How to Keep Affiliates Happy and Producing

by Greg Shepard on Jul 12, 2016 12:00:00 AM Digital Marketing, e-Commerce

How_to_Keep_Affiliates_Happy_and_Producing-529773-edited.jpgIf your affiliates aren’t happy and getting what they need from you, they’re not going to put their best effort in, which sadly, will result in a less than stellar affiliate program. In a way, it’s like hoping your employees will support your “best place to work” bid when your benefits consist of a referral to social services.

In other words, you can’t blow off your affiliates and expect them to return the favor with an awesome effort. It’s just not going to happen. So how can you get the best out of them? Create a relationship, and give them what they need to succeed. This isn’t a dictatorship. Affiliates have no obligation to promote your brand. You must provide them with incentive to do so, which means being respectful and responsive to their needs.

Build Friendly and Professional Relationships

You treat your clients with respect, right? Well it follows you should treat your affiliates with respect as well. You know, that whole “do unto other as you would have them do unto you?” Show them their value by showing appreciation for their efforts.

Like any good relationship, professional or otherwise, you only get out of it what you put in. Build trust and respect by being upfront and honest, keep an open line of communication, and remember, it doesn’t have to be all business all the time. Grab a pint after the conference. Ask questions about personal interests, you know, the kind of things people do when they first meet. Get to know one another and try to bond in the real world. A little face time can go a long way.

On the business side of things, you want to provide your affiliates with useful, actionable data. How are they doing compared to their competitors? How are they perceived by your brand or agency? What is changing about the program in the future? Become a useful resource.

Follow your affiliates on social media and share anything interesting they might post. Post to their social media any relevant and helpful information you might have on your brand and its practices. This shows that you are willing to help them out, and ideally, they will feel motivated to do the same for you.

Consider giving sample products to your affiliates. This enables them to engage in your customer experience and provides them with the incentive to advocate for your brand. It’s no secret that people have an easier time selling products they believe in; give them a reason to believe.

If you build a positive relationship with your affiliates, it will be far easier to determine which offers and opportunities they prefer. And by attending to affiliates’ requests as often as possible, they are more likely to pick up and promote your offers on an ongoing basis.

Keep Affiliates Informed and Provide the Resources They Need

If you’re unable to provide affiliates with the best resources, or to adequately communicate your policies and preferences, it leaves the impression that your affiliate program, and thus, your affiliates, are not a very high priority. Once this occurs, there is not much you can do to incentivize new growth. After all, there are multitudes of programs to choose from, and probably several that not only provide a comparable payout and product offering, but also offer proactive communication and support. So make sure your practices as they relate to reconciliation, attribution, and compliance are top notch, and that catalog organization, offer clarity, creative quality, tracking, and that coupon codes are up to snuff.

Be sure to clearly communicate your program changes, whether it be commission structures, campaign changes, or any other significant change as early as possible to give affiliates time to adjust. Attribution policies can be tricky. Remember, attribution always has winners and losers, but everyone loses if you don’t communicate your policies. Also, make sure your policies are not hidden or hard to understand. And remember, any excuse to reach out is an opportunity to connect, improve your relationship, and secure high-value placements.

Maintain Communication and

Maintain Consistency in the Relationship

No one is a fan of a person who fawns all over them, disappears for months, and fawns all over them again like there was never a gap. Consistent communication and responsiveness are essential. Develop a cadence with affiliates such as weekly reach-outs via email or phone, and whenever possible take time to meet them in person. Human interaction adds tremendous value to any relationship. Set up a time to meet at a tradeshow, or grab some coffee if you happen to be in their city. You can offer your take on the industry, discuss trends, and ask them what you can do to make their life easier.
Most importantly, listen to and make note of your affiliates’ ideas, thoughts, opinions, and needs. Show that you care and they will respond in kind. A successful relationship requires healthy discussion and a continuous flow of ideas, a back and forth where both parties are able to pick up the phone or hop on a chat to discuss any new tactics, strategies, or opportunities without hesitation.

Don’t fall into the habit of asking for something every time you speak with an affiliate. You don’t want them to dread hearing from you. And don’t micromanage; your affiliates are skilled marketers who work hard for their commissions. Nitpicking details can put stress on the relationship, so there is a fine line between protecting your own interests and undermining results. Choose your battles wisely.

