Subscription Finance

Net Revenue Retention: A SaaS Guide to Calculating and Growing your NRR

We’re sure you know this, but it’s worth the reminder: acquiring new customers isn’t the most cost-effective way to generate more revenue for your business. Yes, customer acquisition is important. But you’ll spend less and make more by retaining and continuing to sell to your current customer base.

What does this have to do with Net Revenue Retention (NRR)? A lot!

NRR measures how much recurring revenue you’ve retained and generated from existing customers over a set period of time vs. how much you’ve lost from downgrades and cancellations. When you calculate net revenue retention, you’ll have a better idea if your business is retaining enough customers to survive and prosper in the long term.

In this post, we’ll dig further into why NRR is a key metric for SaaS companies by sharing:

  • How to define NRR and use it to contribute to your business’s growth
  • How to calculate NRR using a simple formula
  • Ways to improve your business’s net revenue retention rate
  • The difference between net revenue retention and gross revenue retention

Let’s get started!

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What Is Net Revenue Retention?

Net revenue retention (NRR), is a key metric that SaaS companies use to measure revenue retained from existing customers. 

You’ll look at the following four factors when calculating your business’s net revenue retention rate:

  1. Recurring revenue (monthly or annually)
  2. Expansion revenue (from upsells and cross-sells)
  3. Revenue lost from downgrades 
  4. Revenue lost from customer churn 

If you’re familiar with net negative churn rate or net dollar retention rate, you may think NRR sounds similar–and it is. These three terms can be used interchangeably. But why even care about this metric in the first place?

As a SaaS company, you’ll track NRR as a way to:

  • Spot issues related to customer retention and churn
  • Forecast the financial health and growth of your business
  • Better determine whether your customers find long-term value in your service

How to calculate net revenue retention

To calculate net revenue retention, you first need to determine your recurring revenue for a given period of time. This is the total amount of revenue that you expect to receive on a monthly or annual basis from your recurring customers.

Once you have your recurring revenue figure, you should add any additional revenue coming in from expansion (i.e. upsells or cross-sells). Then, you’ll need to subtract revenue lost from downgrades and customer churn.

For example, let’s say that, this month, you expect your company to generate $300,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). Thanks to upsells and cross-sells, you also generate $30,000 in additional revenue. However, your customer churn rate for this month is 20%, so you’ve lost $60,000 in monthly recurring revenue. In addition to that, you’ve also lost $5,000 of revenue due to some customers downgrading their subscriptions.

How would you calculate the net revenue retention rate for this scenario? Easy. You’ll use this simple net revenue retention formula:

(Starting MRR + Expansion – Churn – Downgrades / Starting MRR) x 100 = NRR

And here’s how you’d plug in the numbers from the example above: 

(300,000 + 30,000 – 60,000 – 5,000 / 300,000) x 100 = 88.3

Now, you may be wondering: Is 88.3% a good net revenue retention rate for a SaaS business? Well… not really. And here’s why.

What Is a good net revenue retention rate for SaaS companies?

The ideal net revenue retention rate for a SaaS business is 100% or higher. An NRR this high demonstrates your business is showing signs of growth despite losing money to churn and downgrades.

On the other hand, a net revenue retention rate below 100% (like we saw in the example above) means that your business is currently losing money and, consequently, not growing. That being said, a net revenue retention rate around 90% can still be a good sign. With a few tweaks, your business could have a viable path toward growth.

So, how can you achieve a net revenue retention rate of 100% or higher?

How to improve net revenue retention

Improving the net revenue retention rate of your business is an essential step to ensure your business survives in the long run. You can achieve that goal by:

  1. Reducing customer churn
  2. Increasing expansion revenue 
  3. Preventing downgrades

Let’s look at some example actions you can take for each one.

