Customer Acquisition vs. Customer Retention: What is the Difference?

Customer Acquisition vs. Customer Retention: What is the Difference?

In the world of business, customers are at the heart of every decision we make and every strategy we implement. After all, without customers, we wouldn't have a business. However, when it comes to focusing our efforts, there are two broad areas that businesses tend to concentrate on: customer acquisition and customer retention.

Customer acquisition, the art and science of winning new customers, and customer retention, the craft of keeping them, form the bedrock of any business strategy. Yet, there is often a debate about which one deserves the lion's share of attention and resources.

As entrepreneurs, marketers, or stakeholders, we may find ourselves asking: Should we direct our resources toward attracting new customers? Or should we focus more on retaining the ones we already have? The answers to these questions are crucial as they significantly impact a company's growth trajectory and bottom line.

In this comprehensive blog post, we delve deep into the realms of customer acquisition and customer retention, dissecting each concept to understand their purposes, techniques, metrics, and impacts on profitability. By doing so, we aim to provide you with a clearer perspective and enable you to strike the right balance in your own business strategy. So whether you're a start-up in the throes of customer acquisition or an established business seeking to boost customer loyalty, this post promises to equip you with valuable insights.

Let's start with an in-depth comparison between customer acquisition and customer retention.

What is customer acquisition?

Customer acquisition is the process of attracting and converting new customers to a product, service, or business. It involves strategies and methodologies for managing prospective customers through the sales funnel, from the initial interest stage to the point where they make a purchase and become a customer.

The customer acquisition process typically includes the following stages:

  • Awareness: This is where prospective customers discover about the product or service for the first time. At this point, strategies for increasing visibility might include marketing and advertising campaigns, public relations, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), and other tactics.
  • Interest: Upon learning about the product or service, potential customers can start to show interest. This may take the form of actions like looking up more details about the product, clicking on an advertisement, or subscribing to a newsletter.
  • Consideration: At this point, prospective customers are debating whether or not to buy the product or service. They might assess the pricing, evaluate reviews or testimonies, and compare it to comparable products.
  • Conversion: Finally, after weighing their options, the prospective customer decides to make a purchase and becomes a customer. This is the ultimate aim of customer acquisition.
  • Retention: Customer retention is essential to a sustainable business despite not being a direct part of the acquisition process. It entails keeping strong relations with customers in order to encourage repeat business.

For businesses, the cost of customer acquisition (CAC) is also a crucial statistic. It covers all acquisition-related expenses, such as marketing and advertising expenses, divided by the number of customers acquired over a specific time period. Businesses aim to keep this cost as low as possible. The customer lifetime value (CLTV or LTV), which is the entire revenue a business can expect from a single customer account, is what businesses strive to maximize. 

It's crucial to keep in mind that successful customer acquisition tactics are often developed in accordance with the circumstances of a particular business, including its target market, competitors, and available resources.

What is customer retention?

Customer retention refers to the strategies and tactics businesses use to prevent customer defection or churn and to encourage ongoing loyalty and repeat purchases. Essentially, it's about keeping the customers you've already acquired and maximizing the value you get from those relationships over time.

Key aspects of customer retention include:

  • Customer satisfaction: Ensuring that customers are satisfied with both their purchases and their interactions with your business as a whole. This covers customer satisfaction, product quality, and problem resolution. 
  • Customer loyalty programs: These programs offer incentives (such as discounts, gifts, or exclusive deals) in exchange for regular purchases or other customer behaviors. The objective is to encourage repeat business.
  • Personalization: Increase engagement and loyalty by tailoring your marketing and communication efforts on specific customers based on their behavior, preferences, or other data.
  • Excellent customer service: Providing consumers with quick, beneficial, and friendly customer service can go a long way toward keeping them happy and loyal to your business.
  • Engagement: Retention can also be improved by regularly connecting with your customers and giving them a sense of belonging to a community. This could entail engagement on social media, regular email updates, or community events.
  • Feedback and continuous improvement: You may demonstrate that you value and are dedicated to improving by paying attention to what your consumers have to say and making changes based on their feedback. 

Churn or attrition, which refers to customers who stop doing business with a company or stop subscribing to a service, is the opposite of customer retention. In general, a low churn rate is preferable because it is frequently less expensive to retain current customers than to attract new ones. 

