The Value of a Customer

November 16, 2007

For the two people who actually read my posts, you know that I blogged about how I look at the value of a server. Basically, it should be valued by the cash flow it produces. Without a customer to use the server, the cash flow it generates is negative, i.e., less than $0 due to the costs of keeping it racked up, powered up, and connected.

So, how do you place a value on a customer? Customers and servers are not a one-to-one connection because many customers have more than one server. They also buy more than just servers, such as additional software and/or backup services.

Like most of us in the industry, I spend a few minutes each day scrolling through the customer forums, both ours and 3rd party sites – you probably know which ones :). I look at the customer comments and sometimes I wonder if the folks in our industry understand the value of these customers judging from the way some customers are treated.

Granted, some customers are abusive and need to be fired, so to speak. Others appear to be high value customers with multiple servers and solid business models where someone has dropped the ball and caused them to seek greener hosting pastures. If companies understood the dollar figure valuation of each customer, they might think twice about their next course of action with a particular customer.

To value a customer, I look at the statistical expectation of how long that customer will stay with the company, how much the customer currently buys with us, the statistical expectation of how much additional business they will place with us, the gross profit generated by the customer, and that old stand-by -- the minimum acceptable rate of return for an investor in the company. From these data points, I do a simple Present Value calculation and arrive at the value of the customer, which is the amount of cash that would have to be invested to yield the economic equivalent of the expected gross profit that the customer will produce. I'd give you a sample calculation, but a) it would make this post even more boring, and 2) some things we like to keep secret :).

This is important because it can make the growth of a hosting company less "slippery" -- sort of like when Eric takes off from a red light in this:

For example, if you sell 100 new servers but customers release 90 back to you during the same period, your growth doesn't have the traction it would have if only 10 servers were released back to you. By retaining valuable customers, you don't spin your wheels as much. Spinning the tires at a hosting company is not nearly as much fun as watching Eric drive.

-Gary

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