Ways to reduce customer churn and improve net revenue retention

Customer churn is usually the biggest culprit of a low net revenue retention rate. If your churn rate is too high for too long, your business is in danger no matter how many new customers you acquire or how much expansion revenue you generate. Here are some ways to reduce customer churn:
  • Improve customer support

    Make sure you have a strong customer support system in place that is easy for customers to contact using whichever method they prefer. This could include live chat, phone support, email support, a detailed FAQ page, etc.
  • Offer incentives

    Offering incentives is a great way to keep customers from leaving because it gives them some unexpected additional value. For example, you could offer discounts, freebies, or even just extended trials.
  • Increase communication

    Keep in touch with your customers regularly to let them know about product updates, impressive case studies, and new ways to use your service. This could be through your email newsletter or social media updates.
  • Update and improve your product regularly

    Continue to add value to your service by making product improvements based on customer feedback. The increased value will help customers feel that their return on investment with your service is growing over time.
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Ways to increase expansion and improve net revenue retention

Once you’ve tackled churn, increasing the revenue generated from your existing customer base is another effective way to improve your net revenue retention rate. Here are some ways to increase expansion revenue:
  • Introduce new premium features

    Adding new features to your product is a great way to get customers interested in upgrading. These additional features should reflect the needs of your customers, which can also be found by analyzing customer feedback.
  • Offer discounts

    Offering discounts on upgrades or add-ons is a great way to encourage customers to buy more from you. For example, you can offer a discount to existing customers who have recently referred a friend or signed up for annual billing.
  • Create bundles

    Bundling your products and services together is a great way to increase sales. Think about how to market your upsells and cross-sells so they complement each other and offer a discount for buying them together.
  • Give a free trial

    A free trial of the next tier of your service can be a great way to increase expansion revenue. By giving potential customers a taste of what they can get by paying a bit more, you can increase the likelihood they’ll upgrade their subscription.

Ways to prevent downgrades and improve net revenue retention

When a customer downgrades, you have a clear sign that something about your service is failing to justify the price. You’ll want to address these issues as soon as possible to prevent the customer from canceling their subscription. Here are some ways to prevent downgrades:
  • Encourage annual billing

    When customers pay for a year upfront, they’re more likely to stick around for the long haul without requesting to downgrade. If you aren’t already, consider offering a discount for subscribing to an annual plan.
  • Promote the most valuable features

    If you can show customers how much they’re getting for their money, they may be less likely to downgrade. For example, make sure your customers know which features are exclusive to the premium plan.
  • Ask customers why they’re downgrading

    Surveying customers who choose to downgrade can help you identify areas where your product or service is falling short. Then, you can work on making improvements so that customers will be less likely to downgrade in the future.

Net revenue retention vs. gross revenue retention

Gross revenue retention (GRR) is another metric SaaS businesses can check to get an idea of how well they’re doing. GRR also measures the recurring revenue that a company retains. But, unlike NRR, it does not include revenue that comes from expansion from upsells and cross-sells. Consequently, your gross revenue retention will always be equal to or lower than the net revenue retention rate, never exceeding 100%.

Because GRR focuses exclusively on recurring revenue, it’s a more conservative metric than NRR to use when making financial projections. This makes it a good number to know when speaking to investors concerned about your business’s financial health.

While both NRR and GRR are important metrics for SaaS businesses, NRR is a more holistic measure of a business’s growth because it encompasses all aspects of the customer lifecycle.

Key takeaways

Net revenue retention is a key metric you’ll use to determine if your SaaS company is generating enough revenue from your existing customers to offset revenue lost due to churn and downgrades.

To calculate the net revenue retention rate for a particular month, you’ll use the following formula:

NRR = Starting MRR + Expansion – Churn – Downgrades / Starting MRR

If you’d like to calculate it based on annual revenue, you’ll replace MRR with ARR in that formula.

Ideally, your business will have a net revenue retention rate of 100% or more. But if it’s lower than that, don’t panic just yet. You can improve NRR by using the ideas we shared to reduce churn, increase expansion revenue, and prevent downgrades.

Gross revenue retention (GRR) is another key SaaS metric. But, unlike NRR, GRR does not account for expansion revenue, making it a more conservative metric to evaluate your business’s projected financial growth. That being said, NRR provides a more holistic measurement of that growth because it accounts for all aspects of the customer lifecycle. 

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