Customer retention rate is a key metric that businesses often track. It's calculated by taking the number of customers a company has at the end of a period, subtracting the number of new customers acquired during that period, and dividing by the number of customers at the beginning of the period, then multiplying by 100 to get a percentage.

For example, if a company starts the month with 100 customers, loses 5, but gains 10 new ones, the retention rate would be 95% [(105-10)/100*100].

Customer acquisition vs customer retention: What are the differences?

Customer acquisition is the process of attracting and converting new customers to your business, whereas customer retention is the process of keeping existing customers engaged, satisfied, and loyal to your brand.

Both customer acquisition and customer retention are crucial to the development and survival of an organization. Here is a comparison between the two: 


Customer acquisition: The main goal is to draw in and persuade prospective customers to make purchases. This entails spreading knowledge about the product or service, pique interest, foster desire, and encourage action.

Customer retention: The major goal is to keep current customers by cultivating and boosting customer loyalty and satisfaction. This calls for providing top-notch customer service, exceeding customers' expectations, and creating rewarding loyalty programs. 

Strategies and techniques

Customer acquisition: Techniques frequently include content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, sales promotions, PR initiatives, and various forms of digital marketing. personal selling and personalized email marketing are two examples of targeted strategies.

Customer retention: Personalized customer service, customer loyalty programs, and ongoing customer engagement through newsletters, blogs, social media, etc. are all examples of some strategies. Retention strategies also include understanding feedback from customers, responding quickly to complaints, and providing products and services that evolve to meet consumer demands. 


Customer acquisition: Key metrics include cost of customer acquisition (CAC), conversion rate, customer lifetime value (CLV), and ROI of marketing campaigns.

Customer retention: The essential metrics are churn rate, repeat purchase rate, customer loyalty indices (like Net Promoter Score), average revenue per user (ARPU), and CLV.

Time frame

Customer acquisition: Considering  that every phase of sales is involved in this, from raising awareness to turning a prospect into a customer, it is usually a longer process. The length of time depends on the complexity of the product or service, how effectively the sales process works, and the efficiency of marketing efforts.

Customer retention: The time frame may change considerably. It begins with the initial purchase and continues for the duration of the customer and business relationship. In order to increase the customer's lifetime value, it is important to extend this period as much as possible.

Risk and uncertainty

Customer acquisition: This approach entails more risk and uncertainty. It's possible that prospects will not respond to marketing efforts or won't be interested in the product or service being offered.

Customer retention: Since the business already has an established relationship with its current consumers, the risk is comparatively reduced. However, there is a chance that customers will leave because of dissatisfaction, better alternatives from competitors, or changes in their needs or preferences.

Impact on profitability

Customer acquisition: The high costs involved with customer acquisition might have an impact on short-term profitability even though they are vital for growth. Long-term profitability, however, depends on whether the lifetime value of a customer is greater than the cost of acquisition.

Customer retention: They demand less marketing investment, are more likely to buy extra products or services, and may advocate for the brand, which encourages referrals. Therefore, increasing profitability depends greatly on increasing customer retention.

Customer relationship

Customer acquisition: The interaction with customers is often transactional at this point. Businesses aim to persuade potential customers to try their products or services.

Customer retention: The relationship is more interpersonal. In order to better serve their customers, businesses concentrate on developing a deeper, more lasting relationship with them.

Should my business focus on acquisition or retention?

The choice of whether to prioritize customer acquisition or retention depends on a number of variables, including the nature of your company, its stage of development, your industry, the state of market conditions, and your particular business goals. 

Here are a few general considerations:

Startup or new business

The main priority for new enterprises and startups is typically customer acquisition. This is due to the fact that at this point, your company needs to draw in a sufficient customer base in order to start making money and establishing its presence in the market.

Startups frequently lack an audience to maintain in their early phases. As a result, efforts are mostly focused on marketing and advertising campaigns, public relations initiatives, sales promotions, and other tactics meant to spread awareness of the company and draw in potential  customers.

This phase entails researching and determining your target market, building brand awareness, attracting potential customers, and turning these prospective customers into actual customers. Even though it might be costly and time-consuming, this process is crucial for initiating  business growth and gaining a presence in the market.

