How HubSpot’s Flywheel Is Replacing the Funnel

Kongo - Inbound Team
Kongo - Inbound Team

If there’s one thing marketers are familiar with, it’s the good old marketing funnel.

This staple of the industry has been around even longer than you probably think. First appearing on the scene in 1898, the funnel has come to form the very core of how we view the sales and marketing process.

There have been several different versions throughout the years, but the core ideas have remained pretty much the same. You grab attention, generate interest, and slowly guide your leads towards making a buying decision and becoming a customer.

It’s tried, it’s tested, it’s established. But it might finally be time to move onto something new.

At last years HubSpot INBOUND conference, HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan introduced a new idea in his keynote speech: that of the flywheel, a replacement for the funnel.

HubSpot Flywheel

Could it be time to retire the funnel?


What’s Wrong with the Funnel?

The funnel has worked well for decades — that’s why it’s lasted so long. However, it also has its flaws.

One of the more glaring issues with the funnel is that it’s simply not very customer-centric. The model treats customers as cogs in the machine, focusing on ushering them towards payment and then forgetting about them.

Once a lead becomes a customer, it’s game over. All the momentum built up during the funnel is lost, and it’s time to start over from the acquisition phase, drawing in new leads from scratch.

It’s very linear and rigid and does a poor job of drawing on the valuable resource that is a happy and loyal customer base.


How Does the Flywheel Change Things?

The real flywheel was invented by the Scotsman Adam Watt, way back in the 18th Century (it’s even older than the funnel).

The flywheel spins around an axis and is able to store energy incredibly efficiently. For this reason, it’s used to this day in engines, power plants, ships, and much more.

HubSpot’s flywheel is based on the same principles. Instead of taking customers through a funnel then letting them go, losing all their momentum and value the second they make a purchase, the flywheel plans to retain that momentum and make use of it.

That powerful store of customer energy can be converted into repeat purchases, referrals to friends, glowing reviews, and a whole lot more. While the funnel treats each customer as a prop, the flywheel revolves around them.

The flywheel’s success depends on three main factors: its speed, any friction it encounters, and the weight of the wheel.

With HubSpot’s version:

  • The ‘speed’ is increased by applying force in all the areas it can help, not just at the acquisition stage. Focus not just on acquiring customers, but engaging them and helping them along the way.
  • We can reduce friction by identifying areas where customers are having problems and leaving the process, then fixing the issues at hand
  • We make the wheel ‘heavier’ by building an army of delighted customers to keep it spinning

At this point, it’s easy to get caught up in imagery and metaphors. So let’s take a more practical look at how you can use the flywheel in your own marketing strategy.


How to Use the Flywheel

The flywheel approach is all about looking beyond the top of the funnel, and delivering value and support to customers long after they’ve made a purchase.

We can break the process down into three stages:

  1. Attract. This is the part marketers will be familiar with already. It focuses on drawing in leads with valuable, quality content in the form of blog posts, videos, and social media posts. We can measure the success of this phase by looking at traffic and views.

  2. Engage. This is our first step beyond basic acquisition. Here, we can start to really reward our leads with things like free trials and downloads. To measure the success, look at how many free users become paying customers, and how many churn.

  3. Delight. The goal here is to stay with your leads after they’ve become paying customers. Do that by staying in touch, providing regular updates and free materials, and going the extra mile to build that relationship. Success here can be measured by feedback and how many of your customers say they would recommend your product.

Ideally, you want to be delighting your leads and customers at every stage. Here are just a few ideas to help you do that:

  • Create a customer marketing team focused on retention, not just acquisition
  • Give users multiple options for conversion, like booking a meeting, calling a sales rep, or filling out a lead generation form
  • Offer your website and services in a range of languages, not just English

You should also be on the lookout for points of friction: areas where your process is falling short and customers are becoming disenchanted.

To locate these points, look at which of your metrics are struggling and where customers are giving negative feedback. Focus your efforts on fixing these issues and eliminating that friction, and your wheel will spin all the more.

You should also think about which areas you can automate to save time and take the load off your team. Restructuring your team to improve co-operation and avoid too much specialisation can also help create a smoother process and deliver a customer experience that truly delights.

The flywheel represents a shift in the way we think about marketing. It’s a lot to think about, and might take a while to get used to. But if done right, it can have a big impact and lead to a more effective and rewarding way of doing things.

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