Margin Leakage

What is Margin Leakage?

Margin leakage refers to the gradual erosion of a company’s profit margins due to several factors, which often go unnoticed until they significantly impact its bottom line. This phenomenon can stem from a variety of sources — bad pricing strategies, operational inefficiencies, and inadequate cost management, to name a few.

The impact of margin leakage can be severe, affecting not only immediate profitability but also long-term growth and brand reputation. Reduced profit margins mean less capital available for reinvestment and expansion, and consistent profit erosion can even lead to financial losses despite steady or increasing sales.

Moreover, if a company resorts to cost-cutting measures in response to margin leakage, it can negatively impact product quality and customer service. When that happens, its reputation suffers as a result.

Note: While margin leakage can be a form of revenue leakage, the two are not the same. Revenue leakage refers specifically to instances when a company cannot capture all of its potential revenue due to inefficiencies or errors in its sales, pricing, and collections processes. Margin leakage can be caused by anything — external factors, other departments, or even individual employees.


  • Falling margin 
  • Margin dilution
  • Profit margin erosion

Sources of Margin Leakage

While there are hundreds of different ways margin leaks can find their way into your business, we can break them down into a few main categories: pricing, cost management, and operational inefficiencies. External factors like theft and fraud can also contribute to margin leakage.

Pricing Errors 

Pricing errors are a form of revenue leakage, and they’re the most common source of margin leaks. There are several ways your sales, finance, or pricing teams might make mistakes that result in lower margins:

  • Setting product/service prices too low
  • Incorrectly calculating the final price for a customer
  • Failing to account for discounts or promotions
  • Ignoring market trends and competitor pricing strategies 
  • Missing hidden costs in production or delivery

The more complex your pricing structure is, the more likely it is that mistakes will occur. For example, if you have multiple pricing tiers, special pricing agreements, or dynamic pricing, it’s easy for errors to slip through the cracks. It’s an even bigger problem for enterprise SaaS pricing, where subscription contracts involve multiple add-ons, ramp-up periods, volume discounts, and more.

Inefficient Operations

Operational efficiency refers to how well a company manages its resources, processes, and procedures to produce goods or services.

Some common examples of operational inefficiencies that contribute to margin leakage include:

  • Poor inventory management
  • Inaccurate forecasting or demand planning
  • Overproduction or underproduction
  • Inadequate cost control measures
  • Excessive waste or rework 

When operations are inefficient, it leads to higher costs, which ultimately reduce overall profit margins. Some types of operational inefficiency, like miscalculating production costs, add additional costs to doing business that aren’t accounted for on financial statements.

Excessive Discounts and Promotions

Making price adjustments to close a deal makes sense when the potential customer lifetime value far outweighs the upfront margin loss. But over-discounting or running too many promotions can create a few issues:

  • Customers won’t be willing to pay full price, instead waiting for a discount to make a purchase.
  • Discounting can harm your brand perception, making people view your products/services as lower quality.
  • Offering too many promotions minimizes the impact of all promotions, making them less effective in driving sales.

While you aren’t able to see it on the surface, these things eat into your profit margin by lowering the average value of a sale and increasing the amount of resources you need to invest into closing one (since fewer people will convert at full price). 

High Inventory Carrying Costs

Carrying costs are usually somewhere between 15% and 30% of that inventory’s total value. For inventory-intensive businesses, these expenses can quickly add up.

There are several things that lead to high inventory costs:

  • Periods of slow business when inventory levels are high
  • Producing more than what you can sell, leading to overstocking
  • Obsolescence of products or materials 
  • Producing too many SKUs

Margin leakage happens when you don’t accurately take the carrying costs for inventory into account. If you fail to correctly estimate your inventory’s costs versus value, your margins will take a hit.

Theft and Shrinkage

Employee theft, shoplifting, and vendor fraud are all factors that contribute to margin leakage. These losses can be difficult to track and identify, making them a major problem for retailers and other businesses with physical goods.

