One of the most important things brands can do is to have a focused strategy and tactical plan for affiliate engagement. The success of any partner or affiliate program ultimately relies on the active participation and engagement of partners.
Taking a proactive approach to affiliate relationships is more important than ever. Affiliates will long remember the brands that took the time and made the effort to ensure that their programs were mutually beneficial.
Partnership people are naturally good communicators and connectors. By taking a methodical and strategic approach to cultivating stronger and more productive affiliate relationships, you not only get better results now, but also ensure even better performance in the future. Here is an eight-step plan to maximizing affiliate engagement.
Begin by Segmenting Your Affiliates Into Major and Longtail Segments
Defining your list of top priority partnerships is a critical part of running a successful program. Knowing your top affiliates gives you visibility into your most critical engagements and which affiliates warrant the bulk of your time and attention.
It’s also important to identify both the affiliates that are currently driving a strong portion of total sales and those that are smaller but fast-growing. Such “emerging” affiliates sometimes warrant personal attention because they are clearly demonstrating the potential value they can drive for your business.
Brands often ask, how many affiliates should I classify as “majors?” In our experience, every brand is a bit different. In many cases, there are natural breaks in the percentage of business that comes from a list of affiliates. It’s also essential is to make a realistic assessment of the amount of time and attention your team can pay to individual relationships. One person teams probably need to prioritize fewer relationships. By contrast, larger teams can prioritize more.
Create a Personal Communication Plan for Your Major Affiliates
In this step, focus on scheduling quality, strategic conversations. We often suggest that monthly or more frequent check-ins are valuable here.
In those conversations, the following question list may be helpful.
- How are we doing? Are there any interesting things you are seeing in our program performance? Do you have any suggestions for optimization?
- What news should I share that will help this affiliate make more money? Am I changing program commissions or rules? Offering a short-term promotion?
- What is really going on in the category? Affiliates are an outstanding source for industry intelligence.
- What’s new? Do you have new programs that might be useful/lucrative for us?
- Are there any outstanding issues between us that need to be addressed?
Build a Longtail Communication Program for Your Affiliates
Most brands don’t have the luxury of resources to build direct, personal relationships with every affiliate. But they can use CRM tools like a monthly newsletter to keep programs and offers top of mind.
Most programs are well served by monthly email communications. You may want to adjust frequency based on how often you field new programs or make changes to ongoing programs.
The key to remember is that communication improves results no matter what size the affiliates.
Periodically Review Your Affiliate Mix
Working with a variety of affiliates helps diversify and grow your revenue streams. To start, look at the following types of affiliates and see if you have considered all of the following:
Evaluate the relative program performance of each type of partner. Where a specific category is performing well, explore ways to improve communication and attention to sites in that category. If you are missing or under-utilizing some of these affiliate types, consider ways to incorporate them in specific programs based on your strategic goals.
- Voucher/Coupon Sites
- Search and PPC
- Content & Editorial
- Brand Partners
Evaluate the relative program performance of each type of affiliate. Where a specific category is performing well, explore ways to improve communication and attention to sites in that category. If you are missing or under-utilizing some of these affiliates types, consider ways to incorporate them in specific programs based on your strategic goals.
Process Any New Affiliate Applications Quickly
If your program is officially open to new affiliates, processing applications in a timely manner is very important.
When a prospective affiliate is interested in joining your program, they have a high degree of passion and engagement for your brand. By responding in a timely manner, advertisers can improve affiliate perceptions.
This can be particularly important in highly competitive categories. Some brands respond to prospective affiliate on the same day. Others may take a month or longer.
By responding in a timely manner, advertisers can improve affiliate perceptions.
Pay Affiliates As Fast As Possible
The no-brainer. There’s no faster way to sour an affiliate relationship than by making them wait a long time to be paid.
Advertisers that live up to their agreements consistently get better results in-market. Affiliates often rely on affiliate revenue for the bulk of their income, so timely payment is really a must if you wish to have positive relationships with them.
Affiliates long remember which brands are good payers, and which ones always make them wait.
Periodically Reach Out for Updates on Tech and Targeting Options From Key Affiliates
A growing number of affiliates have very sophisticated targeting and technology capabilities that can be of significant benefit to advertisers with specific business objectives like customer acquisition, driving increases in lifetime value, delivering high average AOV or the like.
When affiliates have such tech, you want to be the first brand that they call to utilize it. Usually this requires you to share some specific data points with them, like whether a customer is new to file or a repeat buyer.
A good tech provider can make that data sharing easy and secure and limit the sharing to specific affiliates.
Benchmark Your Affiliate Programs
It’s always important to understand the affiliates programs and offers that are being fielded in your category, so you can be sure to deliver competitive incentives.
Affiliates focus their energy on programs most likely to deliver great financial results. If your offers are not competitive, it will be less likely that your offers will make the cut. This can be particularly important if you are applying more sophisticated approaches to commissioning.
For example, an advertiser that compensates only for new customer sales must ensure that their offers are far more lucrative on a per-sale basis — otherwise, affiliates will support programs that are less selective.
Affiliate partnerships work best when the parties have a close working relationship. By making affiliate communications and engagement a focus, you take the first step in helping drive better results in the future. While it takes effort, the results more than pay off in the end.
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