6 months ago
Flywheels and Funnels
Traditional sales organizations used the concept of a sales “funnel” to describe the process through which potential customers move, ending up with sales at the end. Winners today have abandoned that way of thinking in favor of building flywheels — business models in which every element reinforces every other.
Ah, the marketing funnel…
Prospective clients go through a predictable set of experiences, students learn in business school marketing classes. It looks like this:
Understanding the funnel helps evaluate sales success indicators. Gail Goodwin, former CEO of small business direct mail provider Constant Contact, said managing the pipeline was key to escaping the sluggish SaaS ramp of death.
Like the funnel concept. To predict how well your business will do, measure how many potential clients are aware of it (awareness) and how many take the next step. If 1,000 people heard about your offering and 10% showed interest, you'd have 100 at that point. If 50% of these people made buyer-like noises, you'd know how many were, etc. It helped model buying trends.
TV, magazine, and radio advertising are pricey for B2C enterprises. Traditional B2B marketing involved armies of sales reps, which was expensive and a barrier to entry.
Cracks in the funnel model
Digital has exposed the funnel's limitations. Hubspot was born at a time when buyers and sellers had huge knowledge asymmetries, according to co-founder Brian Halligan. Those selling a product could use the buyer's lack of information to become a trusted partner.
As the world went digital, getting information and comparing offerings became faster, easier, and cheaper. Buyers didn't need a seller to move through a funnel. Interactions replaced transactions, and the relationship didn't end with a sale.
Instead, buyers and sellers interacted in a constant flow. In many modern models, the sale is midway through the process (particularly true with subscription and software-as-a-service models). Example:
You're creating a winding journey with many touch points, not a funnel (and lots of opportunities for customers to get lost).
From winding journey to flywheel
Beyond this revised view of an interactive customer journey, a company can create what Jim Collins famously called a flywheel. Imagine rolling a heavy disc on its axis. The first few times you roll it, you put in a lot of effort for a small response. The same effort yields faster turns as it gains speed. Over time, the flywheel gains momentum and turns without your help.
Modern digital organizations have created flywheel business models, in which any additional force multiplies throughout the business. The flywheel becomes a force multiplier, according to Collins.
Amazon is a famous flywheel example. Collins explained the concept to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at a corporate retreat in 2001. In The Everything Store, Brad Stone describes in his book The Everything Store how he immediately understood Amazon's levers.
The result (drawn on a napkin):
Low prices and a large selection of products attracted customers, while a focus on customer service kept them coming back, increasing traffic. Third-party sellers then increased selection. Low-cost structure supports low-price commitment. It's brilliant! Every wheel turn creates acceleration.
Where from here?
Flywheel over sales funnel! Consider these business terms.