From sales funnel to modern marketing flywheel: switch?

6 min read
Apr 29, 2024 1:43:12 PM
As a business, you can't escape it. Big or small, everyone has a funnel. You know, the imaginary funnel that represents the process from introduction to customer. The only difference is that some companies use it more actively than others. Why should you? Does the traditional marketing or sales funnel still have anything to offer you, or is it time to switch to the modern flywheel?

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We start at the beginning: what is a sales funnel?

From introduction to customer, that is the process that a (marketing) sales funnel represents. In other words, the customer journey. In the form of a funnel, because that's what "funnel" literally translated means. Not all leads who are introduced to your company eventually make it to the customer. At each stage of the customer journey, leads drop off, which is why the funnel is wide at the top (number of leads) and narrow at the bottom (number of customers).

Traditional funnels are roughly divided into three phases:

  1. Top of the funnel (TOFU): Attention, is the key word at the top of the funnel. You want to get the attention of your target audience and engage in activities to achieve this. A proven method is to answer your target audience's questions in articles that rank well in search engines. Already during the first encounter, you offer your visitors value, which you can build on with those who are willing to leave e-mail details.
  2. Middle of the funnel (MOFU): Is the interest piqued? Then a relationship develops, with the customer increasingly recognizing that you may offer a solution to their challenges. In the middle of the funnel, you help customers continue their search. You do this by continuing to offer value, highlighting the unique features of your solution. You can also address any objections. We call this process lead nurturing.
  3. Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): In the last phase, the lead is seriously interested in your offer and looks for confirmation. This can be found in testimonials from satisfied customers, a recognizable case study, demo or consulting session that answers his final questions (in the context of his organization).

Does this approach remind you of the eight steps of the customer journey? That may be right! A customer journey is a more extensive version of the funnel in which you also include other parts of marketing and sales. Think of PR (marketing) or after-sales services, for example.

Working with a sales funnel: useful or necessary?

Useful it certainly is, the purpose of the so-called "funnel approach" is that you create insight into the sales process, so you can structure, analyze and improve it.

Questions you can answer using a sales funnel:

  • How many leads do you need to achieve your sales goal?
  • How long does the process from introduction to customer take?
  • What does your sales pipeline look like?
  • What does this mean for your marketing and sales capacity?
  • Where do potential customers drop out in the sales process?
  • How much should acquiring a new customer cost?


In short: a sales funnel helps you focus on commercial results! After all, by recording how many leads are in each phase of the funnel, insights emerge. After all, you can calculate how many leads eventually become customers, and reasoned the other way around, you also know how many leads you need on average to reach a certain turnover target. This creates management information, in several areas. You can make better forecasts, adapt your staffing accordingly, adjust your marketing activities and, for example, calculate how much acquisition costs are justified.

You can also see exactly which part of the commercial process needs attention. How about that? Picture this: Your funnel shows that there are many visitors to the website, but the agendas of the account managers are insufficiently filled. In other words: the lead-to-conversion ratio is not good, leads stagnate in the middle of the funnel. What will it take to move them closer to the purchase decision? That's the question you can ask yourself. Perhaps the website is not accurate enough, the content does not match the information needs.

The sales funnel may also show that something else is going on. Perhaps sales is acquiring new customers, but this is achieved exclusively through cold acquisition. That in itself is not wrong, just that it can be labor intensive. There are gains to be made at the top of the funnel-what if leads come to you, rather than the other way around?

The traditional marketing and sales funnel versus the flywheel

The goal of both marketing and sales is to acquire new customers. One goal, one team? Not a crazy thought, yet many companies still make a distinction between marketing and sales. And also between marketing and sales funnels. Simply put, marketing is about the top and middle of the funnel, and sales about the bottom. You can't have one without the other, which is why the trick is to make them fit together seamlessly. Here's how it works: we give an example of a marketing and sales funnel for a SAAS company that makes software for trip tracking.

Example of a marketing funnel

  1. The SAAS company has a blog that features articles. These articles discuss the importance of proper trip registration. Businesses that do not keep proper records run into problems, such as lack of oversight in vehicle maintenance, or not being compliant with IRS requirements. This is where the articles offer help.
  2. On the blog page, people can download a white paper with information on the benefits of proper trip registration for a business. With leaving the email details, visitors are seen as "leads.
  3. The leads will receive more information about various aspects of trip recording (e.g., privacy, apps for trip recording) via email if they wish. There are also some micro-conversions in the campaign. One of these is using a calculator to monetize the benefit of using a trip tracking system.
  4. When a lead has shown interest in a product in multiple ways, it moves to the next stages in the funnel and enters the sales funnel.

Example of a sales funnel

Now it's up to sales. They will introduce the product (the trip tracking system) to the customer. This can look like this:

  1. The customer is called by an account manager and given the opportunity to try the trip recording system for a month.
  2. At the end of the trial period, the account manager informs the customer how they liked the trial. The account manager makes an offer for a broader rollout throughout the organization.
  3. After the contract is signed, the account manager provides a tool for exporting data from the trip registration system.

What does the modern flywheel have that the traditional funnel does not?

The flywheel continues where the funnel stops. The funnel stops where leads become customers. However, the reality is that this is when the real work begins: the customer journey!

So is the funnel a thing of the past? Not that, it still features in useful benefits. However, the difference with the flywheel is that it pays attention to both acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones. The energy, time and money you've put into satisfied customers pays off in recommendations, repeat purchases or up-sells and cross-sells. At least, if you don't see marketing and sales as separate entities, but make them work together seamlessly. With each other and with the service department. So that your customer really comes first and you can continue to help them in the best possible way. Keep on spinning!

What tools are used?

There are several tools that help you add value during all phases of the customer journey, from the top via the middle to the bottom of the funnel.

  • CRM software
    CRM (customer relationship management) systems support you in the interactions you have with (potential) customers. This includes digital contact moments such as e-mails, but also personal conversations. The latter are easily registered in these systems.

    All the information you collect about your leads is stored in a database. You can analyze this database to get to know your target group better and ultimately to sharpen your sales approach. In the CRM, you can assign your leads a score, indicating which stage of the buying journey they are in. Modern CRM systems also provide a dashboard so you can see the most important management information at a glance.
  • E-mail marketing
    E-mail marketing is critical for lead nurturing, or guiding customers through the funnel. From the first introduction to the final purchase. You do this by offering customers relevant content in emails that fit their current information needs.
  • Analysis tools
    Measuring is knowing and that also applies to the success of your funnel. With analytics software you track all interactions a user has with your website. You know exactly what content is being read and what interests them. This information is very valuable for the sales funnel, because you can then respond to the customer's questions.

There are also software packages on the market today that combine these three components, such as HubSpot. This software is not only easier to implement, but also helps you keep a better overview of the sales process.

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