How do you build meaningful affiliates relationships?

Meaningful Affiliate RelationshipsI was recently asked:

How do you build meaningful relationships with productive affiliates from a vendor’s point of view?”

This is a very good question. It is vital to maximize success in the relationship between the affiliate and the manager of the affiliate program. This is not a one size fits all answer, as helping you sell golf clubs might be different then affiliates helping you sell memberships to a forum; but in general the approach and principals are the same.

Affiliate marketing is always about evaluating, adjusting and trying again until returns and productivity are maximized. In other words, always stay dynamic and receptive to change. If you become too static you might lose opportunities or not realize things have changed. This is a fast paced field that requires agility, ingenuity and strength.

To get your program started, lay out a plan of what success might look like and try execute that plan. Recruit affiliates with a fair offer. Try to make a good first offer as affiliates will tend not to look twice at a bad offer. Successful affiliates have hundreds of programs knocking on their door. They are selective. You first impression is something you can never take back. For starters:
– Make your offer attractive. Affiliates work for free until they can make money with your program. Always respect that and be fair (i.e. generous)
– Look simple and clear but professional in your offer (newbies and un-professional offers are a turn off)
– Show that you know your stuff in your offer by well delimiting the rules the affiliates will have to follow
– Try to present your offer in a concise manner (what category do your products/services fit in?)
– If you have an idea of what your top affiliates take home every month, disclose that number.

Once you have affiliates who have given your program a try, here are some tips to follow:

Affiliate Relationships– Always be open to their feedback (especially that of serious, proven marketers). Always be professional, polity and friendly.
Keep it real. A lot of affiliates are entrepreneurs and this is how they pay the rent. Avoid BS and corporate-jargon if possible.
– Always encourage feedback and two-way communication, but try not to over communicate with your affiliates. Some deal with 100s of programs and can’t talk to each manager on a weekly or even monthly basis.Try to keep communication short and to the point while still being friendly and cool.

Be consistent. Changes to affiliate programs can be a major turn-off or even a red flag for affiliates. Try to get buy-in and feedback from affiliates before a major change.
We see so many programs managed by “intern type” people that once a program looks like it’s flaky better stay away as we might work for hours on something that will never produce, or once it produces a little they will change the rules so it does not produce anymore without another new major investment in the strategy.

– Develop a trusting relationship. Sure, there are bad affiliates but it is a mistake to lump all affiliates in the same bag. I understand some program managers have been burned by certain rogue affiliates but try not treat all of your affiliates like they are suspicious by default (avoid the gestapo approach).

Enforce the rules consistently. If not, the cheaters always win and this turns off or worse, it might even “force” the “good” affiliates to cheat too if they want to stay in the game.

Avoid giving preferential “secret” deals to certain affiliates without fully understanding all of the dynamics. If you give preferential treatment make sure it is well deserved and fluid/dynamic/open and leaves a chance for a newcomer to join that group and for a current member to be removed.

– If your affiliate program is exceeding expectations, recycle some of the profits to affiliates (bonuses, increased commission rates etc…)

– Constantly try to understand the dynamics / how are your affiliates helping sell your wares (traffic/closing the deal, price-trust-positive feedback)/branding) and adjust based on your analysis.

In summary the 3 main traits would be: knowledgeable, effective and fair.

If you have more questions or I missed something, please post a comment.

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