Sales Funnel Vs. Flywheel: Why it’s Time to Switch

by | Sep 22, 2020 | Sales Enablement

Consumer trends have shifted significantly in the last 10 years. The way we approach selling to consumers hasn’t. 

Sure, there have been major changes in marketing and customer service — inbound and digital marketing are increasingly successful. But sales teams overwhelmingly rely on the sales funnel of decades past to guide their sales efforts from quarter to quarter. 

If your sales team has continued to use and rely on the sales funnel, for lack of a better option, today we’re going to give you that better option — the flywheel. 

This article will cover the differences between the traditional sales funnel and the new flywheel. We’ll look at:

  • Consistent problems with the sales funnel
  • How those problems are solved by the flywheel
  • How the flywheel and the sales funnel stack up side-by-side
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Let’s start with a basic definition of each the sales funnel, and the HubSpot flywheel.

The Sales Funnel

I won’t go into too much detail about the sales funnel, because you’re probably painfully familiar. The sales funnel looks like this: 

hubspot-sales-funnel

As its name suggests, it’s a funnel, where visitors enter at the top and exit the funnel as they become sales. 

The sales funnel is a tried-and-true sales methodology that many teams have used for years. The problem is that it’s been decades since the sales funnel has seen any improvements, while consumer purchasing habits have changed significantly in the last few years. 

The HubSpot Flywheel

The HubSpot flywheel is HubSpot’s new take on the traditional funnel. Whether you subscribe to HubSpot’s message or not is irrelevant — this new approach to sales is undeniably effective.

What’s interesting about the flywheel is that it’s not terribly team-specific. While there are different ways marketing, sales, and customer service might apply tactics within the flywheel, the HubSpot flywheel is designed to encompass all of your company’s interactions with any customer in one methodology. 

Let’s take a look:

inbound-marketing-flywheel

As you can see, the biggest shift from the funnel to the flywheel is that the customer is dead center. We’ll get into that a bit more later on, but the big thing to know is that the flywheel relies on your leads, prospects, and customers to provide the energy that powers the flywheel. Your sales team’s job is to remove any friction that could get in the way of that energy. 

The flywheel is very much developed according to today’s new consumer habits. The modern consumer wants to gather their own information and make their own purchasing decisions. 

The flywheel absolutely caters to that style of consumerism by putting your customers at the center and putting the responsibility on your marketing, sales, and customer service teams to deliver the information and service that helps those customers make those decisions in the way that best suits their needs. 

Why it’s time to ditch the sales funnel for the sales flywheel

Don’t get me wrong, the sales funnel was and is a remarkable tool. It’s been used by sales teams for decades. But just like DVDs, VHS, and CDs, things are improved upon. When there’s a better solution, it’s time to phase out and innovate. Like any business model, the sales funnel isn’t perfect.

While there are plenty of ways to illustrate how the sales funnel is missing today’s consumer, one great example is the quarterly sales dilemma. 

If your company functions on a quarterly sales model, as many do, it’s likely that towards the end of the quarter, your sales team starts to ditch any of their new prospective leads for those that are closer to the end of the funnel. They put all their pressure on those leads to close before the end of the quarter, so they can squeak by their quarterly quota. 

sales-quarter-pipeline-meme

What’s the problem?

Well, what happens on the first day of that new quarter?

In a traditional sales funnel model, I’d bet you dollars to donuts your sales team is flat-footed with no warm prospects to even consider talking to. They spent so much time rushing to close a deal — any deal — by the end of the quarter, that there’s nothing left in your funnel at the start of the next quarter. 

Your prospective leads have all been closed or abandoned because they weren’t ready to close by the end of the quarter.

That’s a problem. In addition to your sales team starting out of the gate flat-footed, it’s also a big issue for today’s consumer. In a world where the consumer appreciates and has come to expect frictionless, high-quality service from marketing to sales to customer support, this attitude towards customers who aren’t ready to close just doesn’t work anymore. 

If you abandon a lead one quarter because they weren’t ready to close, they’re going to go find service from somewhere else. They won’t be sitting around waiting for you to come back next quarter. 

This is where the flywheel comes in handy. 

Flywheel vs. Funnel:

How does the flywheel give sales teams an edge?

Now, I’m not going to lie to you here. The flywheel isn’t going to magically eliminate the pressure that your sales team feels at the end of the quarter, especially if they’re being measured on quarterly quotas. 

That said, the flywheel does provide a better method of addressing all of the prospects and customers your sales team is in contact with. When the customer is at the heart of your flywheel (and they should be), they’re what’s driving your speed.

The customer is the energy that propels your flywheel. How your sales team works with those customers — by removing friction and applying force where it will have the greatest impact — is what keeps your flywheel not only spinning but growing. 

