As part of our recent Small Business Resource For Selling On The Internet (see below), we asked three seasoned affiliate managers to answer some questions about starting an affiliate program. Here’s what they had to say.
SMS: If you could only provide one bit of advice to a new business wanting to launch an affiliate program, what would it be?
Geno Prussakov: Before getting your feet wet, make sure you align your expectations with realities, educating yourself on affiliate marketing to clearly understand what it is, and how it works. False assumptions married with a lack of education always pave a sure path to trouble.
Chuck Hamrick: Make sure your site is converting before pitching an affiliate program. Affiliate programs are not branding devices, but can provide additional branding when mature. Know your conversion and test with paid search. Once you burn an affiliate, they won’t come back.
Paul Schroader: Know your site’s metrics before launch. If you don’t know the basics like conversion rate, average order value, and seasonal trends, it will be difficult to develop relationships with top affiliates.
SMS: If you could only add one thing to an affiliate agreement, what would it be?
Geno: A Promotion Restrictions and Recommendations clause. Merchants must clearly spell out any restrictions they want affiliates to be aware of, as well as any rules they expect affiliates to comply with. This would include, but should not be limited to:
- Trademark policies (merchant trademark use in domains, paid search campaigns, SEO-specific contexts, etc.)
- Any rules for specific types of affiliates (coupon and discount sites, loyalty programs/websites, rebate affiliates, etc.)
- Mandatory disclosures of the performance marketing relationship existing between affiliates and the merchant
Chuck: A clearly defined trademark policy, as it is difficult to rein this in after the fact. Make sure you define if affiliates can bid on your trademark or use it in the title and ad copy of paid listings. Also, can they direct link? The more liberal, the more sales — but it can cannibalize your own efforts if not properly managed.
Paul: A mutual responsiveness clause. I don’t think there’s anything more frustrating for an affiliate or an affiliate manager than not hearing back on something important. The industry has evolved and all parties must up their level of professionalism when it comes to communications.
SMS: What are your top three best practices that you recommend every merchant follow right from the start?
Geno: Every affiliate program manager must practice these three components of transformational leadership: (i) inspirational motivation (motivating affiliates to be inspired and committed), (ii) intellectual stimulation (encouraging affiliates to think for themselves, to think about old problems in new ways, and be continuously innovating and growing), and (iii) individualized consideration (yes, this one will be hard, but it’s well worth it!).
Chuck: Offer coupon codes which can get you leverage on hundreds of deal sites (your competitors do!). Offer exclusive codes to top affiliates and co-branded landing pages. Build 2-3 tiers and offer a VIP commission to top affiliates right off the bat (they expect it).
Paul: Open communications — phone number and email address should be included in every communication. Clear / comprehensive Terms and Conditions — affiliates should easily understand where your program stands on trademark bidding, direct linking, downloadable applications, etc. Treat affiliates as partners — many merchants find themselves almost resenting affiliate sales. They often feel that affiliates are stealing sales from other channels when in fact they are providing incremental sales.
SMS: What is your most recommended way to recruit reliable affiliates?
Geno: I’ll give you two — one quick and the other more time-consuming. Go after your competitor’s highest producers. The other one is to grow your own super affiliates out of people with strong influence in your niche, but no affiliate marketing experience. I’ve seen the latter method work well (maybe because the affiliate’s loyalty then becomes a natural component of the relationship).
Chuck: Develop a relationship with affiliates by being active on forums, article writing, via Facebook/Twitter, and networking at conferences. When you solicit them, make it a personal email. Use a contact manager to track communication and expect super affiliates to take six months to join. Top affiliates get 1,000 emails a day so make the subject line count. Understand that in Q4 they are focused on the site and not adding new merchants, and Q3 is prep for Q4, so use the first half of the year for recruiting.
Paul: Networking. Whether it be face-to-face opportunities like conferences and industry meet-ups or online methods such as forums and social media, there is no better way to attract reliable affiliates than direct communications through networking.
SMS: What is one of your most effective ways to get affiliates actively engaged in a new affiliate program?
Geno: I’ve seen that giving them a fishing pole is always significantly better than giving them the fish. While cash bonuses, prizes, ready-made content, and templates do work, you don’t want to limit your management style to just those. Motivate your affiliates with opportunities to succeed (through tools, new methods, etc.) and do factor in an extrinsic component (e.g., commission increase) in there too.
Chuck: There isn’t one, but many. Offer a first sale bonus. Show a range of commission tiers and performance incentives. Provide information and details so they don’t have to search for it. Send content directly to them via email and newsletters. Pre-position promotions, specials, and seasonal sales so they have time to publish and advertise. Launch a datafeed when you launch the program. Make sure you have product images as banners in the program for non-datafeeders.
Paul: By directly showing the actual potential to make money based on average order value and conversion rate.
About the Authors
Geno Prussakov is a Cambridge graduate, the author of A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing (2007) and Affiliate Program Management: An Hour a Day (2011), acclaimed affiliate marketing expert, the mastermind behind AM Navigator. and the founder of Affilinomics, provider of full-service affiliate program management services.
Chuck Hamrick is an outsourced program manager (OPM) in Park City, UT managing affiliate programs. Programs managed: Blue Man Vegas, CityPass, Ancestry, Register, Proform, Rug Doctor, FetchDog, Bosley, LiveStrongFitness. Active in online marketing since 1999 with SEO, PPC, email marketing and lead gen. Contact him at email@example.com or 435-277-0449.
Paul Schroader has been in Interactive Marketing more than 15 years with the last 10 spent specializing in affiliate marketing. Paul has helped clients like TMP Worldwide (Monster.com), Oreck, Tabasco, Logoworks, Blanchard and Company and Blue Man Group integrate efficient online advertising programs into existing marketing plans. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-823-2602 x101.
The SMS Small Business Resource For Selling On The Internet is a starting point to search for providers of online marketing services in the areas of Search, Ecommerce, Web Hosting, and Affiliate Marketing. To access a copy of the directory resource, click here.
For more information about affiliate marketing in general, read our other posts in that category and visit ABestWeb to connect with other affiliate marketers and those interested in learning more about affiliate marketing.