If you’ve studied sales and marketing as an SEO, you’ve probably been drilled on the “sales funnel” concept to near exhaustion. For years, agencies have been built around the funnel model and seen high levels of success. Some of the most prominent brands use the sales funnel to attract and convert new leads. However, the funnel concept carries a fundamental flaw by neglecting a massive piece of the business puzzle: client retention.
According to HubSpot, in today’s online business landscape, trust is at an all-time low, and acquisition costs are steadily rising. Hubspot also claims that businesses, in general, are having a much harder time scaling when all of their time and resources are spent acquiring and closing new leads. This is where the funnel model falls short, and the “flywheel model” becomes a much more practical concept when it comes to keeping momentum and growing an SEO agency.
Let’s dive into the importance of each model, and why they should be combined to inform a sales and marketing strategy that will maximize the value of new leads as well as existing customers.
Disadvantages of the Funnel Model For SEO Agencies
The sales and marketing funnel is a visual representation of new leads being led to the point of conversion. At the top, we have a high number of new leads, that naturally decrease through disqualification or lack of interest as they get closer to the closed sale, which is represented at the bottom of the funnel.
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Most SEO agencies are familiar with this metaphor, and many rely entirely on it to grow their business. The funnel model is a logical way to visualize the process of guiding leads toward the sale, but what comes next? The funnel suggests that once a customer has made the conversion, they disappear from your business completely.
The end goal of the sales funnel is the sale, which, in a way, suggests that you should do whatever it takes to close the deal, even when you know your services aren’t the best fit for the customer. Billy Widner, former Director of Sales at IRIO, points out that having this mindset can be detrimental to the long-term success of your company. You’re likely to end up with few repeat clients, and lots of bad reviews. Anyone working in SEO knows that the relationship with the client continues long after they sign their first contract with you. The sales funnel neglects the importance of integrating sales, marketing, and client support personnel to provide a good experience once the client has made it through the funnel.
UpBuild’s CEO, Mike Arnesen, often references a time when he worked for a funnel-happy SEO agency, and as an SEO with no control over the sales process, found himself handling over 20 clients at once. That allowed him less than 2 hours per week to dedicate to each client, which is simply not enough to provide any meaningful SEO value to the client. Additionally, it put enormous pressure on Mike and the other SEOs at the agency, as their workload was virtually impossible to manage. This is a perfect example of why the sales funnel is not the best model for SEO agencies. Mike’s prior agency followed the sales funnel perfectly and closed plenty of deals, but that was at the cost of providing clients with less than the optimal value, and eventually losing good team members and good customers.
Think about this: according to smallbiztrends.com, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60-70%, while the probability of selling to a new prospect is between 5-20%. If you’re allocating all of your resources to closing new leads, just think of how much business you could be missing out on from the people who have already hired you.
There’s no doubt that having a sound strategy in place for converting new leads is important, but let’s not overlook the fact that existing clients can make up an even larger chunk of your revenue as an agency.
What Is The Flywheel Model?
A flywheel is a device designed to efficiently store rotational energy, which makes it a great analogy to the concept of keeping customers as the focal point of your efforts and using that momentum to consistently drive more growth. Because of the shortcomings of the funnel model, many SEO agencies may want to consider turning to the flywheel model instead. The flywheel model recognizes customers as the main priority rather than as an afterthought.
When you focus on providing your clients with the best experience possible, they, in turn, become a marketing force for your agency. Obviously, your chances of a client renewing their contract with you will be much higher if they’ve had a great experience. A common scenario we see here at UpBuild (which we’re totally thrilled about!) is when a director or manager with whom we’ve worked in the past moves on to a new company and reaches out to hire us again. It’s a great example of how satisfied clients help to keep your momentum rolling as an SEO agency, above and beyond contract renewals.
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How to Use The Flywheel Model To Grow Your SEO Agency
The most important thing to understand about Flywheel marketing is that it’s all about momentum. Starting an SEO agency is very difficult at first, but with consistent effort, over time the wheel will start to spin. At a lower level, the flywheel model applies to individual marketing channels that yield self-reinforcing results. This can include earning more followers on social media, growing your email list, or turning your blog into a “must-read” SEO resource.
Let’s take a look at how the three principles of flywheel marketing pertain to an SEO agency.
This is where it starts. Attracting SEO clients is the initial push to get the flywheel spinning. Publishing quality content, building a follower base on social media, and rounding up a stocky email list are all good practices that will grow your agency over time. However, SEO requires a much higher level of trust than most other businesses. You’re not selling a product, you’re selling your team’s ability to help a business optimize for search. That makes it a bit more challenging to attract clientele. The best way to attract more leads to your SEO agency is to network in person at business conferences and events. This is a daunting idea for a lot of people, but it’s actually another example of the flywheel in marketing. Initially, it’s difficult when you show up to a networking event without a familiar face in the room. Eventually though, you will have created enough relationships in your industry that you’re greeted on a first-name basis next time you attend, and chances are you’ll get introduced to others. At that point, your network begins to reinforce itself as you solidify yourself and your agency as knowledgeable, trustworthy SEO professionals.
Let’s go back to that idea about relationships. One of the fundamental differences of the flywheel versus the funnel is that instead of the end goal being a single sale, the goal is to create a relationship that continues to benefit the client. Your clients’ success, not just close rate, should be tied to sales goals. You can start providing value for leads as soon as they enter your pipeline. There’s nothing with pointing out some low-hanging SEO fruit that would help them optimize right off the bat. At UpBuild, we spend a lot of time diving into a potential client’s site, and share our initial findings before we even close the deal. Doing so shows that we’re willing and able to dedicate our time and resources to their website to provide SEO value throughout the engagement.
Your success depends on your clients’ success. Understand your clients’ needs from the start, so you can continue to deliver exactly what’s going to help them get the most out of your engagement. As an SEO agency, you can save yourself lots of stress by hashing out the details early on in the process. In other words, be very clear about the services you provide. Does your agency work directly on the client’s website or is it more of a consultative approach? Will you write content for the client? Asking the right questions before you ask for their business will go an extremely long way in setting expectations both for the client, and for your team as you work through the engagement. For example, does the client have the development resources to implement HTML recommendations? It’s better to get the answers to these important questions before beginning work, rather than to find out the client is a poor fit after they’ve already hired you. That’s why a smooth handoff from sales to account management is so important – the people who sell the work and the people who do the work both need to be working to delight the customer through those strong relationships. Once you and the client have a clear idea of what to expect from one another, focus on exceeding those expectations and your agency will be well on its way to success.
So, Funnels or Flywheels?
The flywheel concept was designed as a standalone methodology to replace the traditional funnel, but it could be argued that both models can be used together by an SEO agency. The funnel model has its flaws, but there’s a reason why it’s so prevalently taught to sales and marketing professionals. When it comes to prospecting new leads and earning new business, it is a great tool to use. For new agencies or SEOs just getting started, you obviously won’t have many client resources to draw from, so you’ll need to start working leads through the funnel before your flywheel can spin. Even for established SEOs and agencies, having a roadmap to close new business is always a good idea. That’s where the funnel model still comes in handy.
Clients that go through the funnel land on the flywheel, and the two are always working simultaneously. Use the flywheel model to help you harness the momentum you already have and build a strategy that prioritizes your current clients. When your clients win, you win!