analyze LTV to adapt and evolve your strategies, ensuring alignment with customer needs.
    • Engage the Top 20%: Tailor your marketing and engagement strategies to cater to the top 20% of your customers who often contribute the most to your revenue.
    • Invest in Referral Programs: Encourage satisfied customers to refer others, amplifying your customer base and revenue.

    Harnessing the True Value of Customers

    The essence of LTV goes beyond mere numbers; it’s a reflection of the symbiotic relationship between a business and its customers. By understanding and optimizing LTV, businesses can not only maximize revenue but also foster deeper, more meaningful relationships with them. 

    As a parting piece of advice: Don’t just focus on the value a customer brings today. Look at their potential, nurture it, and watch your business sail towards unprecedented horizons.

    If you’re intrigued by the concept of not just lifetime value but lifetime potential, we have something special for you. Dive deeper into the world of LTV analysis and optimization with our comprehensive guide, From Sinking to Sailing. To get your hands on this treasure trove of insights, simply contact us

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