Yes, Ecommerce Funnels Work. But Flywheels Make You Rich

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Turning leads into customers is great, but sometimes it can feel like a completely random process. This is why ecommerce funnels exist—because they help businesses take a systematic approach to making sales. 

But there’s also more to it, seeing as your customers can also bring in new leads on their own. That’s what ecommerce flywheels are all about. 

Together, these two strategies can bring more sense—and results—to your marketing and sales process. 

Why An Ecommerce Funnel is Really Useful

In short, an ecommerce funnel makes up all the steps a lead takes to become a buying customer—from seeing one of your pages among their web search results to typing in their credit card details on your checkout page. 

Ecommerce funnels are super useful because they employ both marketing and sales tactics to fulfill the same goal: generating revenue. 

Marketing tactics put your business in front of a large target audience pool to generate interest and encourage leads to establish the first point of contact, like landing on your website from a PPC ad and entering their email addresses via a lead magnet.     

Then, the sales tactics are what turn that first point of contact into a budding relationship. Once you have a prospect’s email address, you can send them newsletters with informative content, free trials, and even discount codes. The idea is to offer something of value to get prospects to warm up to your business and eventually make a purchase.

If you were to rely solely on marketing tactics as your primary revenue driver, you would probably lose out on many potential customers. For example, a car dealership’s billboard might draw you into the parking lot, but it won’t convince you to buy a car—a good salesman will. 

Putting things into a visual context, Ahrefs’ take on the funnel includes four steps: 

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action
Ahrefs diagram of a marketing funnel

The awareness portion is designed to attract as many leads as possible. These leads are then qualified by their interest, turned into prospects who have a desire to purchase, and nurtured until they take action and become customers. Of course, some leads will drop out as they move through the stages, which is why the shape of the funnel gets smaller along the way. 

How Many Stages Do Ecommerce Funnels Have? 

There is no set number of funnel stages—some companies may use seven stages, while others might only rely on four, for example. 

It’s also worth noting that, depending on the business and its products, some funnels may be more marketing-heavy while others are more sales-oriented.

For the sake of simplicity, the right number of funnel stages is whatever works best for your business, and there are generally three major stages. 

The top of the funnel stage 

The top of the funnel (ToFu), also known as the awareness stage, aims to attract as many leads as possible through tactics like paid advertising and search engine optimization. 

Leads in this stage may not be aware of your brand and its products, but they have a general idea of their pain points and are looking to fix them. 

Your job here is to acknowledge your audience’s problems and draw them into your ecosystem so that they can learn more about possible solutions.

Suppose a lead types “how to grow a beard” in Google’s search bar. 

Google search results for how to grow a beard

Among dozens of search results, Beardbrand—an ecommerce store that handles all things men’s grooming-related—may stand out to the user because it has a catchy meta-title. Meanwhile, since the description briefly sums up some of the main answers to the search query, it may nudge visitors to click for more details. 

Snippet from Beardbrand blog post

The link leads to an in-depth blog post that doesn’t necessarily try to sell anything. It gives readers genuinely helpful advice related to their search query, offers value, and keeps visitors glued to the web page. 

That’s where the next stage of the funnel comes in. 

The middle of the funnel stage 

Also known as the interest stage, the middle of the funnel (MoFu) takes it a step further. At this point, leads already know more about their pain points and are aware of potential solutions. This is where brands start to advertise themselves as a fix to their problems. 

The middle of the funnel aims to generate interest and encourage leads to establish first contact. To drive leads down the funnel, you need to convert readers into true prospects. 

Snippet from Beardbrand blog post that says "When in doubt, ask Beardbrand"

The Beardbrand blog post from before wraps up by nudging readers to interact with the brand via a quiz or calling them for more advice. Again, Breadbrand doesn’t push its products here—it wants readers to initiate contact. 

Giving readers two ways to contact the company is clever. It helps maximize conversions by appealing to each prospect’s preferred contact method. Ultimately, both methods will drive readers to the next stage of the funnel.

