What do maps, schematics, and graphs all have in common? They are visualizations—they present information in a visual way to help us make better sense of the information. Visual models help us conceptualize how something works.
The funnel model
A common visual model in marketing is the lead funnel (also known as the marketing funnel or sales funnel). A prospect enters at the top of the funnel, and as they move closer to a sale, the funnel narrows. Once the lead decides to buy, they drop out of the bottom of the funnel as a customer. Alternatively, leads that decide not to buy leak out of the sides of the funnel.
Funnel models vary in the number and the names of the different stages they show. This funnel has the following stages:
- Awareness – The prospect becomes aware of the problem they have or aware of the solution being offered by your business. This is the stage for your lead generation tools.
- Interest – The prospect shows interest and does more research on options. Your lead conversion tools come into play at this stage.
- Decision – The prospect reaches a point at which they need to decide whether or not to purchase.
- Action – The prospect takes action and decides to purchase and become a customer.
The funnel model works well to visualize a linear process where a small percentage of leads turn into customers. However, it doesn’t represent what happens after a sale. A business cannot forget about the customer and turn its attention to getting new leads. Customer retention and customer loyalty are important too.
Many businesses achieve success not only by gaining new customers but also by keeping a good business relationship with their existing customers. The funnel model focuses only on gaining new customers and doesn’t incorporate the business’s ongoing efforts to serve its customers and build customer loyalty.
The flywheel model
The flywheel model was popularized in 2018 by Hubspot, a company that makes marketing software. Hubspot introduced the flywheel as a replacement for the funnel in its marketing strategy, writing, “The funnel has one major flaw: It views customers as an afterthought, not a driving force. You see, funnels produce customers but don’t consider how those customers can help you grow. That’s why the flywheel is so important.”
The flywheel model is in a circle shape, showing the circular nature of a business that has repeat customers. Its customers are happy and stick around for multiple purchases. This customer loyalty builds a business’s momentum. That’s the significance of the term “flywheel.” As you add customers and then retain them, your business will grow as the flywheel spins faster and faster.
The flywheel model of marketing has three main stages:
- Attract – In this stage, you use lead generation strategies (paid advertising, free helpful content, social media, etc.) to get attention from prospects.
- Engage – This stage builds on the previous step by engaging the prospect further, whether it is in person through a salesperson or through lead conversion tools. Perhaps a prospect is added to your email list and stays connected to your company through your regular emails while they get ready to buy.
- Delight – This is the post-purchase stage where the customer receives your best level of service. They love using your product because it fits their need perfectly and it gives them good value. Your satisfied customers tell other people about you, increasing the amount of business you get through word-of-mouth.
Note how the outer ring of the flywheel model shows the progression of a person from a stranger (unaware of your business) to a prospect, to a customer, to a promoter who recommends your business to others. Thus the cycle repeats as word-of-mouth brings new customers to your doorstep.
Both the funnel model and the flywheel model are just that—models or conceptualizations. Each one has its place in understanding marketing and the customer journey.
Let’s look at two additional aspects of the flywheel model: reducing friction and delighting customers.
Friction slows down a spinning wheel. Friction in your customers’ experiences—whether in the acquisition process or post-purchase—will slow down your business too. Friction equals frustration. Too much friction will cause a customer to throw up their hands in frustration and go to your competitor.
What does friction look like? Long wait times, inefficient systems, extra paperwork, a slow website, and confusing forms are sources of friction. Product flaws, errors, or inferior service can also be friction. Any source of friction can become a barrier between you and your prospects or customers.
To employ a different visual metaphor, don’t make your prospective customer wander through a maze. Create a clear path for them to follow to go from prospect to customer. Delight them with a quick, easy, and simple process. Once they are customers, treat them like your business depends on it (because it does!).
The overreliance on touchscreens in vehicles is an example of friction in the customer’s experience. Automakers are constantly releasing new models with new and improved features. But what if those features aren’t actually improvements over previous functionality? One feature that automakers have embraced over the last decade is dashboard screens.
