The Sales Flywheel — Rethinking the Sales Funnel

By Madison Taylor
January 8, 2019
glitter falling in a circle

The sales funnel has been around for decades, and it’s been the go-to visual metaphor for the sales process for marketers across the world. But now, many years along, it might be time to buy the funnel a nice gift and send it off to Florida — we’re retiring the funnel.

The Problem With The Funnel

We’re all familiar with the traditional marketing funnel — strangers become visitors, visitors become leads, and leads become customers. The biggest problem with the funnel is that it stops there. What happens after purchase? Nothing, apparently.

But in real life, we know how important it is to keep your customers happy. Happy customers become repeat customers and attract new customers, who might become repeat customers themselves. Executives used to think of quarters as discrete units — they’d make a three-month campaign, pour all their energy into it, and then start the next quarter with no momentum.

Now, your company has assets. You have timeless content, a growing array of backlinks, a social media following, and a brand with a reputation and customers who advocate for you. If you took a month off, you’d still get new leads and new customers. That’s momentum, and it’s what the “flywheel” is all about.

What’s The Sales Flywheel?

Just as the sales funnel was a metaphor using the shape of an actual funnel — large numbers of strangers get winnowed down to small numbers of customers — the sales flywheel is based on an actual flywheel. Flywheels have been around in machinery since the invention of the steam engine over 200 years ago, and the mechanism is simple.

The flywheel itself is a big, heavy wheel that gets spun up to a high speed by the application of force from various inputs. The more forces that are applied, and the bigger those forces are, the faster the flywheel spins. When those forces go away, the flywheel’s momentum continues to spin it, compensating for the lull in the forces that power it. Friction slows the flywheel down, so machinery that uses a flywheel tries to keep it to a minimum.

In the metaphor for the flywheel that we’re applying to our businesses, there are two things to consider: force and friction.

Forces That Spin The Flywheel

In the early 2000s, marketing was a bigger force than sales. Information was easier to come by, so customers could get all the information they needed from their research without asking salespeople. The advantage swung from companies with strong sales departments to companies with the marketing to pull in prospects.

Now, it’s shifting again — delighted customers are the new drivers of company momentum. That’s the force that spins the flywheel, but it needs the brunt of the whole company behind it. Marketing, sales, and service all need to be focused on the singular goal of keeping existing customers happy.

Friction Slows Down The Flywheel

The opposite of “force” is “friction.” Don’t tell your physics teacher we said that, since it’s not literally true, but the concept is sound — there are factors that will slow your flywheel’s momentum if you don’t keep up the force that keeps it moving.

Taking the friction out of the process of buying, using, and maintaining a product is a surefire way to keep customers happy — and keep them coming. Think of some of the hottest companies that have burst onto the scene recently.

Dollar Shave Club sends basic supplies to men who hate shopping on a regular basis, for a lower price. Leesa lets you order a mattress online that’ll be delivered to your door with no haggling, no driving, and a 100-day trial period. Trunk Club takes the friction out of clothes shopping. HelloFresh takes the friction out of meal planning.

If you run a B2C company, you need to get the friction out of your system, and you need to do it now.

Changing Assumptions For The Flywheel

The old model was all about making the best product — you had to be better than the competition, or at least you had to convince your customers that you were. In the new model, product quality is crucial, but it’s not enough.

You need to make your customer experience lighter than your competition’s — the process of shopping, buying, asking questions, getting help, learning more, and every other part of the equation has to be easier. That involves turning some old paradigms upside down.

For example, the old model told you to educate your customer service reps to best handle customer interaction. That’s still a good idea, but with a caveat: customers don’t want to interact with customer service reps. They have questions on a whim, while commuting, or outside business hours. They want to be able to get on a website and learn the solution to their question quickly and easily. The fewer touches they have, the faster and happier their experience will be.

The flywheel isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, so don’t be too scared of company upheaval to try it out. Anything you can do to reduce friction in your organization will help, whether it’s implementing a chatbot, retraining employees, or organizational alignment. Any changes in the right direction will improve your customer experience, and that improved experience will improve sales. The age of the funnel is ending — the flywheel is here.