According to the Harvard Business Review, “The flywheel was used by James Watt over 200 years ago in his steam engine, the invention that powered the Industrial Revolution. It is highly efficient at capturing, storing, and releasing energy.”
In short, a flywheel is a momentum machine. Sure, it works great for steam engines. But if you’re a sales leader, the flywheel allows you to get the ball moving and keep it moving on your sales team — which translates into increased sales and revenue.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here’s a sneak peek at the Flywheel. It’s simple. But there’s more to this sales concept — loads of critical intelligence — that I’m unpacking in this article. So be sure to keep reading.
Image credit: Airwallex.com
Visualizing the Flywheel
Looking at the image above, you can see how a flywheel works. It’s basically a giant wheel. Force can (and should!) be exerted on every point of the wheel, simultaneously. This is how the wheel begins to move, and stays in motion. In fact, once the wheel gets turning, it can’t help but continue turning! It’s why you hear about some companies being “Too big to fail.”
Remember Newton’s First Law of Motion? Me neither. But I looked it up, and it perfectly makes the point in favor of a flywheel: “A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.”
Flywheel vs. Funnel
Now contrast the flywheel with the traditional sales funnel. With a top-down approach, there is no energy capture in the funnel. Everything is siloed off and there is little emphasis on collaboration between the stages/teams. The funnel is akin to dropping a quarter into a machine and expecting something in return. (But we know the B2B sales cycle is more complex than this.) And finally, the biggest disconnect is that the customer is found at the bottom of the sales funnel, whereas the customer is front-and-center in the sales flywheel.
Now keep in mind the stakes are sky high. These are two completely different approaches and philosophies. And these are two different ways of organizing your teams, choosing where to place your focus, and deciding how to attack the market. The sales funnel takes you down Road A, whereas the sales flywheel takes you down Road B. Two different roads, two different destinations.
Building on our foundation, here’s how a flywheel works, adapted specifically for sales teams. You’ll notice that the image above includes “Marketing, Sales, and Services.” It’s a great starting point, but here’s a more accurate portrayal of the flywheel based on my decades of experience in the sales world.
This is traditionally your marketing team. They build brand awareness and generate leads via content marketing, lead generation tactics, and other inbound strategies. I always say that sales must communicate with marketing. Your sales team can glean so much valuable intel if there are open lines of communication.
You can also think of this “attraction” stage as SDRs making cold calls to book meetings. They are putting hooks in the water to catch cold prospects. So ‘Attract’ can be either inbound or outbound. But the idea is that you need to make noise so that your ideal customer persona (ICP) knows you exist.
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This is 100% sales. Your team performs outbound sales activities like cold calling, demo calls, proposals, follow-ups, etc. This, however, is useless unless you have the elements in place before and after (Attract and Delight). For instance, if you engage your prospects but don’t delight them, you won’t make the sale. Remember, you should aim to exert force on every point in the flywheel to maintain momentum.
This isn’t any one point in the sales process. Rather, think of it as the sum total of communications your buyer has with your company. Whether it’s your website, your written content and emails, your sales professionals, etc. This is the Conversation that takes place throughout their journey, and that’s a big ‘C’ Conversation. To delight your prospect, you need to deliver value every step of the way… even after they become a customer or client. The first six months and beyond, continually delight them with your product or service (a given), but also your “client-side manner,” if you will.
This overlaps with ‘Delight’, and it’s where you continue to build the relationship and trust… by going to bat for your customer/client on a regular basis. You advocate for them, but you should expect them to advocate for YOU. So naturally, if the relationship is going well, you’ll ask for things like referrals and testimonials, and you’ll ask if you can use their success as a case study to further feed the flywheel.
Is the Sales Funnel Dead?
So… does this all mean the sales funnel is dead? Not necessarily. I believe there’s something to be salvaged here. The main reason why the sales funnel rose in popularity is because it emphasized different stages in the sales cycle. It gave basic form and definition to the process of customer acquisition. It allowed us to visualize the buyer’s journey. And it put clear responsibilities in place for the different teams/roles to own (i.e. Awareness = marketing; Discovery = SDR; Purchase = Account exec; Loyalty = Client services; etc.).
For all of these reasons, the sales funnel can still work for you. (At the very least, it’s certainly better than nothing!) But we must remember that we no longer live in the 90’s. It’s 2024 and the customer or client doesn’t just desire to be the focus, they require it.
Don’t believe me, have a look at the brands that have been built by putting the customer first. From Zappos and Lush, to Apple and Slack, to Patgonia, Warby Parker, Ritz-Carlton, and the list goes on. These companies and others have set the standard that the modern-day consumer expects and demands.
You simply can’t afford to miss the mark. So if you want to stick with the funnel, that’s fine, but invert the thing so that the customer is at the top.
So funnel or flywheel? You could make a case for either. But the most important question you have to ask is something that Stanford neuroscientist and motivational speaker Alex Huberman always asks: Where is your center of gravity? Are you flat footed, back-on-your-heels? Or are you forward-center-of-mass?
Also remember that all of the stages in the flywheel work simultaneously to generate continuous momentum. And everything overlaps — nothing is siloed off or separate like we see in the traditional funnel model. Last but not least, the flywheel puts the customer exactly where they deserve to be, dead center and always in focus.
Now before we sign off, you must realize that the sales flywheel, just like the sales funnel, requires constant iteration and optimization. A basic concept and rough cut will work, but you should be tracking and measuring KPIs to find out where your flywheel could use improvement. It’s not a set-it-and-forget it tool. It’s the closest thing to a living, breathing organism that will evolve with your company over the months, years, and decades to come.
Until next time…