A while ago I was talking with a client and trying to explain there are vast differences in marketing and being an Affiliate Marketer. The Client thought that because they are Marketers they are the same as an Affiliate. Although that is true to an extent, there are huge differences and communication needs to be handled differently.
I tried to explain that when you send a newsletter, it is teaching how to sell your product and not pitching them. I had to explain it is B2B and B2C at the same time as well as the difference your creatives need to have for this channel since the Affiliate presells and the banner doesn’t have to. The Client never completely got the difference so I asked them a couple of questions. “Can you leave your job right now, start a website and make a living without relying on a paycheck? Do you know SEO, PPC, can you code, work on conversion rates, set up newsletters and mailings, be familiar with social media and drive sales from it to support yourself? If not, then you are not an Affiliate Marketer and if you can, then why aren’t you doing it?” Until you can do that, you need to learn how to speak with and to Affiliates, remove the fluff and give them what they need. They already have the interest in your company, you just need to give them the tools to succeed.
The conversation didn’t go well and I never did get what I needed as they wouldn’t budge. In return, the program showed minimal growth. The mind set was that we are all Marketers and all Marketers are the same. What companies don’t always get is that they need to step out of their own world and realize there is competition out there that will enable your potential partners to leave you and promote them because they have the power. In all honesty, Affiliates don’t need you. There are ad networks, direct buys, competitors, etc… If they have their own traffic and you don’t have access to it, they are in the winners seat, not you. So what is the point of this post?
Here is what you need to do to work with your Affiliates and make your program become more successful.
1. Give them newsletters with no fluff.
Tell your Affiliates the network you are on, what the point is and leave out the fluff. Include Affiliate links with IDs in the newsletter if you talk about links, banners or deals and give them a way to contact you with questions. Don’t just say you have deals and make them log into the network.
2. Watch the competition and be ready to test and make changes
Depending on your niche you’ll find out that set cookie lives are no longer going to work. Sometimes you need lifetime cookies and recurring commissions. This is especially true in the B2B and marketing tools space. If you continue to have a lower commission and only limited time payouts, guess what, your Affiliates will leave because a smaller commission but for the lifetime of the customer will make them more money and that is what their goal is, making money and providing an income for themselves and their families. 10% over a lifetime of a customer is usually better than 100% one time. That is a partnership and gives you as a Merchant a heck of a lot of extremely valuable data to grow other channels.
3. Cut custom deals with partners who can produce quality traffic for you
If a giant opportunity comes along with a partner that can reach an audience you cannot reach on your own, don’t be afraid to cut a custom deal. Give them 100% of the sale if you are on a continuity plan or take a loss on the first order. If you get repeat business or have regular reorders, who cares about the first sale or two. You may lose money on the first one or two but you’ll have that customer for life and make more in the long run by having access to these people if your product or service really is that good. If you don’t do it, your competition will and the opportunity to work with that partner (who has the audience you cannot reach on your own), and you opportunity with them will slowly fade and you’ll have to spend more to get it back later.
4. If you hire an Agency, let them use their brand
Tons of companies want you to use their email addresses instead of your own when you’re an agency, Affiliate Management Company or OPM. What happens with this is that you lose their brand and the value that comes with it. If I am sending emails from firstname.lastname@example.org and not having my email or my company’s email address, guess what, partners and people I have worked with in the past tend to ignore it because they don’t recognize the name instantly, and it is harder to get back to them. At trade shows, when I’m representing 5 or 6 companies, it is 10x easier to provide people I meet with 1 email address than it is to write to 5. It’s also easier to keep up with 1 from a show than it is 10. Plus, from that one email, I can push all programs or just the ones the person is interested about with one or two complimentary ones. By using my own company email, I can respond quicker when using 1 email address since everything is coming to one and have all programs in the signature providing everyone with more exposure. You hire an agency because of their experience and because of their brand recognition. Loosing that brand over something like an email address or phone number can and will hurt the potential of your program to grow as fast and be as effective at shows and for recruiting. General email address also tend to get ignored more because they can and do look like mass mailings instead of individually sent recruitment emails.
5. Go to shows or have a presence with your Agency
When you hear about a show coming up like Affiliate Summit, Blog Her, Pubcon, etc… go to it or pay to have your agency go. Many times you can see if your agency has other clients who would want to be there and that can reduce the costs as well since they will be split amongst clients. If you are paying the premium fees for that agency, most of the time they will go and it won’t cost you a penny, except for custom marketing materials. These shows are a great way to get in front of potential partners and show that there are dedicated people to help them with your program if they ever have questions. If your competition is there and you are not, they will win the loyalty and trust of your partners because of the relationship built by seeing and talking to a real person.