Even at this point, it's crucial to remember the basics of customer retention. As your business expands, having a high-quality product or service from the start, nurturing relations with customers, and providing exceptional customer service helps pave the way for strong customer retention.

Established business

For established businesses that already have a substantial customer base, the focus often shifts towards customer retention. While obtaining new customers is still crucial, doing so can be more expensive compared to keeping an existing customer.

Businesses already have a reputation, a brand identity, and a customer base that is familiar with and has used their products or services at this point. Therefore, emphasis should be placed on maintaining these current customer relationships, raising customer satisfaction, and promoting repeat purchases.

Customer retention methods may include personalized customer service, loyalty programs, consistent customer engagement via newsletters or social media, comprehension of feedback from customers, and rapid and efficient resolution of any issues or complaints.

If satisfied, current customers may recommend your company to others by spreading the word and leaving positive reviews, which helps your business acquire new customers. Focusing on customer retention can therefore result in greater customer loyalty, a higher customer lifetime value, and eventually, improved profitability and business growth.

Industry and market conditions

Whether you should prioritize customer acquisition or retention depends in large part on the market and industry in which your business operates.

It might make sense to concentrate more on customer acquisition if you work in a fast-growing industry with a large potential customer base. Businesses frequently have the chance to bring customers in and secure a sizable share of their customer base in new markets or industries. In such circumstances, intensive marketing and promotional efforts to raise brand awareness and attract new customers can be very advantageous.

On the other hand, finding new customers may become more challenging and costly in a market that is saturated or fiercely competitive. In these circumstances, focusing on customer retention may be more beneficial. Businesses can ensure a steady revenue stream even in the face of fierce competition by keeping their current customers. To sustain market share in these markets, it is essential to improve customer service, offer superior value, and cultivate customer loyalty. 

Remember that market conditions might change, therefore it's critical for businesses to be flexible and adaptable, switching their focus as needed between customer acquisition and customer retention. These strategic decisions require regular market analysis and a comprehension of competitive dynamics.

Business goals

The objectives of your business will also have a big impact on whether you prioritize customer acquisition or retention. Different strategies may be necessary to achieve different goals.

If rapid growth and expansion are your objectives, you might need to put more emphasis on customer acquisition. A significant focus on acquisition might be advantageous in scenarios involving market expansion, the launch of new products, or attempts to increase market share. In these circumstances, investing in extensive sales and marketing efforts to bring in new customers might help businesses achieve their desired growth.

On the contrary, if your business aims for stable, sustainable growth, focusing more on customer retention could be a wise strategy. Building strong bonds with current customers raises the likelihood of cross-selling and up-selling opportunities in addition to creating a reliable revenue stream. Additionally, satisfied customers might advocate for your company, providing beneficial word-of-mouth  referrals.

But these objectives are not incompatible with one another. An effective strategy for customer retention can help businesses develop quickly, and long-term growth requires a steady stream of new customers. Consequently, finding a balance between the two tends to be the best strategy. 

For long-term success, it's imperative to always match your customer acquisition and retention strategies with your overarching business objectives. The secret is to design a customer strategy that supports your business objectives after having properly defined them.


Ultimately, it should be noted that both customer acquisition and customer retention are crucial to the development and success of a business. Customer retention contributes to a company's sustainability by encouraging loyalty and generating a steady stream of income, whereas customer acquisition aids in the growth and expansion of a business. 

For businesses, the interplay between acquisition and retention presents a strategic dynamic. When starting a new business or expanding an existing one, customer acquisition is frequently the main focus. To maximize revenue and foster consumer advocacy, established businesses may, however, place a higher emphasis on retention strategies.

However, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work here. To achieve the ideal balance between these two key facets, every organization must carefully evaluate its own circumstances, resources, market position, and growth stage. An effective business strategy attains the right balance of both acquisition and retention efforts, not one over the other.

In the end, businesses need to keep in mind that real people with particular wants, aspirations, and behaviors are behind every customer metric and every plan. Businesses can foster long-term growth, profitability, and success by focusing on genuinely understanding, providing value to, and developing connections with these people - whether they are potential or current consumers.


Dilayda Soylu

Product Marketing Manager at Storyly, covering launches, managing products and always excited about new tech solutions. Knows/ writes about customer insights and new features. A hopeless dreamer, loves zen thinking and being in nature at the first opportunity.

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