Snippet from Beardbrand survey asking what type of beard grooming products do you use

By using something like a quiz, your contact method can double as a lead qualifier, gathering relevant prospect details that will come in handy later—just as long as the prospect submits their email address at the end. 

Form to enter email address to join Beardbrand's newsletter

Naturally, once you’ve captured their email address, your prospect can move down to the final stage. 

The bottom of funnel stage

The bottom of the funnel (BoFu) aims to turn the prospect’s interest into a desire and encourage conversions. Here, brands portray themselves as the best solution to a customer’s problems. 

Intro to Beardbrand survey

In BeardBrand’s funnel, users who complete the quiz are taken to a webpage that presents them with an ideal beard style based on their quiz answers. 

The page’s above-the-fold section aims to turn the user’s interest into a desire through compelling copy. It wants to resonate with the reader and hints at products related to that specific beard style.  

Results of Beardbrand quiz

Beardbrand then tries to turn that desire into action below the fold, where it displays personalized product recommendations. Each product listing is accompanied by star ratings. This adds social proof and prompts users to proceed to the checkout page. 

If that doesn’t work, however, remember that Beardbrand already captured the prospect’s email address in the quiz. It can use this as leverage to get potential customers who lost interest back in the loop.

Beardbrand email

For instance, an email from Beardbrand can consider the user’s browsing history and encourage prospects to return to a product page they once viewed. It can also reassure recipients by clearing up any potential questions about refunds and product guarantees, for example. 

Post-Sale Limitations for Ecommerce Funnels 

Although funnels successfully blend marketing and sales tactics to generate conversions, they still lack one key element—good service. The main issue with ecommerce funnels is that they are simply not designed to do much after turning prospects into customers. 

This can lead to many missed opportunities, especially if a business views customer service as a money pit. In reality, service departments can be a major revenue driver. For example, people are much more likely to stick to a brand and recommend it to others after just one stellar service experience.

Of course, retaining existing customers is also more cost-effective than acquiring new ones—and most sales funnels strictly focus on customer acquisition. 

That’s where the flywheel comes in handy. 

Ecommerce Funnel + Flywheel Is The Way

Just like ecommerce funnels, flywheels aim to attract leads and turn them into customers. However, flywheels also aim to move leads throughout all the stages with an emphasis on good customer experiences. 

In other words, while funnels simply try to drive leads from point A to point B via sales and marketing tactics, flywheels add a layer of customer service to the same cycle. If successful, this can lead to a steadier flow of repeat purchases, and satisfied customers may also generate leads on their own through referrals, positive reviews, and so on. 

Keep in mind that you don’t have to choose between a funnel and a flywheel strategy. Instead, you can use the funnel to generate new customers, and then you can apply the flywheel to keep momentum going. 

Of course, this ultimately requires you to adopt a user-centric approach. You want to make it as easy as possible for customers to contact you through any of their preferred channels, and you should also make the post-purchase experience as satisfying as possible. 

Meanwhile, your marketing content should focus more on providing value to customers rather than offering them products. For example, instead of blasting out new product announcements. consider sending newsletters with tips and tricks, how-to blog articles, and relevant updates.

The purchase experience itself also needs to be as convenient as possible. You may want to leverage heat mapping tools to see how visitors behave on your website and adjust your design accordingly. Make sure to include the payment options your customers find most convenient. 

Conclusion

If you have great marketing, a good sales team, and a satisfying post-purchase customer journey, then you are in good shape to pull in loads of revenue with a combination of funnel and flywheel in your approach. 

That said, your ecommerce website still has to be neat and tidy—because no matter how many leads you attract at the top of your funnel, a janky website will result in a high bounce rate. 

If you don’t have an ecommerce website set up yet, be sure to do your research and find the best platform for your specific needs. 

Shopify is a great option if you want to start selling right away. Otherwise, BigCommerce is more complex and offers a wide range of advanced features.



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