We talk about customer acquisition in a pretty limited way. The current understanding tends to be, you have acquired a customer once they have signed on the line which is dotted.

At that point, the customer is no longer a target for acquisition — they’re a target for retention. In many startups, that equates to their being somebody else’s problem.

Makes sense, right? Get customer. Check. Keep customer. Check.

So where’s the problem?

It’s in the fact that if you look at acquisition and retention as being 2 completely different concepts, handled in different areas of the business, and reporting to different metric sets, you end up with the acquisition team doing only what it takes to hit their goals.

Because you’re telling the folks in charge of each metric, that they need to be focused only on their metric. Regardless of whether or not you think it’s what you’re telling them, trust me, it’s what they’re understanding.

So here’s what I’ve started to suggest/experiment with. I’m seeing the two concepts as overlapping pretty heavily.

Acquisition cannot be divorced from retention. Because a customer hasn’t been acquired unless they have also been retained for X amount of time.

That amount of time is going to differ for each company and each product. But it has to be substantial enough, that the payments made by the customer cover their acquisition cost entirely, with enough revenue to make each customer profitable.

Only when a customer reaches that point, do we say that they have been acquired. What does this mean?

It means that it is the role of marketing to do more than just bring in customers, it’s the role of marketing to educate and inform customers and provide them with the experience and information that they need to stay on board until they have reached the end of the acquisition period.

Thinking about this means that you need to redefine some of what you’re examining and discussing in terms of your own acquisition and retention strategies. Because you’re not just aiming to get folks through the door.

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