Lastly, be sure to understand how the affiliate’s business works and respect that they have their own best practices and KPIs. Don’t expect them to bend over backwards to accomplish yours. A certain measure of compromise is to be expected. Try to find common ground and establish common goals.

Provide New Offers, Opportunities and Content

Nothing in business—or life, for that matter—is more taxing and mundane than having to do the same thing over and over again. Change is the spice of life. If you can provide offers with higher commission from time to time, it’s pretty clear an affiliate isn’t going to complain. So whenever possible, do it. A perk here and there will keep them engaged and productive.

While playing favorites is never a good thing, there are times when one affiliate or group of affiliates may be better suited to a particular offer than others. When that’s the case, be sure to go full steam ahead with exclusive offers.

Provide the most detailed, quality content you can. If it’s creative, make it compelling and easy to implement. Communicate to affiliates that you are willing to build custom creative assets, and be willing to produce advertisements that match up well with their site theme and demographics.

Be sure to offer affiliates exclusives that are better than what is on the homepage. Too often, merchants make the mistake of giving an affiliate an offer that is not competitive. For example, giving CouponCabin a 10% off when the merchant's site has 20% off. Don’t do that.

It’s also important to have a healthy staple of unique and pre-approved offers and content that can be activated at a moment’s notice when they dovetail with a particular affiliate’s focus or need. Having the ability to say, “Yea, we can do that right now,” is way better than having to say, “Uh, let me check with my boss/client to see if we can do that.”

Match your content, offers, and inventory with publisher offers. Use dynamic attribution to give more credit to affiliates with the most desirable traffic. Most often, this will mean shifting commissions to introducers and influencers.

Dictating the Rules Isn’t Good Enough – Compliance Is a Process

Part of running an affiliate channel is making sure your affiliates are playing by the rules you’ve put in place. Nothing is more annoying than finding out that your star affiliate, or any affiliate for that matter, is promoting your brand in a way that isn’t permitted.  

A merchant’s initial reaction is typically to remove the violating affiliate. Instead, consider adopting more of a rehabilitation philosophy. Open a line of communication and start working with them to help ensure they understand your policies. This way, you won’t be killing off an important revenue stream in an effort to police your affiliate program.

Rehabilitation starts with a friendly reminder of what the rules are and how they are breaking them. In some cases, this starts with verifying you have the affiliate’s correct and current contact information and confirming they are receiving your notifications.  Once you are sure you’ve made contact, give the affiliate some time to correct their actions.

Remember, removal from a program should be your last option since it can cut revenue-producing affiliates from your channel. Often, the violation is far less malicious than you might suspect, and even more often, completely unintentional. Common examples include:

  • Most of the rules are buried in the terms and conditions
  • New publisher team member is unaware of your policy
  • The person who signed up for the program isn’t the person who ends up working on it
  • Publishers often have multiple people working in the same program

Affiliates have to move fast to be profitable. They don’t have time to review every email or read every line in your terms and conditions, so it can be expected that they might need some followup to fully understand your policies.

Pay Affiliates on Time and Offer Thanks

Nothing angers an affiliate more than having to wonder when they will be paid. Be clear in your negotiations; leave nothing to assumption, and most importantly, deliver on your promises.

It will also serve you well to inject a bit of humanity into this process. If an affiliate performed exceptionally for your program, be sure to reach out and show your appreciation. Many times, this is even more important than an on-time payment.

Just never forget, shady payment practices will give you a terrible reputation among affiliates. Don’t go there. Pay on time, every time.

In Summary, Be a Good Human Being

Like anything in life, you get what you give. If you’re nice to people, they are far more likely to be nice to you. If you are helpful, helpfulness will find its way back to you. If you meet a person’s needs, then your needs are more likely to be met. If you are cognizant of your affiliates’ needs and deliver on them, you’ll have a far greater chance of your affiliates going the extra mile for you. Give to receive. It’s as simple as that.

Photo by adamr/

Greg Sheppard is Chief Strategy Officer for Pepperjam.

Greg Shepard's blog
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