A Quick Guide to Affiliate Program Management 

 

Want to generate more traffic and sales? Tap into other people’s audiences. They’re not your target audience, so it’s a new landscape of opportunity. Affiliate management is a form of performance marketing that is done through associates and partners of your brand. Affiliate marketers can be influencers, bloggers, brand advocates, salespeople, or part of a larger marketing agency.

However, the mistake many companies make is setting up their affiliate marketing strategies and letting it run on autopilot. Although over 81% of merchants surveyed use affiliate marketing to attract customers and generate sales, only a few realize the importance of proactive management and communication. 

This is not a “set it and forget it” system. Many companies turn to affiliate networks and third-parties to help optimize their programs.

What is Affiliate Program Management?

Affiliate program management is the development, management, and measurement of your affiliate marketing strategies. Whether you run your program through affiliate networking or in-house, a program manager is necessary to oversee operations. It’s important to hire a professional in this instance. A lot of money can go into recruiting affiliates, so look for talent that has the know-how and experience developing, protecting, and optimizing affiliate programs. 

If you cannot hire someone in-house, outsourcing an affiliate program manager is the next step. There are numerous affiliate management agencies (also called outsourced program management (OPM)) who specialize in this particular niche. 

You want a network of affiliate partners whose core competency lies in affiliate sales and customer acquisition. Successful affiliates offer specific services like:

  • Affiliate recruiting and onboarding
  • Affiliate program setup
  • Competitive and gap analyses
  • Affiliate marketing program optimization
  • Compliance policing

If you hire an OPM, there is no need to invest in training or factor in payroll taxes. However, it can be costly. A small business might want to consider an affiliate manager to oversee a modest marketing team.

Pros and Cons of Affiliate Program Management

Like any form of digital marketing, whether it’s PPC, social media, or email, there are advantages and disadvantages to using affiliate sites. That’s why researching the method is important before you throw money away. Education helps determine who the right people are for the job and the rogue affiliates to stay away from.

Advantages

Helps E-commerce

Affiliates drive traffic and increase conversions. If you are running an e-commerce business, hiring an affiliate is one of the most effective strategies for online marketing. Additionally, consumers coming from an affiliate site can provide a brand with important information about upcoming trends and purchasing decisions.

Low Up-Front Costs

Online merchants get free ad space. They only pay for proven results (such as pay per sale, pay per click, or pay per lead). Although setting up the program may require a few fees, the entire strategy follows a pay-by-performance method. This leaves little room to waste money on poor performance or dead-end marketing.

New Audience

Brands get exponential exposure and recognition from audience pools that they may have never considered. By connecting with an affiliate, your product/service is put in front of new groups of people.

Disadvantages

Purely Financial

Unlike influencers and brand advocates who rely on trust and growth, most types of affiliate relationships are purely financial. Rewards are monetary in nature and strategies are bought, rather than developed.

Poor SEO

Google hates affiliate links. The search engine recognizes there are payouts behind them and thus refuses to further promote. They do not count these links as editorial backlinks. This can be circumvented when a company creates a separate landing page for large affiliate links.

Misaligned Values

The bigger your company, the easier it is to damage the reputation. It is critical that any data feed an affiliate is associated with, aligns perfectly with the brand’s messaging and values. Establishing the right affiliate guidelines early on makes the relationship easier.

5 Steps for Succesful Affiliate Program Management

1. Recruiting

The first time you initiate a program, you need to recruit new affiliates. LinkedIn is a great platform to start or you can hire a program manager to supervise the hiring process.

 2. Activation

Activation is the process by which the program manager works with the affiliate (individual, network, or agency) to get the ball rolling on campaigns. It happens in three phases:

  1. Recruitment. This involves motivating people to join the affiliate program and generate their first conversion/lead/sale. 
  2. Welcome. The second phase requires continuous motivation from the program manager to push for results. An application approval email is sent out to affiliates welcoming them.
  3. Routine. Now the magic happens. The manager will start running aggressive campaigns to motivate new recruits and those running low on gas.

3. Policing

Just because you have established standards, it doesn’t always mean everyone will comply. A vigilant and experienced affiliate marketing program manager keeps their eye on the ball. They work to identify those who don’t perform and take measures to replace them.

4. Communication

Open communication with affiliates is essential for your program’s success. It is the key component to any affiliate program management system. The manager should be working to maintain good relationships with affiliates, hire new people, and motivate everyone on the team. 

5. Optimization

To ensure the success of any digital program, you have to continuously measure results and outcomes. The program manager should not only be monitoring the behavior of your affiliates but the competition as well. What is working? How can you align the brand with what people want right now? This helps to identify and exploit new opportunities that strengthen the program. 

A business should set the program manager up for success with the right tools. Affiliate program management software will help to track the referral, endorsement, links, and activity of your affiliates across multiple networks and channels. It’s like giving your staff a set of all-seeing eyes.

The United States affiliate marketing spending increases annually by 10.1% and is expected to reach $6.8 billion by this year. Time to start thinking about it as a formidable marketing approach!

This isn’t a totally complete guide to affiliate program management, but it’s a good start. Some aspects of this business process are more like a science. They need to be tried and tested under your business model. The first step is doing your research and deciding on in-house or outsourcing. Then work to find the top people that align with your brand and promote positive values.