6. Keep everything up to date and have new options
If your program goes stale by only having the same creatives, not adding new themes, new landing pages, holiday banners, etc… there is no reason to come back and look at you again. New creatives and landing pages can help to get your partners attention, and if you talk about the different combinations of banners to landing pages and their conversion rates, you may be able to get your partners to begin testing them out and your program can have the ability to start to grow again if it has hit a plateau or stabilized. Think about when the last time you updated your landing pages, banners, etc… was and when the last time you created a new keyword and negative list for your partners. Now think about what you already have and can send to them with data backing up the improvements to re-motivate them into trying them out and growing your sales.
7. Remember, you do not own their sites, they do
One thing that is sure to anger your Affiliates is to treat them like an employee or threaten them. Remember, they do not work for you and you do not own their websites. If you are not happy with what they have, in a friendly way, make suggestions or ask them to remove or change their content. Do not demand it and threaten them with removals, etc… If they don’t agree to work with you or change the copy, you can remove them from the program and just lose out on their sales. At the same time, they can always replace you with someone else or with an ad network and continue to make money. If you find something wrong on a site, write them in a friendly way and make a suggestion. You may also want to suggest a tip or two if you see other opportunities for them to work with you or grow their own site. You want to try and come across as helpful and wanting them to grow, instead of making demands or threatening them which may make them want to leave your program for a competitor.
8. Clearly define your rules and do not make exceptions (promotions)
If you don’t allow trademark bidding, adware, etc… Don’t make exceptions. If one Affiliate gets to do it, you’ll make the others feel lesser than them. If I am doing generic PPC for you but you allow one or two people to bid on your trademarks, I’m going to get pissed and demand the same or leave for a competitor. I’ll probably also blast you on a forum as being unfair. Trademark bidding is usually the easiest way to make a sale since it is normally poaching your current customers and bidding on trademarks is much harder and actually adds value. If you don’t allow adware in your terms and conditions, but you have adware partners, you have now lied to your non adware Affiliates and that is definitely not a good thing as your trust is broken and they may not believe or worse, begin promoting your competition instead. You need to stick with your terms and conditions or alter them and let your partners know since it can and will have an effect on their income.
9. Answer questions 24/7
Just because you have a 9 to 5 job doesn’t mean you should only work those hours. Many new Affiliates start working on their sites after they leave their 9 to 5 jobs. Others work on weekends only. When they write to you, your company is on their mind right then and there and they are ready to promote you. Answer them ASAP to not only let them know you are attentive and will support them, but also so that they don’t lose interest in your program and you get put on the back burner. Check your email on the weekend, in the evening and before bedtime. You should also check it before you leave for work in the morning. You want to always make sure you are answering questions as much and as quickly as possible. This is another reason why if you have an agency or OPM you may want to let them use their own email accounts.
10. Their lives depend on it, yours doesn’t
If you aren’t there to support your Affiliates, they have no reason to stay. You get a paycheck from your company regardless if you working around the clock or not. They only get paid when they can drive sales. Affiliates need support, someone to contact and to be paid on time. This is how they make a living, support their families and pay their bills. By not answering questions, paying on time and being there for them, you are not doing your job as a Manager and they will eventually find someone who does care and realizes that what you consider a 9 to 5, they consider their livelihood. If you don’t have time to show you care and cannot support them on weekends and at night, hire an agency who is very hands on and will. By letting your partners know you are there to make sure they have access to someone who can help them succeed, you’ll be able to show you care about their livelihood and they will probably be happier to work with you instead of your competition.
Before you think that all Marketers are the same, remember that we are not. Think about what it is like to be an Affiliate and not have the security of a paycheck or a 9 to 5 job. Affiliates have to pay for their own retirement, health insurance, etc… Now think about your company as your own business and not just a 9 to 5. Do you have to rely on numerous channels and be able to make them work to survive? Probably not. Now think about how to talk to someone who is always busy and doesn’t have much time and is dependent on you to pay them on time, their traffic to continue to grow and not having a company with a paycheck to make them feel secure. Once you do that you can more effectively communicate with your Affiliate partners and then your program can start to grow. Affiliates are marketers, but not all Marketers are Affiliates. Remember, their lives depend on their sites, yours depends on a 9 to 5.