Even for the marketers who have mastered it, the funnel might be starting to feel a little top-heavy by now.
No matter the industry you work in, the size of your firm or the nature of your products and services, the use of a sales funnel to organize marketing activities has been largely the same. Start wide with content that drives awareness, then try to sway prospects to see the benefits of your firm in the consideration phase, and drive them to a closed deal with content in the conversion phase.
As smooth and effective as that one-way journey might seem, however, a more recent concept dubbed the “flywheel” might prove even better.
At first, the key elements of the flywheel will look pretty familiar. Picture a circle with multiple rings inside it. On the outer ring are words describing your target audience at various stages: Strangers, then prospects, customers and finally, ambassadors.
The next ring offers a breakdown of marketing content based on an intent to attract, engage and delight. In other words, you still need to lead people from one stage of a purchase to the other. Rather than see this as a process that leads to a finite end, however, the flywheel reimagines the customer journey by depicting it as a continuous circle. This reinforces the power of collecting and managing data at every stage of your relationship with customers. The final ring contains the words “marketing,” “sales” and “service” with CRM like Sales Cloud in the very centre.
As you study the flywheel a little more closely, here are some other things you should notice and prepare for as you put it into action:
The funnel approach was fairly narrowly focused on how a marketing organization would go after one customer at a time, nurturing them with the most relevant content along the way.
As some of the most successful companies have realized, however, the best marketing and sales programs not only convert strangers into customers, but turn customers into ambassadors who can then attract others into the fold. In other words, your efforts should not simply be about trying to gather a set of discrete sales leads, but to build connections between the buyers who have already come to see value in their relationship with you, and all the other companies like them.
Going back to the outer rim of the flywheel, for example, “strangers” and then “prospects” line up over the “attract” area underneath. The same kind of content we’ve referred to as “top of funnel” might need to offer them broad education to compel them towards a purchase, but things get even more interesting once the sale happens. The word “customers,” for instance, leads straight into “promoters.” This means that the best customers not only continue to do business with you, but become advocates for your products and services to their peers.
How does this work in practice? It could be as simple as adding a step in your customer success process where, after a certain point when a customer has achieved return on investment (ROI) for their purchase, they receive a request to become a case study subject. You could also invite them to speak at an industry event, a webinar or even provide a video testimonial.
The traditional marketing and sales funnel is almost like a blueprint to achieve a specific end: get money in the door by winning more deals. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really speak to the overall customer experience, which is what truly defines leading brands from those who struggle to grow.
Let’s revisit the stages included in the next ring of the flywheel. Notice how different the word “attract” is from “awareness,” and how “engage” suggests something other than simply driving “consideration” and “conversion.” The flywheel argues that the content you’re creating here should be focused on developing a positive, empowering relationship with buyers (long before they even become a buyer). This is not about tactics to manipulate people, but a way to offer a thoughtful, genuine approach that helps them address their problems or pain points.
The third area, “Delight,” is placed directly over the “Sales” and “Service” parts of the journey. This is deliberate. Rather than merely hoping customers will be satisfied once they’ve agreed to become a customer, the flywheel urges organizations to build happiness into every step -- from actually handing over their money to all the support they may require afterwards. This is a feel-good mentality that forces organizations to constantly think about how they can go above and beyond.
Although both sales and marketing departments can probably see their role in working with customers as they journey through the funnel, customer service teams may have felt a little left out. The flywheel addresses that gap with the inner ring, where sales, marketing and service are a closed loop.
Remember that this is the ring that is closest to CRM. In mechanical engineering, a flywheel is a device that helps to store energy. In a similar way, CRM stores the customer data that fuels everything sales reps, marketers and service agents do, but the result is far more powerful when they do it in a cohesive way.
Of course, marketing departments may not be ready to abandon the funnel entirely, or at least not right away. There are steps you can take to make this shift easier, however.
Start by looking at the customer journey maps you’ve developed to date. How well do they align with the approach the flywheel is suggesting?
Next, evaluate the handoffs and collaboration that’s typical across your sales, marketing and service teams. Where can these connections be strengthened or solidified?
Finally, can you truly say that CRM data is at the centre of everything you do? If not, how can you harness the information you receive from customers from the moment you first notice them to the time they become loyal fans?
All frameworks have their pluses and minuses, and it’s all a matter of how you implement them. There’s enough good stuff in the flywheel, however, that this is the time for organizations to get rolling.