Can the HubSpot Flywheel Replace the Lead Funnel?

funnel graphic
Posted by Stephanie Stocker on December 03, 2019

My short answer is: no, at least not completely. I believe that the HubSpot Flywheel actually complements the traditional lead funnel. The Flywheel was first developed by HubSpot because that funnel of old is flawed: it turns customers into a raw output that get dropped out the bottom and forgotten. And that is true – the funnel is not a comprehensive way to look at your entire customer lifecycle. That’s the big problem the Flywheel solves.

But, after a lot of thought, I think that the traditional funnel provides something that the Flywheel can’t: a tactical, hands-on methodology for structuring sales processes. Let’s take a step back and break it all down.

What is the Lead Funnel?

The lead funnel, also known as the sales funnel, is a way to visualize and organize the different stages that leads will pass through as they move along your sales cycle. It’s shaped as a funnel to represent the winnowing down of leads from many to few, as they progress through different interactions and touchpoints with your company throughout the sales process.

In traditional theory, an individual enters at the top of the funnel as an unknown visitor, then over time, they move lower down the funnel as they become more and more qualified. The exact stages can be adjusted to match the terminology and needs of the company using it, but the stages in the example funnel below match the out-of-the-box Lifecycle Stages and philosophy that HubSpot recommends, and I find them to be broad enough to fit most companies’ sales processes.

This model certainly isn’t perfect. It doesn’t represent the nuance of sales and marketing nurture that occurs over the time it takes to move through the funnel – often many months or even years in B2B sales. It also doesn’t provide an easy way to visualize leads that flow fluidly up and down the funnel. I haven’t (as yet at least) found a great theoretical approach for that use case.

It has its Uses

I do think that using a funnel is extremely helpful for companies that don’t have a formalized or effective lead qualification process today. I have found that it helps them to tangibly define the interactions between sales and a potential customer.

It’s a great tool to force conversation to answer questions such as:

  • What is the “gate” or specific action or activity that we’re going to use to graduate a lead from one stage to the next?
  • What specific actions are happening during each stage?
  • Who owns those actions?
  • Which stages can have some parts automated and which ones need to be manual?

When we embark on a sales enablement program with a client, these steps are extremely useful in helping them to really understand what’s actually happening in their sales process.

But, as I mentioned earlier, there are flaws. Possibly the most glaring is that this model looks at the customer as the end result. And that is absolutely not how any growing business should ever view their customers.

A New Model is Born: Welcome, the HubSpot Flywheel

HubSpot wanted to solve that challenge by blowing up the linear funnel and reimagining it as a circular Flywheel with no end. In the Flywheel model, customers are at the center of everything, and the three major customer-facing pillars of any company, Sales, Marketing and Service, all revolve around them.

This model is great at reminding you that your customers are your biggest asset, and you need to treat them accordingly. Retaining and upselling an existing customer is far more effective and profitable than pitching and converting a net new one. And with a growing mistrust of marketing in a social media-enabled world, a happy customer can be your strongest marketer.

The stages of the Flywheel are also designed to align with the stages of a complete customer’s lifecycle, with Marketing representing the Attract stage, Sales representing the Engage stage and Service representing the Delight stage. This is a good way to visualize all of the encounters that a customer will have with your brand.

And the Flywheel is built to be in motion, spinning all the time. In this model, you should add force and reduce friction in order to build momentum and accelerate your company’s growth. Remember that this model is all about the customer, so you’ll want to align your Flywheel with the three main customer-facing pillars of your organization that I mentioned earlier: Marketing, Sales and Service. You can then use the Flywheel to break down each piece of the customer experience to analyze where you have friction that can be eliminated and where you have an opportunity to add force.

For example, in Marketing, removing gates (required forms) from downloadable content could eliminate friction that’s reducing your conversion rate, and adding PPC (pay-per-click) ad budget to a campaign can add force (by increasing reach and eventually, conversions). In Service, you can enable online forms and chatbots to reduce service call wait times (eliminating friction) and employ automated “How was your experience?” surveys to identify happy and disgruntled customers, allowing you to follow up with each appropriately (adding force). The Flywheel is a good way to visualize how every aspect of your brand interacts with your customers, and to optimize those processes wherever possible.

The Lead Funnel & the HubSpot Flywheel: Together Forever?

But, I said it before and I’ll say it again: the Flywheel is not a tactical model to help you visualize and define the specific steps of a sales cycle. It doesn’t force you to ask questions such as: what is our trigger to move an individual from one stage to the next? Once a company already has their sales cycle defined, it can be a great model to analyze everything else and make sure that the entire customer experience is optimized.

I like to imagine that both models work together. Each one gives you insight and levers into a different part of your entire marketing, sales and customer engagement process. You can use the traditional sales funnel to structure and automate your sales and lead qualification process from a tactical, day-to-day management standpoint. Without a funnel to help you visualize, it can be challenging to organize these complex activities.

Then, with a clearly defined sales process supported by automation, use the Flywheel to take a step back and look at the whole picture. Assess how everyone, from prospects and leads to customers and evangelists, will engage with your brand through all parts of your continuous lifecycle, identifying and taking action on opportunities to improve by reducing friction and adding force to the entire process.

Want to learn more about how sales enablement can refine your own sales process? Contact us – we’re happy to help.

Stephanie Stocker - Director, Marketing

Stephanie Stocker
Director, Marketing