There are plenty of folks out there writing about how to recruit affiliates. Sure they can be helpful, but look a bit deeper, and you’ll find that these authors have never actually recruited affiliates. Well I have, and let me tell you, it’s no walk in the park. This article will give you a look into the reality of the partner marketing space, provide keys to successful recruitment, and make recommendations on companies and tools that can help you take your affiliate program to the next level.
For the sake of staying trendy, we will first define what we mean by “affiliate.” By my definition, “affiliate” and “partner” are synonymous. Others will disagree, but the truth is that industry folks are trying to move away from the term “affiliate” because of its shady past. So then what is a partner?
Let’s refer to our old friend Wikipedia: “A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as business partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.” This term can encompass so many topics, so let’s narrow it down to what is known as partner marketing. Marketing partners can take the form of traditional affiliates (i.e. blogs, coupon sites, review sites), influencers (TikTok, LinkedIn, Youtube), complementary brands, previous customers, resellers, or networks (Facebook, Outbrain, Shareasale). The first step in growing your partner program is determining which of these partners are going to be best for your brand.
When people think of affiliate marketing, they assume, “Well I can just offer to share a percentage of my sales and affiliates will promote me. ” I’ve even heard. “Why does it matter how much I pay affiliates? They are just looking for products to promote.” Both of these statements are far from the truth. Brands are often interested in affiliate marketing because they like the idea of only paying for results (known as cost-per-sale or CPS). There is nothing worse than spending $1,000 on a Facebook ad and generating two sales, right? To advertise on a cost-per-sale basis, you need to find partners that are willing to promote your product in exchange for a commission. I’ll save you some time and tell you that most popular blogs or famous influencers are not going to promote your widgets or doo-dads in exchange for 20% of your sales. Instead, they will ask for a flat upfront fee or charge you based on impressions (CPM). So let’s take them out of the picture for now. One type of partner that will almost always work on a cost-per-sale basis is an affiliate network.
The long list of pros and cons of working with affiliate networks could stack up to Dante’s Inferno, so I’ll spare you the time. But here is a little known secret that many brands don’t realize. You can, and should, partner with multiple affiliate networks. More specifically, you should partner with sub-affiliate networks. What exactly does this mean? When you think of affiliate networks, you think of Shareasale, Commission Junction, or Rakuten. Each of those networks has a massive inventory of affiliates, many of which are other (smaller) affiliate networks. And each of those networks probably have their own inventory of affiliates, many of which are other networks. See where I am going? The sub-affiliate networks have already done plenty of recruiting, so take advantage of that carefully. When working with the Shareasale’s of the world, keep in mind their affiliates and sub-affiliate networks won’t come knocking at your door, you still have to make an effort find them. Though these smaller networks are a great way to get started, it is in your best interest to “cut out the middleman” in the long run and expand your direct partnerships.
Stepping back to these traditional affiliates (i.e. blogs, coupon sites, review sites), here is a quick and easy way to find them. Make a list of your competitors or companies in your space, copy/paste their URL into something like SimilarWeb or SEMRush and see what other sites are backlinking to their domain. Viola! You have found active and relevant affiliates. Of course, you’ll have to put forth a better offer than your competitor in some cases, but again, it is a great place to start.
So how can you discover the undiscovered partners and really make it your program? This is where things get tricky but can pay off big time in the long run. With strategies like this, I have seen a brand go from $2,000 to $30 million in revenue over the course of two years.
Warning – this is the part that no one wants to do. I’ve seen partner programs crash and burn because people weren’t willing to put in the work or make the right investment here.
There are several tools that can help you with this step (MediaRails, Upfluence), but be prepared to pay thousands for these tools (then pay someone to use them). Alternatively, you can do this yourself by digging through all corners of the web in search of quality partners, by googling relevant keywords or phrases to find content, search hashtags on Instagram, scroll through channels on YouTube, find influential thought-leaders on LinkedIn. You can try to automate some of these tasks with web-scrapers, but despite it being the most tasking and time-consuming part of the process, you will find some of the best and most relevant partners by searching these channels manually. You know a good partner when you see one. And you can’t always train a robot to think like you (trust me, we are trying).
The key here is to set-up your future-self for success. You’ve spent all of this time finding partners, now you have to make it count. Think of it like sales. You’ve spent all of this time building a prospect list, now go close some sales. In fact, use a sales CRM to manage your pipeline of partner leads (i.e. Pipedrive, Hubspot, Freshsales). This will help you stay organized and effective as your prospects move from leads to active partners, which is the next big challenge.
To turn prospects into partners, you’ve got to have an effective outreach plan. Develop a solid cadence of emails, LinkedIn messages, Instagram DMs, or even cold calls. Many sales gurus will suggest up to 13 touchpoints in an outreach campaign, though you can decide that for yourself. Develop messaging to encourage sign-ups or set up phone calls. Again, a sales or marketing tool will help you automate these campaigns effectively (Hubspot, Mailchimp, Outreach.io). As leads move throughout these campaigns, be prepared to convert this interest into action. At this point, you need to sell your program. How can you get the prospect excited and confident? Perhaps a high payout or some free product. Maybe it’s a cross-promotion. However you get them to sign up for your program, remember that it does not stop there. Now they have to start producing results.
Once you’ve got some partner onboarded, you need to make sure they are enabled to promote your brand. If possible, try to have a conversation with each and every one of them. There is no better way to build a relationship than good ol’ face-to-face. Provide some sort of welcome kit that makes it very clear how your program works. Things like the terms of your offer, where to find links and creatives, and various product messaging they can use for posts, will be incredibly valuable in getting them started. Incentive partners to get activated fast by offering a bonus for sales that happen by a specific date. Stay in frequent communication with your partners, making sure they always have the latest updates on offers and promotions. These are just a few tips on how to maintain the affiliate program that you worked so hard to build.
As your program grows, and so does your brand, you will start to receive more and more inbound partner applications! Make sure you check for these often and don’t let them go to waste, as you know best how challenging finding new partners can be otherwise.
Developing an effective, scalable, and consistent strategy for affiliate recruitment is no easy task. Identifying and discovering partners that will advocate for your brand, promote your affiliate program at scale, agree on mutually beneficial terms can be time-consuming and costly. For many organizations it becomes a full-time job.
Grovia Partners automates affiliate discovery, outreach, and activation with an in-house recruitment engine. By leveraging automation, Grovia Partners can quickly scale affiliate recruitment efforts at a fraction of the price, with fewer in house resources. By handling the time-consuming process of recruitment, Grovia Partners enables organizations to focus on the strategic aspects of their partner marketing channel.
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