These touchscreens do more than provide GPS navigation. In some vehicles, the driver must use the screen for everything from changing the radio station to turning on the heat and air conditioning to adjusting the vents.
While these multi-purpose screens are advantageous to automakers because they eliminate the need for buttons and dials, many consumers don’t like them. Why? Because of friction. Using a touchscreen to adjust the way the direction a dashboard vent is pointing is clunky.
An article from the online news site Slate entitled “The Glorious Return of a Humble Car Feature” reports that some automakers are starting to consider returning to physical dashboard controls. The article says,
Many drivers want buttons, not screens, and they’ve given carmakers an earful about it. Auto executives have long brushed aside safety concerns about their complex displays—and all signs suggest they would have happily kept doing so. But their customers are revolting, which has forced them to pay attention.
Efforts to reduce friction and make customers happy are opportunities to practice the Golden Rule. Am I treating customers the way I would want to be treated?
You can probably think of a few ways to improve the customer experience that you offer, but here are some ideas.
- Deliver ahead of schedule.
- Regularly offer a random free upgrade or item.
- Follow up with a customer to answer any questions and to ensure they are satisfied.
- Choose an area to focus on exceeding your customers’ expectations.
- Offer perks to loyal customers.
- Offer a referral program to reward both your customer and the referer.
- Plan a customer appreciation day.
- Add requested features to new versions of your product.
In many cases, delighting customers simply means providing a reasonably priced product or service that meets their needs.
The two categories—reducing friction and delighting customers—correspond to the concept of “pits” and “peaks” that brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath discuss in their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact.
“Peaks” are positive, memorable experiences, and “pits” are the opposite—negative memorable experiences. The Heath brothers advise businesses to “fill pits, then build peaks.” In other words, work to fix major customer experience problems to a certain baseline standard before trying to create memorable positive experiences that rise above normal. For example, if you have trouble shipping on time, fix that problem first.
However, The Power of Moments also reports on the findings of a surprising customer satisfaction study by the research firm Forrester that covered sixteen industries. In the study, consumers were asked to rate their emotions about their recent experience with a business. A rating of 1 was a bad feeling about the experience, while a rating of 7 was positive.
Think about this in the context of your own business. Let’s say you can make changes that would move a customer three points ahead (the 1s to 4s or the 4s to 7s, for example). Should you work on pleasing your least satisfied customers (those who rate you 1-3), or should you work on improving the ratings of the customers higher up the scale but who still weren’t perfectly satisfied (those who rated you 4-6)?
I would guess that most of us would say that we should work on pleasing the customers at the bottom of the scale. We would want to fix whatever issues are causing them to give us a satisfaction rating of only 1 or 2. That’s what authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath found too, when they asked business leaders this question.
But the Forester study reached a counterintuitive result. Because the most satisfied customers (the 7s) spent more money than customers lower on the satisfaction scale, the best ROI comes from improving the experience of those who are already somewhat satisfied with doing business with you.
In The Power of Moments, the Heath brothers write:
“The happiest people in any industry tend to spend more, so moving from a 4 to a 7 generates more additional spending than moving a 1 to a 4. Furthermore, there are dramatically more people in the “feeling positive” 4-6 zone than in the “feeling negative” 1-3 zone.”
According to the Forrester study, you get nine times the revenue from following this approach compared to the other approach of pleasing your most dissatisfied customers. The Heath brothers clarify:
“To be clear, we’re not recommending that leaders abandon their efforts to fix the big problems. Rather, they should reallocate their attention. There’s nine times more to gain by elevating positive customers than by eliminating negative ones.”
Early in Amazon’s history, at a point when a competitor had made a big investment that some were predicting would put Amazon out of business, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told his 125 employees: “Yes, you should wake up every morning terrified with your sheets drenched in sweat, but not because you’re afraid of our competitors. Be afraid of our customers because those are the folks who have the money. Our competitors are never going to send us money.”
Whether you prefer the funnel model or the flywheel model when thinking about marketing, keep a customer-focused mindset.