Congratulations! Your merchant account has been approved. Now what?
Here's the reality of what comes next and how to increase sales with a new affiliate program.
Each month, hundreds of companies launch affiliate programs on networks and tracking platforms such as ShareASale, CJ, Impact, Pepperjam, Rakuten and Refersion. In my 15 years of experience, the majority of these new programs will fail because they do not have a strategy for growth. Many of the programs are launched by the owner of the company. They weren't planning on hiring an experienced affiliate program manager because it all seems simple enough. The staff can handle the job.
I tell new merchants every week that affiliate marketing isn't easy and it takes time. It takes time out of your day and time for the program to mature. The best performance marketers are busy promoting your competitors and other programs in completely different niches. They live at the intersection of conversion plus commission equals consistent paychecks. These dream partners don't know your program exists. They might not even know your brand exists. They need an invitation and proof they will earn healthy commissions before joining. Then they need attention, education and motivation to create promotions and send clicks to your site.
Problems arise when applications from random, non-relevant affiliates start pouring into the program. Company executives will be turned off by the string of coupon, loyalty and paid search sites from around the world. They will quickly start asking: “Where are the bloggers and influencers I've heard so much about? Where are all the sales? We are a premium brand, why do they keep asking for discounts? I'm starting to hate affiliate marketing! It doesn't work.”
If your goal is to launch an affiliate/referral program for your customers, your desired influencers or your specific dream partners, then skip working with traditional affiliate marketers. That's ok. But don't expect the channel to hit its full potential, ever.
The first step toward a healthy affiliate program is to hire an experienced affiliate manager or an affiliate management agency. Affiliates respond to proactive managers who take the time to listen to their needs and follow up with tools and advice to accomplish goals. They need managers who treat them as partners and follow industry best practices.
Good managers will build an attractive and competitive affiliate program. Then they will roll up their sleeves and recruit those partners who everyone will love. They will find bloggers who have tried the products. They will find the review and comparison sites. They will dig deep and recruit non-traditional partners and teach them how to promote your products.
The really good managers will understand how to maximize the network tools to the program's advantage. They will know how to communicate through autoresponders and trigger campaigns. They will utilize attribution rules and build a fair system that doesn't reward solely on the last click.
Again, this is not a set-it-and-forget-it online marketing channel. Affiliate managers cannot act alone. We need help from the company owner on a monthly basis. Our job is to recruit and get the affiliates to send clicks. Conversion is solely upon the company website. Merchants need to improvise, adapt and overcome technical issues to close those customers as soon as possible.
An editorial calendar is a great place to start. Let the affiliate manager share upcoming promotions with affiliates. Test giving some or all affiliates exclusive offers to promote. They can be the same deals that are offered on the company homepage to all visitors or they could be slightly better with a vanity code.
Consider using trusted affiliates to handle your paid search or shopping cart abandonment solutions. There are some very good partners out there who could save you money immediately or the trouble of trying to do it in-house.
Finally, I'm not shy about sharing this gold nugget: not all affiliates deliver the same value. I consider some top coupon and loyalty sites a vital part of the clickstream. Customers are driving this behavior and they are looking for your brand on their favorite deal or cash back sites. But, Apogee doesn't pay these affiliates default commissions. We pay coupon sites 2%, across the board. You could pay them 100% and they wouldn't do anything different. Both of these models are also paid differently in our conversion line rules. We protect our influencing affiliates from losing their commissions to coupon and loyalty sites.
This part of our strategy allows us to save money and reinvest those funds into bonuses, sponsored fees and VIP commissions to the content affiliates who drive new customers. Our effective commission rate is nearly always lower than the default rate each month. Our programs grow and are profitable at the same time.
One of the main reasons using experienced affiliate managers adds value is that it shows affiliates the company believes in the potential of the affiliate channel. It shows that they treat it seriously as an integral part of their overall marketing plan. They are committed to its success and to the success of its partners who only get paid when a sale occurs.
If the flashy salesperson for a large agency promises 130% growth immediately and talks about their hundreds of satisfied customers, run. There are several extremely aggressive companies that focus on volume, not quality. They cater exclusively to the low-hanging fruit affiliates that take credit for as many sales in your other channels as possible. They churn and burn through advertisers on a monthly basis.
You'll also want to rethink allowing your digital or advertising agency to manage your affiliate program. Their add-on services help when billing is included in one nice package, but the “managers” have no best practices or strategies for growth. Dentists do not perform heart surgery.
If you look for a freelancer on Upwork, you'll get exactly what you pay for. If you think the network should manage your program, understand that they have their best interests in mind, not your brands.
Apogee employees have up to 15 years of experience in the affiliate industry. We know how to increase sales of great products and we have all the necessary tools to help programs across different categories. We've won awards, we've taught other managers best practices but most importantly, we've learned from others. We've attended conferences and we listened when the pioneers of this industry spoke.
When companies hire us, they typically stay with us for longer than three years. We might be too big and expensive for some companies, too small and inexpensive for some others, but we are just right for the companies we've been working with for the last 10 years.
We want your affiliate program to be a success. If Apogee isn't right for you, ask us for a referral. There is a shortlist of competitors we trust and would be happy to see service your account.