Marketing Funnel or Flywheel?

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Many inbound marketers are abandoning the marketing funnel proclaiming, “the funnel is dead.” But is this true? Is the marketing funnel dead? Should we now focus solely on “The Flywheel?”  In this video, I’ll walk you through the Inbound Marketing Funnel and the Flywheel, what they are, and how you can apply them to your work and create sustainable results.

Video Transcript:

As we said in the opener, we’re going to be talking about the difference between the funnel and the flywheel. HubSpot is a pioneer in inbound marketing software. They really popularized this idea of inbound marketing, inbound marketing strategy. It was built around originally this idea of the inbound marketing funnel.

From Inbound Funnel to Inbound Flywheel

Recently, over the last few years HubSpot’s been moving into something called the inbound flywheel. As a HubSpot partner I’ve been watching them make this transition over time and honestly I’m not a huge fan of the inbound flywheel. I actually think that there’s still a ton of value with the funnel. The funnel is far from dead, it’s extremely important today. So in this video, we’re going to look at the differences between a funnel and a flywheel, how they should be applied. We’re going to show you how to use both of these tools to not just build a great strategy and understand where your buyers are in their journey but also how we create repeatable processes that deliver the best results over time.

Both Play a Role In Sustainable Success

Marketing funnel or marketing flywheel? As I said in the beginning I believe that both play an important role in creating sustainable success. As marketers, as business owners, as salespeople, we want to create a repeatable sustainable process that grows our business over time. Short wins are great but a lot of times these short bursts and these short victories don’t lead to long-term success. The goal should be to create a really great strategy that builds over time and this is where both of these come into play.

Putting Customers at the Center

As I talked about in the beginning, HubSpot has pioneered this shift away from the funnel. The funnel is about customers as an afterthought, they’re an outcome, and now with the flywheel customers are at the center. I understand the idea of a customer-centric approach; we should be focused on the customers, but I don’t believe that a funnel in and of itself drives people to think of customers as an afterthought. I also don’t believe that just putting them in the center also places them in the forefront of our minds. I still think you can fall into the same trap of just looking at outcomes no matter what funnel or flywheel you use.

It’s a mentality that you have to have as a marketer, as a sales manager, as a business owner, that you’re going to serve your customers and you’re going to grow your customers and you’re going to give them so much value that then they return that value back in the form of referrals, in the form of better business for growing their work with you. While I understand the thought process behind it, I think it’s slightly flawed because you can come at this from both ways and really have a problem with your customers no matter what you use or you can have success no matter which way you see it happening.

The Funnel Is All About the Journey

Is the funnel dead is this question and in that article that HubSpot was talking about, I’ll link to it, they do talk about how the funnel is dead and I’ve seen a lot of content on the website is the funnel dead. It reminds me of that content you see all the time where it says SEO is dead. Well, the answer is absolutely not. The funnel is alive and well and it makes a lot of sense because it’s all about a journey.

Let’s look at a traditional marketing funnel. At the top you have the big opening, so we have awareness. Awareness is where people are coming in, they’re becoming aware of your brand, maybe they’re becoming aware of the solutions that are available to them, and they’re understanding what is out there, what is available to them. This is very similar to a buyer’s journey and this is why the funnel works so well. It really does map through the buyer’s journey, which is extremely important because that’s going to dictate the types of content, the types of offers, the types of outreach that we can do to really attract people.

We start with awareness and we move into consideration where now they’ve considered some options, they’re stepping further in the journey, which moves them into conversion, which then obviously they make that decision, they convert value, build loyalty. So you build brand loyalty, you have them engage with your company. Now you’ve turned them into advocates where they’re going back out to the marketplace and driving people back to the top of your funnel again. It’s this very nice succinct pathway but it doesn’t necessarily stop at the bottom. Once you’ve created customers and you have a great relationship with those customers, you can deliver a ton of value, those customers begin to add back into your funnel as well.

How Funnel Changed With HubSpot

HubSpot’s original inbound marketing funnel was built very similarly to this as you can see attract, convert, close and delight. And the whole idea of delighting a customer was to turn them into a promoter which would then drive more strangers back to your site. They did a really good job of trying to map at the attraction stage; these are the types of things we see, at the convert stage, close stage. Now where things have changed is SEO plays a role through all phases of the funnel, blogging plays a role through all phases of the funnel, social media can play a role in all phases of the funnel and so can call to actions, informs, in email.

As you can see, it’s not as easy to put a tactic within a phase of the funnel but it doesn’t mean that the funnel itself is no longer relevant. As you can see here even in this phase the goal wasn’t to get a customer, the goal was to turn that customer into a promoter by giving so much value and delivering so much with them that they can’t help but to share what you’re doing for them with other people and their industry, other people in their verticals, other people in their connections, in their circles. That was the main goal of this original inbound funnel, one that I still think works pretty well. I think that the specific tactics don’t necessarily fit in these buckets quite like they used to.

Value Creates Promoters

This is a quote from the HubSpot blog and they said that, “What happens to customers in the funnel? They’re the outcome, nothing more, nothing less. All the energy you spent acquiring that customer is wasted leaving you at square one.” I would absolutely disagree with this statement 100%. And again the outcome, what you see as the outcome and how you see those customers that’s your own issue. And if you’re seeing customers as an outcome then yeah you are wasting your time because you’re not delivering value, you’re just trying to grow your business, you’re just trying to grow monetary value. In this culture it doesn’t work like that, people want to be part of something bigger, they want to get value, they want to be treated like a human being, they want to have empathy. If you create that even within a funnel, you’re actually going to be creating promoters, people who are going to fill your funnel for you as well and drive people in. They may not even fill the top of your funnel, they may bring people in who are already at the consideration stage or the conversion stage.

