When I went off on a rant the other day about social media metrics, I stepped on some unexpected toes. In casually dismissing all kinds of derivative ROx metrics, I also impugned ROC–the "Return On Customer" metric proposed by Peppers and Rogers. Don Peppers came to set me straight on ROC. He posted a comment defending the integrity of ROC and explaining its value:
"..the Return on Customer (sm) concept is not just a clever way to say "marketing." It is a genuinely different financial metric, based on a common-sense principle that is often overlooked by marketers: Customers are limited in number, and they should be treated as a scarce productive resource."
I couldn’t agree more about the value of customers. And when I read the opening chapter of Return On Customers, I can say that I agree wholeheartedly with the underlying premise that businesses need to take a much longer view of how they create value and how they treat their customers in the process. But there’s a thread that runs through the book that leaves me unsettled. It’s too shiny. Right down to the conspicuous trademark that declares ROC(SM) as intellectual property. It’s evident that ROC isn’t so much a theory open to professional discussion as it is a product, and one designed to generate substantial revenue.
Now don’t get me wrong. If I could figure out a meme that could sell thousands of books and bring business to my door, I’d be ecstatic. Peppers and Rogers have done it not once, but numerous times, with One-to-One marketing, with Managing Customer Relationships (CRM), and now with ROC. Their marketing effectiveness is genius. But that doesn’t mean that ROC as a financial metric stands up the hype. And that’s what I want to explore in more depth, starting out just with the bit that Peppers cites in his comment:
Let’s say you were trying to evaluate which of two possible marketing initiatives to undertake. Initiative A requires you to spend $10 per customer and yields a profit of $5 per customer, for a 50% ROI, while Initiative B requires you to invest $20 per customer and yields $7 in profit, for a 35% ROI.
Any sane person would choose the 50% ROI, right? Wrong. Since both the 35% and the 50% ROI are clearly in excess of your cost of capital, your supply of funds is unlimited, but your supply of customers is not. Suppose you had just that ONE customer? Then Initiative B would create $7 in profit, compared to just $5 for A.
But here’s the punchline: You should still choose Initiative B even if you "only" have a million customers, or 100 million.
We’re not saying that ROI isn’t important. Money does cost money, and you have to pay attention to the return you get on the money you use. But ROI is not sufficient, by itself.
So, while we couldn’t agree more that almost all of the RO[X] ideas out there are not very helpful, we beg to differ when it comes to ROC, which will actually lead to different decisions.
I must be missing something. This is simply capital budgeting. Yes, most marketers need to get up to speed to understand finance, but are you actually saying a CFO wouldn’t be able to figure out such a financial insight without ROC(SM)? Or is ROC just a concept for marketers who don’t understand finance?
The difficulties continue the more you dig into the numbers. A big part of ROC relies on another metric called Customer Equity, which would be a great metric of actual customer value, if mere mortals could actually measure it. But it’s much more difficult than it sounds to match up the theoretical value of concepts like customer equity, or even customer lifetime value, with the practicality of actually measuring it. And that, in the end, is my whole point. The theoretical concept behind ROC(SM) is something many intelligent people have argued from many different angles–companies need to value their customers, they need to measure the value customers generate, and they need to sustain those efforts beyond our quarterly-driven myopia. But supporting those theories with financial constructs opens those metrics up to honest and professional criticism. And I can think of no better way to leverage our emerging social media networks to do just that.