One of the best ways to increase your amount of inbound leads is by building a robust and active Affiliate Program.
First things first…what exactly is an affiliate program?
There are lots of definitions out there, but I took one of the simpler explanations:
An affiliate marketing program is a method for building partnerships with bloggers and influencers in your space that have an online audience and paying them per lead they send to your site. Usually you both sign an agreement at a set cost per conversion on your site. The partnership is mutually beneficial in that they benefit by monetizing traffic to their site, and you benefit by having an influencer vouch for your product and send qualified traffic to your site.’ — GrowthMarketingPro.com
Basically, you are leveraging a partner’s audience to promote your brand or product and refer new customers. In exchange, this blogger or influencer of sorts will receive some sort of compensation.
You are likely a good fit for starting your own affiliate program if your company sells something. What you sell will impact which types of bloggers & influencers you want to partner with. Often times, the more niche you define your audience the better because it will make it much much easier to find potential affiliate promoters.
There are lots of platforms you can use to set up your Affiliate Program with little to no hassle. Ironically, I am not an affiliate for any of these (I do not get a kickback if you decide to sign up for one over another), but the one I’ve used most (and to most success) is Omni Affiliate. For a number of reasons, it’s super easy to use and extremely powerful. If that one does not look so appealing to you, there are tons of alternatives and I strongly recommend you do your research, demo a number of management softwares, and find the one that fits best for your needs. If you are hesitant to make the investment up front, you can always go the old google sheets route and manage it all manually.
If executed correctly, affiliate programs can be extremely powerful drivers of growth. When I worked at RealtyShares, we grew our Affiliate Program 9x in less than a year. More importantly, it came to be one of our most influential marketing channels.
The opportunities in Affiliate Marketing are HUGE. Don’t believe me? Here are a few crazy stats:
- US Affiliate Marketing Spend is nearly $5B! That’s twice the economy of Beliz.
- UK Affiliate Marketing drives ~ 1% of the Country’s Total GDP
- Over 80% of Brands are Involved in Affiliate Marketing
Look to brands like Amazon, who maintain a ridiculously efficient and powerful network of millions of affiliates for examples of what a good program can look like if done right.
Not all programs run so smoothly. In fact, the internet is full of poorly run and mismanaged systems.
The question I hope to answer for you today is what separates the junk from the really successful Affiliate Programs.
Of course, there is no prescriptive recipe you can follow that guarantees success. To me, the best marketers are those that can simply build experiments, test assumptions, and iterate over their ideas quickly. Affiliate marketing is really no exception. Here are just a few tips and heuristics I’ve picked up through my experiences that should be helpful!
# 1 — It’s about relationships!
If you take anything away from this article, be it this point: affiliate marketing is about building authentic relationships with your two key stakeholders: publishers and consumers.
Publishers are your middlemen. They are the bridge between your product and the end user. They are bloggers, Youtubers, internet influencers — anyone with an audience!
They are NOT your employees. In fact, they are your partners. They need ownership. They need to feel responsible for the success of your product. If they win, you win.
Too many brands with affiliate programs sit on a high horse and treat their affiliates like employees. They tell them what to do, instead of talk through and understand what should be done.
You need to invest significant time in learning how to empathize with these affiliates and figure out their own personal goals and aspirations. Do they want to grow their blog? How can you help them do that…while still promoting your brand and increasing your own ROI? These are tough questions to answer — but so long as you approach the problem with this mentality, you will all be better off.
Consumers are your customers. They are the ones who see the affiliate link/form and then complete the action (click, submit, etc.). It is important to really understand the mindset of these people. For Affiliate Marketing, this is especially important, as how you portray these users will dictate much of your decision making around design of your affiliate system. If you glaze over this step, your program (and marketing as a whole) will likely be ineffective!
# 2 — Throw Lots of Darts
I think of marketing as a game of darts. You aim your best but if it does not hit the bullseye you get to throw again (until you run out of darts). In marketing, you have a set of assumptions that you are trying to test. Your darts are your strategies/channels. You build experiments to see how well these strategies perform and you get to keep iterating until you run out of $$$.
The biggest obstacle that you will face, early on, in building out your affiliate program will be figuring out not only how to get bloggers as partners, but also which affiliates will be most valuable.
The best way to tackle this is to build an experiment and throw lots of darts. State your hypotheses and iterate.
So where should you aim?
First identify exactly what type of blogger you *think* would be best for promoting your product.
How to do that?
Ask yourself where your consumers are spending their time. Who are they most influenced by? What do they read?
Then figure out exactly what that blogger looks like. How many readers do they have? Are they already in affiliate programs? Are they in an affiliate network?
These are all questions you want to have solid answers to well before you start reaching out to people. Remember, your answers are fluid and likely to change — they are just the assumptions that will guide your decision making.
Once you get a clear-ish picture of who you think may be a good fit, design some email copy to go out, inviting affiliates to your program. A lot of the management software that I pointed out earlier in this article have built in features for invitations and designing your onboarding process for new affiliates. Use those!
Do not get discouraged if people do not respond early on. It takes practice! Like anything in marketing, you may have to throw lots of darts! If they do not respond the first time, iterate, and try again!
# 3 — Make it easy to say yes
You want it to be really easy for affiliates to help you out. That means you should provide them with all the information, tools, and resources they could possibly need to be the best affiliates on earth!
Some examples of that include:
- Best copy practices (like how they should include your links in their products)
- Digital media — like banner ads and other things that they can use on their site
- Tips for helping them grow their blog (remember, if they win, you win)
Often times, we overcomplicate our ask which makes it hard for bloggers to say yes to joining our affiliate program.
Assume these people are popular. They get tons of emails. NO ONE LIKES EMAILS.
Be succinct with your ask and make it easy for your future partner to say yes.
# 4 — Track the right things
A hard part about affiliate marketing is that there is a lot of moving pieces and important players. You have to reach out to affiliates. You have to give them the right copy. You have to track the ROI. You have to see if your compensation is working. You have to constantly be changing things up to avoid getting stale.
It is not easy.
That is why most people:
b) run a poor program
It is crucial in marketing, especially with an affiliate marketing, to track the things that matter. You must be able to filter the signal from the noise.
You may think that one affiliate who refers a ton of sign-ups is doing an incredible job. Heck, you are paying them tons of money in compensation!
Until you find out that they are referring poor leads.
Instead, you should be tracking the lifetime value of the customers that they are referring. But, you did not, and it cost you big time!
This is just one complication that goes into managing your affiliate program. It is important to align your marketing strategy with the vision and progress of the company, as to make sure you have the right metrics in place!
Anyways, this was just a brief dive into the complicated nature, yet huge opportunity in setting up an affiliate program for your business.
Thanks so much for reading! My name is Jordan Gonen and I write blog posts every day. It would mean a ton to me if you could:
If you ever have any questions, send me an email jordangonen1 at gmail dot com ! Thanks so much!