Let’s take a look at the specific ways the flywheel gives sales teams an edge over teams still clinging to the funnel. Check out this chart for a basic overview, and keep on reading for a more in-depth breakdown. 

sales funnel vs. flywheel chart

Output vs. Input

Looking at the funnel vs the flywheel in direct comparison, the flywheel focuses on input, while the funnel focuses on output. 

funnel-vs-flywheel-1024x647

The funnel is all about how many customers you can output. The goal is to widen the funnel as much as possible because you know you’re going to lose time, energy, and customers, as leads fall in and out of the funnel. When you make a sale, that customer drops out of the funnel, never to be seen again by the sales team. That’s a pretty inefficient use of energy. Your team put months into this customer for just one sale, and no future returns. 

With the flywheel, the customer is the input. The customer starts at the center of the flywheel, and that’s where they stay. Rather than being an output —  an energy expense for the sales team — customers are the input. They generate and store the energy that drives growth. When a customer makes a sale, they don’t just drop out of that flywheel. Instead, you retain their energy within the flywheel as they become a promoter of your product or service to others in their industry. 

Start and Stop vs. Ongoing

One of the biggest differences between the funnel and the flywheel is the concept of continuity. 

The sales funnel has a very clear start point and a very clear endpoint. At any given company, a customer might go through a marketing funnel, then a sales funnel, and then a customer service funnel. That’s a lot of starting, stopping, and abrupt transition for the customer. All of that is friction that will cut into your bottom line. 

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The sales flywheel helps your sales team remove this friction by eliminating the start-and-stop mindset. Instead of a customer or prospect having a clear start or finish point, they’re located at just one spot in the flywheel — the center.

Your marketing team might entice a customer with a great offer and convert them into a sales lead, where they close a deal with the sales team. BUT, when that customer is in the flywheel, their journey doesn’t end because they’ve made a purchase. They remain in your flywheel, as they’re turned into a promoter for your brand or as they continue to make purchases from your company. 

The flywheel is also much better at accounting for leads who do not follow a linear sales process

You probably have plenty of leads who enter into your current sales funnel and just “aren’t a great fit right now”. In the funnel, as soon as you hear someone isn’t a great fit, they’re out. In the flywheel, that prospect still has a place. Your marketing team can continue to nurture them until they become a great fit, at which point they’re easily accessible for your sales team to connect with and convert. 

sales-meme-pretty-serious

What’s the benefit here?

You close more deals with less effort. The flywheel is a highly efficient sales process that helps your team put their efforts to use where they will provide the greatest return, without affecting the customer’s positive experience.

The flywheel brings continuity to the sales process. Instead of thinking of each prospect of having a defined start and endpoint with your company, you can shift your mindset to consider that each prospect is a long-term opportunity. They can become a promoter and supporter of your brand, and a long-time customer that continues to work with and buy from your sales team. That relationship helps your company grow faster and more efficiently. 

Siloed Teams vs. Genuine Teamwork

If you think about the funnels you’ve encountered at your business, you’ll likely notice that there are a lot of them. Like I mentioned above, there’s often a sales funnel, a marketing funnel, and  a customer service funnel, at least. In addition to creating a high-friction process for your prospects and customers, this siloes your company. 

Your marketing team and customer service team have their own set of responsibilities, most of which are separate from what the sales team does. 

The flywheel removes these team silos and works to bring all teams into one single flywheel. This gives every team more support, which in turn helps support and remove friction for your prospects. 

When marketing, sales, and customer service are all working together towards the same goals, everyone gets more support.

Instead of it being marketing vs. sales, or instead of a tough client being “customer service’s problem” the whole team can put their unique and varied expertise together to provide a higher level of service and a more frictionless experience for every lead, prospect, and customer. 

The HubSpot flywheel supports revenue-driving marketing and sales alignment

We’ve got a lot to say about the benefits that sales and marketing alignment can provide. I won’t go into it all here, but know that companies with good sales and marketing alignment generated 208% more revenue

The flywheel fosters exactly that kind of alignment between your teams, enabling you to generate more revenue from a focused, strategic sales strategy. 

Making a shift to your entire team’s sales methodology can feel daunting. If you’re sold on the flywheel, don’t feel like you need to make this change overnight. Start with some simple alignment strategies that get your team on the same page, and present the flywheel methodology to them initially. 

Over time you can work to shift the way your sales team looks at and works with leads to a more flywheel-focused process. If you’re having trouble communicating the benefits of the sales flywheel to your team, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve worked with many teams to provide HubSpot services that optimize their sales process for a shorter cycle and greater returns. We’d be happy to help you, too. 

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