Step Away from the Marketing Funnel: How to Guide Prospects in Every Phase of the Buyer Journey

By Simon Chopier | Sep 28, 2021

How can companies in 2021 and beyond differentiate themselves digitally from the competition? The answer lies in stepping away from the sales-focused funnel tactics and embracing an empathetic flywheel approach.

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Is your company struggling with inbound marketing? Not sure which content to offer in which phase of the buyer journey? We can help!

Stepping Away From the Funnel Approach

There is no denying that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on businesses, more specifically on how they interact with their customers. Physical visits from sales reps have been replaced with virtual zoom calls, cold calling is becoming a thing of the past, and e-mail marketing is yielding higher returns than ever. McKinsey reports that in 2018, approximately 19% of customer interactions in Europe were digital. Following the first lockdowns in 2020, the number rose to 55% and even climbed to 65% in North America. Today, Amazon’s stock prices are sitting at an all-time high of $ 3.375 per share, and some of the top tech companies like Facebook have more than doubled in value since the pandemic.

These are just a few indicators that digital adoption is taking a quantum leap forward. But with the extensive growth of digital, many companies are starting to struggle. How, as a company, do you stand out from the crowd as “different” or “better”? How can companies in 2021 and beyond differentiate themselves digitally from competitors, and (re)gain a competitive advantage? The answer is inbound marketing.

In this article, we take a look at what inbound marketing means in 2021, and how companies are making the shift from a marketing funnel to a flywheel approach.

What is Inbound Marketing?

The term inbound marketing was coined by HubSpot’s co-founder Brian Halligan in 2005, and started gaining traction in 2012. According to HubSpot, inbound marketing is a method to grow your organization by building meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers, prospects, and customers. It’s also a process that values people’s needs and empowers them to achieve their goals.

marketing strategy written on piece of paper

As the definition sounds very “human”, you could wonder why not all companies are following this empathetic approach? The simple answer: they still stick with the marketing funnel.

Goodbye Funnel, Hello Flywheel!

The good old marketing funnel remains a classic staple in marketing. The funnel methodology consists of two essential steps: attracting the prospect and closing the deal. This is done by using digital technologies, like ads, to attract your audience to then steer them to a landing page where they can download a form. Once filled in, they get contacted by an eager sales rep a mere 30 minutes later, trying to close a deal. A typical example of this are telecom companies who offer big discounts when you subscribe as a new client.  Once the deal is closed, you never hear from them again, unless when you threaten to leave.

marketing strategy written on piece of paper

But here’s the thing: people do not want to be “closed”, people want to be educated by meaningful content that will help them achieve their objectives. Companies that exceed in truly caring about their target audience, offering them valuable content in any format, will always achieve greater success.

So, instead of the funnel, let’s welcome the flywheel approach! This customer-focused, inbound methodology is implemented in three steps:

While these practices might still work in some industries, people are becoming more and more reluctant towards this marketing approach. How often doesn’t it happen that when you find something of interest on the internet, you have to submit your credentials in return for the valuable content? We hate it, yet we do it. As soon as you have submitted your information, the sales reps are ready to “close” you.

inbound marketing funnel
Is it time to ditch the funnel?
  1. Attract: Persuade the right prospects to view your valuable content and become a trusted advisor;
  2. Engage: Offer insights and solutions that are in line with their challenges and objectives;
  3. Delight: Go beyond expectations. Continue supporting your customers after they’ve performed the desirable action, and turn them into brand promoters.

Contrary to the marketing funnel, the flywheel puts much emphasis on “delighting” customers. Part of the ideology of the flywheel approach is that delighted customers will introduce new customers and generate even more business. That’s why the flywheel methodology introduces a new phase called “delight.”