Nationally, the average retail shrink rate is 1.6%. This means that for every $100 in sales, retailers lose $1.60 to shrinkage. While it’s a small percentage on paper, $1 million in sales revenue could mean losing $16,000 to shrinkage. And for smaller businesses lacking economies of scale, the amount could be the difference between profitability and barely breaking even.

Contract Negotiation Weaknesses

Deal desks need to negotiate contracts in a way that optimizes deal value for the customer and the business. That requires profitability calculations and consideration for all costs and risks associated with each deal. However, when a deal desk is understaffed or overworked, it’s easy for contract negotiation weaknesses to open the door to margin leakage.

For example:

  • Sales reps might have more flexibility in pricing than they should have, leading to inconsistent deals that don’t reflect true value
  • Term lengths may be longer than they should be, leading to additional costs and lost revenue opportunities
  • Exclusions or conditions might be missing from contracts that leave your business vulnerable to unexpected costs 

It’s essential to have a well-trained deal desk team with the right tools and resources to accurately negotiate deals without leaving money on the table or creating unfavorable terms and deliverables that are costly to meet.

How to Detect Profit Margin Leaks

There are five main ways to detect profit margin leaks:

  • Price waterfall analysis
  • Customer profitability analysis
  • Cost analysis
  • Sales performance review
  • Minimum margin threshold

Price Waterfall Analysis

A price waterfall analysis is a visual tool businesses use to track the steps a product’s price goes through from the initial “list” price to the final “pocket” price, once all discounts, allowances, and costs are accounted for. The price waterfall makes it easy to see where discounts and costs are eating into profits, allowing businesses to address and reduce these leaks effectively.

Here’s how to conduct one:

  1. Start with the list price. The analysis begins with the list price or the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. This is the starting point before any deductions are applied.
  2. Apply on-invoice deductions. These are the visible discounts or credits shown on the invoice. They include standard customer discounts, promotional discounts, and volume discounts. Subtracting these gives the invoice price, which some businesses mistakenly assume is the final price.
  3. Account for off-invoice deductions. These include rebates, marketing allowances, consignment costs, and free shipping, which are not typically shown on the invoice but significantly impact the final revenue. Subtract these costs from the invoice price to determine the net price or pocket price.
  4. Subtract additional costs. Additional costs like cost of goods sold (COGS), cost to serve (including shipping, handling, and warranty costs), and cost to sell (like sales rep commissions) are subtracted to arrive at the pocket margin, the actual profit retained.

By understanding the full journey of the product’s price (and all pricing elements), you can make more informed decisions about where to adjust prices or reduce discounts to improve overall profitability.

Customer Profitability Analysis

Customer profitability analysis is a method used to determine the net profit a company generates from each individual customer or customer segment. A profitability analysis at the customer level helps businesses understand which customers are contributing the most to their bottom line and which ones may be costing more than they bring in.

Here are the steps to perform one:

  1. Map out all your customer touchpoints. This includes sales, customer service, social media, and marketing efforts. Each touchpoint incurs a cost you need to account for to understand the full expense associated with each customer or segment.
  2. Segment your customer base. Do this based on criteria such as demographic data, purchase behavior, or profitability metrics like Recency, Frequency, and Monetary (RFM) analysis.
  3. Collect and analyze data. This includes direct costs like production and shipping, as well as indirect costs such as marketing, sales efforts, and customer service interactions. Tools like activity-based costing can be useful here for correct allocation​.
  4. Calculate profitability. For each customer or segment, calculate the total revenue they generate and subtract all associated costs to determine the net profit. Start with the gross margin (revenue minus cost of goods sold). Then, subtract the cost of servicing the customer (marketing, sales, and customer service costs)​.
  5. Identify profit drivers and leakages. Look for patterns that might explain why certain customers are less profitable, such as high return rates or excessive customer service needs.

