5 Key Metrics for Subscription Businesses

Posted by Rob Horton on September 27, 2023
Rob Horton
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Have you ever found that despite having a steady stream of subscribers, your subscription business's revenue isn't scaling as you had hoped? Or perhaps you've noticed an unexplained drop in customer retention, leaving you baffled and searching for answers.

These challenges underscore a reality for many subscription-based businesses: tracking customer behaviour is essential for success.

With recurring billing cycles, long-term customer relationships, and a need for consistent value delivery, subscription models present challenges that intuition can't navigate alone. The solution? Metrics. 


Just as a captain needs a compass to navigate the high seas, subscription businesses need clear, actionable metrics to steer their ship in the right direction.

Monitoring these metrics not only helps in making informed decisions but also in anticipating market trends and customer behaviours. By keeping a pulse on these crucial numbers, businesses can preemptively address issues, optimise their strategies, and ensure sustained growth.

In this article, we'll explore five key metrics that every subscription business should track and explore why they're pivotal for driving growth. So whether you're just dipping your toes into the subscription market or looking to optimise an established business, these five metrics will be essential for your success.


The Top Struggles of Subscription Businesses

Subscription-based models, while promising consistent revenue streams and deeper customer relationships, aren't without their challenges. Recognising these struggles is the first step in addressing and overcoming them. Let's delve into some of the most common pain points faced by subscription businesses:

  • Churn Rates: One of the primary concerns of subscription businesses is the rate at which customers cancel their subscriptions, known as churn. A high churn rate can signal dissatisfaction with the product or service and can quickly erode the business's revenue base.
  • Customer Acquisition: Attracting new subscribers can often be more challenging and costly than retaining existing ones. Determining the most effective acquisition channels and optimising the acquisition cost is a continuous endeavor.
  • Pricing Strategy: Setting the right subscription price is a delicate balance. Price it too high, and you risk alienating potential subscribers. Price it too low, and you might leave money on the table or even operate at a loss.
  • Forecasting and Growth: Predicting future growth and revenue is more complex in a subscription model than traditional sales. This is due to varying subscription lengths, upgrades, downgrades, and churn.
  • Value Proposition: Continuously demonstrating the value of your subscription to customers is key. As new competitors emerge and market dynamics shift, ensuring subscribers see tangible benefits becomes paramount.

Understanding these challenges is crucial, but what's even more vital is having actionable strategies and data to address them. This is where metrics come into play. By tracking the right metrics, subscription businesses can gain deeper insights into their pricing and make the right moves to grow.


Metric 1: Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR): Gauging Financial Health

What is MRR?

Monthly Recurring Revenue, commonly abbreviated as MRR, is the predictable income a subscription business can expect to earn from its active subscribers in any given month. It's an invaluable indicator of a company's financial health and stability.


Why MRR Matters

  • Financial Forecasting: MRR clarifies expected revenues, aiding in budgeting, financial projections, and cash flow management.
  • Business Valuation: Investors and stakeholders often gauge a company's worth based on its MRR, as it represents consistent revenue.
  • Performance Metrics: MRR can shed light on the efficacy of marketing campaigns, the sales team's productivity, or product appeal in the market.


How To Track Your MRR

Calculating MRR is straightforward. You simply multiply the number of active subscribers by the monthly subscription price. However, for businesses with varied pricing tiers or models, it's crucial to segment the MRR by each pricing category to get a more detailed insight.

It's vital to monitor any fluctuations in MRR, as they can indicate changes in market demand, churn rates, or the effectiveness of sales and marketing strategies. By closely monitoring MRR, subscription businesses can swiftly adapt to challenges and seize emerging opportunities.


Metric 2: Churn Rate: The Pulse of Subscriber Retention

What is Churn Rate?

Churn Rate measures the percentage of subscribers who cancel or fail to renew within a given period. It's a critical metric that reveals insights about revenue, customer satisfaction, and potential growth ceilings.



Why Churn Rate Matters

  • Revenue Stability: Even a minor churn uptick can dent monthly or annual recurring revenue. Keeping churn in check ensures more predictable income.
  • Customer Value Insight: An increasing churn signals potential gaps in your value, highlighting improvement areas.
  • Growth Metrics: It's not just about getting new subscribers; it's about keeping them. High churn rates can impede or even reverse growth.


