Why you need to ditch the funnel and adopt a flywheel

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Published Sep 21, 2018 | Written by Jeremy Knight

The Sales funnel has been a cornerstone in marketing strategy for over a century. Believed to have been invented by E St Elmo Lewis in 1898, the sales funnel is widely regarded as the first formal theory of marketing.

However, in today’s buyer-centric environment the model is no longer fit for purpose. The traditional sales funnel prioritises marketing and sales over customer service and favours closing the next deal over your existing customers. Customers are a by-product of the sales funnel, not the central focus.

If you think about how a funnel works. You have a large amount of energy at the top with lots of people aware of your company, a smaller amount of people engaging with your company in the middle, and even fewer people at the bottom becoming customers, at which point they fall out the bottom and the process ends until you then pour more into the top.

In reality, prospects do not follow a single route from awareness to consideration to purchase. Instead, they jump in and out of channels, they research alternatives and they search for better deals, all at the touch of a button.

There is also an unprecedented interest in how businesses treat their customers. Potential buyers care less about what you have to say about yourself, and more than ever about what your customers have to say about you.

Expectations are high and customer acquisition costs are rocketing. The attitude of people coming out of the bottom of your funnel can directly impact the number of people who are willing to enter the top of the funnel. Funnels produce customers, but they do not necessarily create promoters that in turn help you grow.

Why the Flywheel

Unlike a funnel, the flywheel has rotational energy. When you add energy (prospects) to a flywheel, it starts to spin. If you add more energy to it, it spins faster.


And unlike a funnel, where the only way to maintain a constant speed is to keep adding more in the top, the flywheel will continue spinning.

The flywheel doesn’t only worry about how to do inbound marketing. It recognises that what happens prior to a customer reading any of your content is becoming ever more important.

From a business perspective, the rotation of the flywheel represents the growth of your business. Happy customers provide the energy that fuels that growth. Everything you do should be done with the goal of creating customers who will add positive energy to the flywheel and accelerate your company’s growth.

However, unhappy or leaving customers also refer and recommend. How you manage that process will set the tone of their recommendation. Just because a customer is leaving you, or cancelling your services, there should be no reason you cannot part as friends. So how you manage the exit process will have a lasting impact on your reputation.

HubSpot’s flywheel approach places customers and growth in the middle of a dedicated platform solution that covers sales, marketing, and service solutions for organisations big and small.

It acknowledges that the role of marketing needs to extend beyond conversion to customer advocacy. The focus is on reducing friction for your sales, marketing, and service teams so the customer journey moves smoothly and the customer experience is exceptional.

With the online content space becoming overcrowded - and changes in social algorithms making it harder for businesses to get seen - word of mouth is re-emerging as a powerful tool. Increasingly people rely on reviews, peers or friends to help influence decisions.

People today are less patient and more sceptical, and it's never been more difficult to build trust as a marketer. In a 2018 survey, only 3% of respondents said they considered marketers to be trustworthy

While people are less likely to read your emails, download your eBooks or comment on your social posts, they will read customer reviews.

Case studies, testimonials, white papers and customer videos are all ways your customers can fuel your growth.

The role of marketing is no longer to close deals, it is to open relationships.

Using the flywheel as a growth tool

According to HubSpot, there are three factors that will dictate how much momentum your flywheel contains:

  1. How fast you spin it - The speed of your flywheel is increased by applying more force in the areas where it can have the biggest impact. In a funnel model, all the force is applied to attracting and acquiring customers, in the flywheel model you also apply force to delighting customers and helping them be successful.
  2. How much friction there is - A lack of alignment between sales and customer success, can create unhappy customers and slow your flywheel when they churn. Identify inefficiencies which are causing a loss in momentum. Look at your conversion rates and churn rates, for example.
  3. How big it is and how much it weighs - More delighted customers means a “heavier” wheel, and one that produces more energy when spun.

The best teams will have strategies for all three.

Marketers are moving from an era where the best product almost always won to the current state of affairs, where the best customer experience almost always wins. 

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Published by Jeremy Knight September 21, 2018
Jeremy Knight