April 12, 2023

Video: Growth flywheel or funnel? Or... bowling alley?

In this video interview, growth experts discuss the differences between funnels and flywheels as models for growth. But there's one more lesser-known growth model you might want to consider: the Bowling Alley Framework.

Wes Bush, CEO of ProductLed, introduces the Bowling Alley framework to help turn users into happy paying customers. When users get sidetracked or leave your product, Wes suggests that it’s our job to nudge them back in the right direction with bumpers inside the product (product bumpers) and outside (conversational bumpers). Putting up the right bumpers helps users avoid pitfalls and guides them to your desired outcome.

Companies can avoid losing 40 to 60% of their users after the first sign-up by using the Bowling Alley framework to help users see success early and experience the value of the product. Just watch and learn!

P.S. We've included the full transcript from this interview for your reading pleasure:

Jonathan Kim:
I think both are appropriate in different ways. Funnels are a really easy to wrap your head around, because you have a very clear start and you have a really clear end and you don't have to care about either sides. If you just want to focus on optimizing like some small piece of the overall picture funnels are great. We look at getting people to the point of activation, and you can break that down into an individual funnel that is still part of a larger flywheel. But flywheels at the end of the day are where everything needs to head. So without seeing that in the broader picture or knowing that you're working towards that, you're just never done. A flywheel is in my mind, a bunch of funnels all put together. So you're trying to get users from being evaluating your product into being beginners, and then into regulars, and eventually into champions. And you can break each one of those ages down into the individual steps that need to happen. But if you make it to the end, then you're back at the beginning again. So it's all a flywheel and it's all funnels too.

David Apple:
Flywheel is the organic growth engine. It's always like a new signup generates another new signup, which generates another new signup. At Typeform, we call that the K Factor, and we knew that every signup brought another 0.5 signups. So it's just a never ending growth engine. It's like when you have over a 100% net retention, your existing customer base is alone, is a business that's always going to grow. And that's what you want.

Tanya Littlefield:
The funnel really goes to the point of we drive all of these people down to this particular point and then we let go of them. If that was the case, I wouldn't have a job. Since I really pick up where somebody has already converted as a paid customer on how do we engage and retain them. It is a flywheel because you are building out that new top of funnel, but then you're engaging people and you're moving them to advocacy to drive more top a funnel.

Wes Bush:
So one of the things or most common problems a lot of companies have is, how do I turn my users into happy paying customers? And we all want, let's say, this perfect business that runs on its own and it starts just converting all these users into paying customers. But a lot of people just don't know what's the first step, how do we really approach this? And so one of the things after working with SaaS companies for the last five years and really just trying to, well, by doing so many things wrong, finally figured out there's a specific pattern that we could all use to help us help our users become successful. So that is a no-brainer for them to become paying customers. And so I call it the Bowling Alley framework. And so if you're familiar with bowling, essentially what you're trying to do is you roll that ball down the straight line part of the bowling alley, and you're trying to knock down as many pins as possible and hopefully strike out.

And so in your product, when you think about that first experience in the product, how can we get people to strike out? And that's the goal here. We want to find what is that straight line from point A that's from signing up to actually going to the product and seeing value. What are the things that someone actually has to do in that product to get to that point where they say, "Damn, that's a strike. I want to go back to this product," because according to Intercom, 40 to 60% of users will sign up once and never come back, and it's a plague. In SaaS, most people don't even recognize it or have that stat, because they're not measuring it. And so if you build that straight line onboarding experience, you can really fast track people to seeing value in your product. But much like bowling don't, I'm not sure if you know this, but bowling actually had a really big issue.

They noticed that a lot of the people who were playing bowling were just the very experienced people playing bowling. And so they saw there was not a lot of new folks playing bowling, and they kind of were scratching their heads thinking to themselves, "How are we going to solve this problem?" And so they started asking themselves some pretty big questions like, "How are you going to scale this business? How are we going to retain people?" And so they came up with the idea of bumpers. And so if you think about it, if you're a kid and you're versing your parents, yeah, there's a pretty slim chance you're going to win unless you're, you have been practicing a lot. And so what they started to do is put bumpers up on the bowling alleys to really make sure that even a beginner could see success. Now, whenever it comes to your product, how easy is it to get into the gutter?

You're going to be trying something new, exploring the product, and it's all going to be new. You don't know what to do. It's your first time and it's okay to fail, but how can we make sure that it's almost impossible for them to fail? It actually make it easy for them to see success. And so what I recommend is really layering on two bumpers. The first one's your product bumper. So whether it's using onboarding tool tips, product tours, to really just show people, here's the way of seeing success in the product. And then the other side is the conversational bumper. So what are the signals that people are telling you based on what they are and aren't doing? So for instance, if someone doesn't do the quick win in your product, are you actually sending them an email or a reminder and saying, "Hey, like you forgot to do this one step."

If you do this one step, you'll see all these benefits. So here's the link to do that, and how can we make that super easy for people to do? And so together, the bowling alley framework really just has three components. The first one, make that fast track towards someone seeing value. That is your straight line onboarding experience. The second part is the product bumper. How can we really use and guide people through the product so they can get to the right checkpoints in the product so they can eventually see success? And then the last one is the conversational bumper, which is essentially what are people doing and not doing in the product and how can we bump them back onto that straight line onboarding experience so that they can all strike out.

Margaret is a marketing advisor for B2B SaaS companies. Prior to founding her consulting practice, Margaret led marketing at OpenView and content at Appcues. Before that, she spent almost 4 years building and scaling content programs for InVision’s design community. She appreciates out-of-the-box creative ideas, practical executions, and Oxford commas.

Learn more