May 25, 2021

Customer Experience After the Sale: Going from Funnels to Flywheels

Jesse Bushkar

If you've worked in product marketing as long as I have, you've likely bumped into the phrase "customer experience" (often abbreviated to just CX) in a variety of industries. In some cases, entire businesses go all in on CX training and optimization, while in others, the CX torch is carried by a lone employee or consultant without much surrounding support.

Regardless of the size and makeup of the CX initiative, however, the most common mistake I see product marketers make is thinking that CX ends at the funnel conversion stage.

Just What is 'Customer Experience' Anyway?

'Customer Experience' isn't just a general term encompassing how your customers are feeling – for the purposes of this article, we're talking about CX as a formalized discipline that wraps around all aspects of a customer's interactions with a brand. This includes social media engagements, customer service touchpoints, point of purchase interactions, and more. Virtually any point on any platform is within the scope of CX.

To anyone who hasn't gone to a corporate CX training, this might just sound like good old common sense. After all, what businessperson in their right mind thinks that a customer having a great experience with their product isn't important?

This much is true – a lot of CX is rooted in simple-to-understand common sense.  However, CX benchmarks can also serve as waypoints towards which organizations can align their priorities at all levels. When CEOs get too hyperfocused on financials or competitors, refocusing on CX can be an important grounding mechanism.

The Problem With Marketers and CX

All things being equal, it may seem like marketers would inherently understand CX. Between optimizing mobile experiences, listening to customer feedback, and modeling a buyer persona's interests, people in the marketing field are up to their eyeballs trying to optimize what the data tells them that their customers want.

The gap, however, comes from the fact that marketers are almost unanimously and unwaveringly optimizing for a funnel model where “conversion” – be that a purchase, a subscription, or an upgrade – is the end goal.

Once we realize this, the problem starts to become more clear. A sale is often the last leg in the marketer's funnel, whereas the consumer feels like the experience is just beginning at that point.

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Extend your funnel to a flywheel. Don't throw out that funnel, but circle it back around so that the 'end' strategically loops back and reinforces a new sales cycle's beginning.

Data and Analytics Usually Don't Help

But aren't we data-driven these days? Won't some magic influx of customer data provide an insight that tells marketers how to create great customer experiences?

The short answer is "almost never" because marketing analytics are dominated by ad performance, which, again, is a pre-sale game. We're rich in data on awareness, consideration, intent, and conversion indicators, however those things don't necessarily make a happy customer no matter how many best practices are baked into your dashboard.

Post-sale customer satisfaction data is often locked in one or more silos, usually out of the advertisers’ reach. More sophisticated marketing operations might get net promoter score data reports periodically, but even those can do more harm than good if not understood in context.

From Funnels to Flywheels

Don't get me wrong: funnels are one of the most universally valuable models in a company's quest to increase revenue. But seasoned marketers understand an important limitation of the traditional sales funnel: it maps linear, finite customer behavior while human behavior is very much nonlinear and continuous.

Enter the flywheel model. Coined by Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, Built to Last, and a host of other best-sellers, the flywheel model takes a more “infinite” approach. Collins uses the analogy (the 'flywheel' term is derived from a spinning automotive engine part) for finding a business' core value-building principles, then positions them circularly so that each next step builds upon the former. In short, A builds to B, then B builds to C, then C builds to D, and D circles back and reinforces A.

Entire books can be (and have been) written about the flywheel model, but the important thing to understand within the scope of this article is that – because of its circular nature – a conversion is merely a midpoint in the loop rather than an endpoint of a funnel. This makes the flywheel a much more effective model for mapping ongoing CX strategies to successful outcomes.

Funnel vs. Flywheel

Is My Customer Loyalty Program Enough?

What about CRM initiatives and customer loyalty programs? These can be built to track and respond to various customers' interactions post-sale – does that mean the CX work is covered?

The true but unhelpful answer is "maybe." Many CRM programs are constructed with the same short-term conversion north star as detailed earlier in this article. If the value of a given CRM email or SMS message is measured in pure sales (as opposed to customer retention or repeat purchase), then the same risks apply as the linear funnel model.

While customer loyalty programs are a solid trend towards building brand advocacy, they are often overtly transactional in nature, i.e. "buy 10 widgets, get 1 free." A transactional model like this can help boost near-term conversions, but it ultimately won’t provide actionable insights on longer-term brand health.

So What's a Product Marketer To Do?

While there's no silver bullet to enhancing the ongoing customer experience, there are a handful of principles that are almost universally applicable no matter which industry a business is in.

  1. Marketing KPIs cannot stop at conversion numbers. Whether you're marketing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or somewhere else, tracking a range of indicators from awareness to conversion to customer support is key to understanding true customer experience.
  2. First-party data is key. By committing to collecting your own customer data, you'll build confidence in the picture that data paints – far beyond what third-party can provide.
  3. The map of the entire customer journey is never complete. No matter how high-res your model is, it's still just an imperfect model, so never stop trying to improve and validate (or invalidate) it.
  4. Extend your funnel to a flywheel. Don't throw out that funnel, but circle it back around so that the 'end' strategically loops back and reinforces a new sales cycle's beginning.

Better Customer Experiences = Better Long-Term Growth

Brij helps brands overcome the aforementioned risks and shortcomings of traditional product marketing approaches. As an active touch point to the consumer post-sale, Brij picks up where typical marketing metrics fall off and reinvigorates the brand's conversation with the customer after the purchase is complete. And best of all, this happens via an experience designed explicitly for the brand and product which the customer has selected. If your brand needs help with first-party customer data and/or improving product reorder, reach out and let us show you how Brij can help!

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