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Existing Customers Spend 2/3 More time, Cost 10 Times Less

(Posted on May 14, 2014 at 11:20AM )

A joint study by BIA/Kelsey and Manta found that, for the first time, small businesses truly grasp the impact their customer base has on their long term business viability. The study surveyed nearly 1,000 small business owners (SBOs) and found they now spend more than half of their time and budget focused on existing customers, recognizing that it can be up to ten times more costly to acquire a new customer. Further, a repeat customer spends 67% more than a new one.

There are nearly 28 million small businesses in America, and they are making a formidable impact on the U.S. economy. Small businesses provide 55% of all jobs and account for 54% of all U.S. sales.

These findings are in stark contrast to previous studies showing that small business owners’ primary focus was on customer acquisition, says the report. A 2012 BIA/Kelsey study found that SBOs focused on customer acquisition vs. retention at a 7-to-1 rate, with more than 37% spending over half of their budget on customer acquisition and only 6% spending more than half of their budget on retention.

According to the recent survey, 61% of SBOs  generate  51%+ of their annual revenue from repeat customers rather than new customers. This is reflected in how SBOs spend their time and money, says the report. 62% of SBOs spend the majority of their annual marketing budget to retain existing customers with less than half going to new customer acquisition.

Similarly, SBOs spend the majority of their time and effort investing in existing customer relationships, with 56% of them spending less than 25% of their time and effort on marketing related to customer acquisition.

The study further supports this new alignment, revealing that channels where SBOs will increase time spent, notably email and Facebook, are those best suited to engaging existing customers.

Media Used by SBOs for Advertising and Promotion


% of Respondents

Facebook Page


Email Marketing




Direct Mail




Source: BIA/Kelsey, Manta, April 2014

Existing customers can also be leveraged to gain new customers through digital word-of-mouth, such as customers writing reviews, checking in, and posting stories and photos of their experience with businesses. A loyal existing customer can be a brand champion and an important source of new revenue, especially since it can cost up to ten times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Small businesses clearly understand the economics of their existing customers as the benefits of loyalty marketing are proven with increased customer spending and higher retention, yet few SBOs even have a program in place. According to the study, only 34% of SBOs have a loyalty program, while the majority do not. When asked about the purpose of their customer loyalty program, those who had one answered that they want to “Improve customer relationships” (39%) and “Grow revenue” (36%).

SBO Loyalty Program Utilization

% of Respondents

SBO Loyalty Program Situation


Have a program


Are NOT digital (paper, verbal, other)


Are digital


Don’t have a loyalty program

Source: BIA/Kelsey, Manta, April 2014

Moreover, says the report, the majority of SBO loyalty programs are offline rather than online, failing to take advantage of technologies that enable seamless implementation and deeper customer insights. Only 46% are in some type of digital form, like an email list, while 31%

are paper-based, and 17% verbal/word-of-mouth or in another form.

The report concludes by noting that customer loyalty can bring big benefits to small businesses:

  • Existing customers not only comprise the majority of top line revenue, but can dramatically affect a business’ bottom line. According to the “Loyalty Effect”, a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to a 25% to 100% increase in profit for the company
  • Existing customers that have an affinity with a brand are easier to up-sell and cross-sell. They already know and like what a brand does, so there is a measure of trust not afforded to an unknown company
  • Repeat customers are more likely to refer their friends and family to a business via word-of-mouth, online reviews, and social sites. Technology has amplified the reach of customers, making it easier to share recommendations about a particular business.
By Jack Loechner 
Center for Media Research

For more about the study, please visit Manta here.