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Grow, Grow and Away! Nurturing Your Affiliates for Increased Sales

By: Julian Henrichs

Last modified: October 30, 2017


With 2017 seeing another year of advertisers increasing their investment in the affiliate channel, it’s no surprise that companies are using affiliate marketing to increase their online sales and affiliate managers are looking at ways to grow the program. If you oversee affiliate efforts at your company, you have no doubt been asked one or all of these questions:

  • How do you plan to grow revenue this year?
  • How are you going to drive new customers?
  • What are your Q4 plans to capitalize on Black Friday, Christmas and Boxing Day?

Or maybe you feel the program has reached what I like to call “saturity” – a made up word I once uttered in a client meeting, whilst trying to say saturation and maturity – and you’re unsure how to grow the program any further.

When clients ask us about growing their affiliate program, the question often centres on what efforts will achieve the most success. Should you put all your eggs in one basket and focus on your top players? Try to grow the program through the mid and long tail affiliates? Roll out another affiliate network? To help you simplify your approach, we’ve developed a two-part blog series with the same advice we give our clients. In the end, affiliate programs all come down to the partnerships, so this first post focuses on how to nurture your existing relationships to deepen their commitment to your brand.

It’s the relationship

Although affiliate programs have seen lots of change in the past ten years, the one thing that has stayed the same is the relationships you must build with your partners. Without affiliates you have no affiliate program. It seems obvious, but as an affiliate program manager you need to look after your affiliate partners. Support them, provide them with the tools they need and get them excited about your brand.

Within your existing affiliate base, you might be sitting on a goldmine of potential, but you don’t know it. The slower months of summer and early autumn are the perfect time to nurture these relationships so they can perform big over the holidays.

To identify potential performers, I recommend looking at all affiliates, quarter by quarter and year by year, specifically at two things:

  • Revenue generating affiliates
  • Click generating affiliates
Revenue generating affiliates

With revenue generating affiliates, it’s important to look at performance over time. Has it dropped or increased, and do you know the reasons why? Have you optimised these partnerships or have they been operating on autopilot? You will have the best chance at quick wins by starting with your top performers – we know 80% of your revenue will be driven by approximately 20% of your partners. There are a few simple ways that you can nurture your affiliate relationships to get more out of each partner.

Be human

Approach your affiliates as more than just a company or a program, but as a human. Developing the relationship through face-to-face meetings, expos or affiliate network days goes a long way to ensure the affiliate will remember you over the thousands of other merchants that only communicate through email. It can be as simple as grabbing coffee to discuss opportunities.

Understand affiliates’ strengths

What each publisher is capable of varies wildly. Do not treat all affiliates and their activities the same, but adapt how you approach working with each affiliate based on their strengths and past performances.

Feed off the publisher’s insight, when developing a cost per acquisition model.

Commission & bonuses

Consider implementing a tiered commission or fixed bonus structure, setting sales targets for your revenue generators to aim for. It could be the extra incentive they need to boost your online sales. You could also look at giving a bonus if the affiliate achieves a certain sales percentage increase over time.

When determining your commission, make sure it’s in line with the competition. If it is lower, it must be justified, i.e. you know your products convert higher than the competition and therefore publishers make more money.

Invest in promotional activity above and beyond CPA

Sometimes to make more money, you have to spend money. Choose your partners wisely and have a test budget and time period in place. You should consider the time of the year for your test. For example, running it during peak season will distort the results. Similarly, you do not want to run a trial when it is your quietest time of the year, as it could potentially be a wasted investment.

For some of Digital River’s clients, investing in tenancy packages with certain partners such as Vouchercloud, TopCashback, corporate benefits, Next Jump, Quidco & RetailMeNot have seen very strong ROAS.

Learn from your work and professional network

I do not mean your affiliate networks, but simply your contacts.

Do you have a global program? Are there other brands you manage that run affiliate programs? Do you have contacts at other affiliate companies? Use the learnings from other programs you have access to inform your choices of where to invest your time and money. The results may not be exactly the same, but it will provide a good starting point of where to spend your time and money.

Click generating affiliates

In an ideal world, every affiliate on your program is making hundreds of online sales. In reality, there are affiliates who send you traffic, but for one reason or another they don’t convert. How do you approach these affiliates, do you focus on them at all? With endless amounts of time you could nurture your relationship with every single click active affiliate. However, in reality, attempting to contact every click active affiliate is not the best use of your time. Instead, identify and focus on the top five to ten partners by:

  • Providing up to date content for your advertiser page.
  • Making sure publishers have your latest offers.
  • Going through the user journey to make sure tracking links are up-to-date and working.
  • Providing a link to any page that has higher than average conversations – like a special offers page.
  • Reviewing your placement on their site and asking for feedback on other opportunities they’d like to implement. This could be on a CPA basis or a tiered commission structure.
  • Considering if this site is a good fit for your brand.

Recruit new partners

Finally, turn your attention to recruiting new partners – be targeted in your approach and don’t “spray-and-pray”, but take into consideration your customer profile, as well as the profiles of publishers that perform. Your time is precious, so choose partners wisely and use your revenue generating and click active list to inform you of similar partners to recruit and partners to avoid.

With a little love, you can nurture your partnerships and successfully grow your affiliate program. In the next post in our Grow, Grow and Away affiliate marketing series, we’ll look past the affiliate relationship to address key ways to optimize your program.

Learn more about how our team of experts can be an extension of your affiliate team, and help secure the global partnerships you need.