This happens to us all the time where we’ve brought a new client on; we’ve done a lot of work with them, we provide a ton of value and they say, “Hey, I’ve got somebody who needs SEO right now. Will you have a call with them?” We don’t even have to go to the top early stages, we just go straight to, “Yeah, we can help you here. Here’s what it costs to get in relationship with us.”

Importance of Treating People Like People

Again, this stance comes through your own issues, your own outcomes, your own view of the world. If you come at it from seeing your customers as just an outcome, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a flywheel, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a funnel, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’re not going to have good growth because you’re not treating people like people. Because of that, HubSpot brought in something like this. They’ve taken the flywheel and they’ve created these customers, promoters, strangers, prospects on the outside. On the inside you have attract, engage, delight. And the growth is in the middle of it.

To me, this has always been extremely confusing because where do people start? Well, they say, “Well, they can start anywhere,” which makes sense, people can jump on a funnel anywhere. But then what do all these stages mean? Where do they go? How do they work through? And they explain it a little bit more in detail with their blog. But to me, I don’t feel like this is a good use of the flywheel. This is an abstract view of a funnel where you put it on its side and then show how it could possibly work. Because you need each of these things to attract strangers but you need to engage your prospects, you need to turn them into promoters. Then there you go it, starts over again with the promoters. We have the exact same thing that we had before in the funnel we’ve laid it on its side and made it a circle. That’s the only thing that’s changed.

Funnel or Flywheel?

So which one is right? Well, funnels and flywheels both have very different purposes and both can be used efficiently and effectively in your marketing and your sales strategies. Let’s look at the funnel again. Right here what I did is I paired it with the buyers’ journey. As we see the funnel awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, advocacy, those first couple of stages, awareness stage, consideration stage, and the conversion stage or the decision stage really map out really well with the buyer’s journey. When you’re creating a marketing strategy it starts with awareness and you need to have certain types of content.

People are not ready to have those deep conversations with you yet; they’re trying to get feelers out. This is where understanding where they’re at their stages can help you create the best type of content. And again, in the awareness, it’s a pretty broad net. You’re talking about very broad aspects of what you could do and how it could apply to an industry as a whole.

When they’re in the consideration stage they’re getting a little bit deeper. They’re starting to compare things. They’re starting to understand, “Okay, here are my options.” And this is where you can start to create content around those options. And then again, with the decision stage, you help create content for the decision. This not only applies to inbound this applies to SEO when you’re starting to attack different levels, different keywords at different stages. This applies to your email marketing strategies and how you write that content. This applies to your social strategies. This applies to when do you get sales involved. All of these things are extremely important and I think a funnel really lays it out nicely and succinctly in a very clear, directional way.

Good Flywheel Example

Now a great example of a flywheel would be from Sparktoro. They’ve done an awesome job at showing how flywheels work. Flywheels are really good at taking a process and showing how that process can be replicated and sped up to produce better and better results over time. This flywheel isn’t necessarily about how do we get customers into the funnel but it’s saying, “Okay, I need to make sure that my content marketing and my SEO is doing well.” So, we can start with what our goals are, what we’re trying to achieve, and then the things that we’re going to do in each step and how can we use these to continue to create a repeatable process that allows us to move faster, allows us to be more efficient and allows us to grow over time.

Let’s say you want to grow your authority to rank better in search engines, then you want to boost the affinity and optimize your funnel to convert more visitors, so growing search engines, optimize your funnel, publish keyword-targeted content around those stages of the funnel, amplify it on social media and email, and attract and engage with people who will subscribe and share, and then start again. Then grow it again and boost it around. You keep doing this process over and over and it builds sustainable growth over time. As you work through this process you’re going to find out what works and what doesn’t. You continue to do more of the things that work, let the things that don’t work fall off, and continue to get tighter and tighter.

So How Do You Approach SEO?

This is a process that we use when it comes to our strategies, when it comes to how we approach SEO. For us, we typically start with the goals. What is our outcome? What are we working with whether it’s inbound, blogging, content emails, SEO? What are we trying to accomplish? And then we move into strategy and how are we going to achieve those goals that we set? And then we’re going to track and measure those results and then we look at the adjustments that need to be made and we get rid of the stuff that didn’t work and we apply more pressure on the things that do. And we keep doing this faster and faster so that we are only focusing on the things that are going to deliver the goals that we’ve set out and we get rid of the other junk.

As you can see, this helps with processes. Funnel helps with flow, with strategy where we’re headed, and flywheels work well with building the right processes to achieve those goals at every stage of the funnel. Here we are, the funnel is going to help you understand the process that your leads go through. It’s going to help you to know how you’re going to engage with them along their journey. Whereas the flywheel is going to help you create a repeatable process to streamline your actions and generate better results.

So what’s more important? Well, they both are extremely important but when it comes to marketing the funnel is very much alive, it is still a very powerful tool, it is still a very efficient tool. And then you can leverage flywheels to create strategies that help you speed up your results, lessen the amount of friction to get content out, to get your strategy going. It helps you to do more of the things that are going to deliver the right results for your business. If you have any questions please comment below. We’d love to hear what you have to say and reach out if you have some different viewpoints of what we’ve covered in this video, we would love to continue that conversation with you and until next time Happy Marketing.

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