Inbound marketing flywheel

Delighting a customer is not just about keeping a customer satisfied, it’s about exceeding expectations. Why do you want delighted customers instead of satisfied ones? Because delighted customers are more likely to stay loyal to your organization and will advocate your business to their peers. In today’s competitive world, delighting customers is critical to achieving long-term growth. So how do we delight them? Like this:

  1. Understand which problem needs solving: Being able to identify your customers’ pain points and what really drives them is key for any successful business. Whether they’re a brand-new customer or have been with you for some time, it’s important to always offer customers a solution that aligns with their individual wishes and business objectives. Want to know what really drives them? Then never stop asking “why”. Dear customer, why is this important to you? Why do you want to achieve this? Never settle for an answer that only reveals the tip of the iceberg, dig deeper and understand what lies beneath the surface.
  2. Respond ASAP to your customers: Nowadays people are used to “instant gratification”, meaning people can instantly get what they desire. Want to watch a movie? Just turn on Netflix. Want to have a nice meal? Order via Deliveroo. Want to read a good book? Download it on Kindle. The internet has made us impatient. Nowadays, when your customer has a problem, they want an answer ASAP. So how do you handle this? Provide an answer straight away, don’t leave them hanging with the standard “I will respond within xxx business days” response. Use technology like live chats, automated e-mail responses or WhatsApp bots to respond. Sometimes, the client doesn’t even expect you to fix things straight away, but just wants to be reassured that you’ve read their request and that you will handle it.
  3. Integrate customer feedback: A recurring item on the agenda of marketers is conducting pulse checks with customers to see how the company has performed over the last year. But once feedback has been collected, how many organizations actually implement this feedback and share those implementations afterward? When customers share feedback, they invest time and energy to make your organization better. So, treat their contributions with care and respect. Once their feedback has been implemented, share it, and perhaps even reward them. A pro-tip: do not opt for the stereotypical NPS survey but ask in-depth questions about the delivery of services, and what they feel is missing.
  4. Be enthusiastic towards your customers: If you want to create an impactful inbound experience for your customers, make sure that your interactions are personalized and human. Don’t we all cringe when we call our telecom provider and we are repeatedly met with switchboard options, even after you’ve selected your preferred option several times already? Use technology to your advantage to embed personalization. An example: connect your incoming calls to your CRM and have them redirected immediately to the project manager, with a pop-up screen informing you of who is calling so you can greet them properly.

The State of Inbound Marketing in 2021 and Beyond

Inbound marketing is largely dependent on the use of digital technology. And technology evolves quickly, as so do customer needs and preferences. So, how do companies implement inbound marketing in 2021 and beyond?

1.    Incorporating video into content marketing

A state of marketing report published by HubSpot confirms that 82% of marketers are actively using content marketing in 2021 to generate more sales, with video reigning as the primary form of inbound marketing media.

So, what kind of videos do businesses use? Most videos tend to be short – no longer than 30 seconds. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the global shift to digital, marketers spent the majority of 2020 experimenting with live video and virtual events. Gaining experience producing these types of formats will become a must for marketers moving forward.

 

2.    Adapt an account-based marketing strategy

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a marketing strategy that focuses resources on a specific set of target accounts within a market. By identifying specific target accounts, you can create customized content which addresses the pain points of your prospect directly. You can gather the necessary information via your existing analytics tools like social media or Google Analytics, or you can simply purchase this data via Zoominfo or Uplead. A typical example of account-based marketing is providing content based on the searches of a prospect on your website.

 

3.    Reporting and attribution

The famous Peter Drucker once said: “what gets measured, gets managed.” And he couldn’t have been more right! As many companies have now established basic reporting, provided by Google Analytics or other software, more and more attention is directed towards attribution. Attribution reporting helps turn a vague idea of the buyer journey into a very detailed data path. With attribution, a company can identify which specific content is adding value to the conversion path of a prospect.

Using attribution in your inbound strategy will help you personalize the buyer journey even more and yield higher than average conversions.

Spin the Flywheel Methodology

2021 has seen the flywheel approach become a staple of inbound marketing. Marketing today has become more personalized and “human” than ever. So, how are you successfully spinning your flywheel methodology?

New to inbound marketing? We can help you get that flywheel spinning!