How To Track Your Churn Rate

Tracking churn is an important part of understanding customer behaviour. You can track it by dividing the number of unsubscribes in a given period by the total number of subscribers at the start of that period. Then multiply this figure by 100 to get your churn rate.

It's also important to understand why your customers are leaving. Once you know the root of your churn, you can take steps to reduce it and ensure long-term growth. This could mean offering incentives or better service, focusing on customer retention activities, and refining your product offerings. The goal? To keep more of your subscribers for longer periods.


Metric 3: Customer Lifetime Value (CLV): Understanding Long-Term Worth

What is CLV?

Customer Lifetime Value, or CLV, represents the total net profit a company can expect to earn from a customer throughout their entire business relationship. It's an essential metric to understand the long-term value each customer brings to the table.


Why CLV Matters

  • Profitability Insight: CLV helps determine if you're spending the right amount to acquire and retain customers about the profit they generate.
  • Resource Allocation: By understanding CLV, businesses can tailor their marketing and support strategies to segments that yield the highest returns.
  • Growth Forecasting: Knowing the value of customers in the long run can help set growth targets and strategise expansions.


How To Track Your CLV

To calculate CLV, you multiply the average purchase value by the average number of purchases in a given time frame and then multiply that by the average customer lifespan. Regularly updating and tracking CLV allows businesses to adapt strategies based on shifting customer behaviours or market dynamics.

The goal? Maximising the value you provide to customers while optimising the returns they offer in turn. This will help you make smarter, data-driven decisions and ensure your efforts are targeted toward the most valuable customer segments.


Metric 4: Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): Gauging Investment Efficiency

What is CAC?

Customer Acquisition Cost, abbreviated as CAC, quantifies the total average cost of acquiring a new customer. This includes marketing expenses, advertising, sales campaigns, and any other related costs. For instance, if your marketing campaign costs $10,000 and you acquired 100 customers, your CAC would be $100.



Why CAC Matters

  • Budget Optimisation: CAC clearly explains where your marketing and sales budgets are most effectively utilised.
  • Profit Margin Analysis: Businesses can determine if they're achieving a sustainable profit margin for each customer acquired by comparing CAC to CLV.
  • Strategic Planning: A rising CAC may signal market saturation or increased competition, prompting strategy shifts.


How To Track Your CAC

To determine CAC, divide the total costs associated with customer acquisition by the number of customers acquired in the same period.

Monitoring CAC alongside other metrics, especially CLV, can provide valuable insights into the overall health and sustainability of the business model. You’ll want to track CAC on a weekly or monthly basis to identify any changes and ensure that you’re staying within budget.

It’s also important to consider the time frame when calculating CAC; for instance, if there is a significant lag between customer acquisition and payment, your CAC calculation will be affected accordingly.


Metric 5: Average Revenue Per User (ARPU): Gauging Subscriber Value

What is ARPU?

Average Revenue Per User, commonly called ARPU, calculates the mean revenue generated from each active subscriber or user over a specified period. It's a lens into how effectively a subscription business monetises its user base. Think of it as the average lifetime value of a subscriber.


Why ARPU Matters

  • Revenue Insight: ARPU provides a snapshot of the revenue potential of your subscriber base, helping businesses adjust pricing or upsell strategies accordingly.
  • Segment Analysis: Breaking down ARPU by different customer segments can uncover the most valuable groups, directing targeted marketing or product efforts.
  • Performance Benchmarks: Tracking ARPU over time and comparing it against industry benchmarks can indicate your subscription model's relative health and competitiveness.


How To Track Your ARPU

To compute ARPU, divide the total revenue generated in a particular time frame by the average number of active subscribers or users during that period. Analysing ARPU trends can spotlight areas for potential revenue growth or highlight challenges in current monetisation strategies. An effective ARPU analysis aims to determine the most effective ways to drive revenues and maximise customer lifetime value (LTV).



Tracking essential metrics is vital for subscription-based businesses seeking sustainable growth. Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) offers insights into financial health, while Churn Rate gauges customer retention pulse. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) reveals long-term worth, and Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) evaluates investment efficiency. Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) gauges subscriber value. By monitoring and optimizing these metrics, businesses can navigate challenges, make data-driven decisions, and ensure their subscription model's success in a dynamic market landscape.

Topics: Subscription Pricing

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