Cost Analysis

A cost analysis looks at your operating costs versus pricing to ensure pricing aligns with your true cost structure. If you underestimate costs or overestimate demand, it can lead to profit margin leaks.

It involves identifying, collecting, and evaluating all relevant costs to gain a comprehensive understanding of where and how money is spent. Star by organizing your direct and indirect costs into fixed and variable categories.

Then, choose your cost analysis method:

  • Historical cost analysis — Reviewing past costs to identify trends and inform future decisions.
  • Marginal cost analysis — Assessing the cost of producing one additional unit or service.
  • Activity-based costing — Assigning costs to specific activities and then allocating those costs to products or services based on their consumption of these activities.

Then, look at how costs react to different conditions and production levels. This may involve plotting cost data on graphs to visualize cost behavior and identify patterns.

Sales Performance Review

Analyzing your sales performance shows you how each sales rep is selling, what they are selling, and at what margin. This can help you determine who’s giving discounts and pricing concessions, which products are selling at lower margins, and how to improve overall performance.

When conducting a performance review, consider your sales goals and metrics you use to benchmark those goals. They should align with your profitability goals and give you a clear understanding of the impact each rep has on your bottom line.

Also conduct deal reviews to understand how negotiations are taking place, whether reps are following pricing guidelines, and where there are opportunities for improvement. Use data from your price waterfall, customer profitability analysis, and cost analysis to inform your performance review discussions and decisions.

Minimum Margin Threshold

The minimum margin threshold is the lowest acceptable level of profit margin a company can operate at without incurring losses. It’s important to determine this threshold as it sets a baseline for pricing decisions and helps businesses avoid unprofitable deals or customers.

To calculate your minimum margin threshold, consider all your costs, including direct and indirect costs, fixed and variable costs, and opportunity costs (from your cost analysis). Then, add a buffer to account for unexpected expenses and market fluctuations.

From there, look at all your previous transactions — do any of them fall below that threshold? If so, scrutinize them more closely using the tactics above.

Margin Leakage Prevention Strategies

To prevent margin leakage and improve overall profitability, here are some practical strategies to consider:

  • Implement cost reduction measures where you’re overspending.
  • Set pricing guidelines and train sales reps on when and how to offer discounts or concessions.
  • Conduct regular performance reviews with real-time data to proactively address areas of concern.
  • Continuously monitor and analyze your price waterfall to identify leakages and make necessary adjustments.
  • Periodically review and update your minimum margin threshold and pricing policies based on changes in your business’s cost structure.
  • Test and optimize your pricing for profitability and customer price sensitivity.
  • Invest in an inventory management system to prevent stockouts and overstocking.
  • Negotiate better contract with your suppliers to reduce direct costs.
  • Focus on targeting and retaining profitable customers with the highest customer lifetime value.

Above all, use a CPQ (configure, price, quote) platform with built-in contract management and digital sales room tools. That way, you can conduct price waterfalls for every deal right within the platform your team uses to sell. And you can streamline sales conversations, negotiations, and contract creation and execution.

People Also Ask

What is the difference between margin leakage and profit margin erosion?

Profit margin leakage and profit margin erosion are synonyms. They both refer to the gradual decrease in profit margin caused by various factors, such as pricing errors, operational inefficiencies, high carrying costs, theft and shrinkage, and weaknesses in contract negotiation.

How can you calculate the cost of margin leakage?

To calculate the cost of margin leakage, you need to identify areas of profit loss. First, conduct a price waterfall analysis, analyze costs associated with products and services, and monitor customer profitability. Once you have identified these leaks, you can estimate the financial impact by adding up the costs associated with each leak.

What are the long-term consequences of ignoring margin leakage?

Ignoring margin leakage leads to a steady decline in profit margins, which affects overall profitability and cash flow. It can also result in financial instability and make it challenging to invest in growth opportunities or weather economic downturns. If you’re overcharging customers, it can also sour your relationship with them.