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Successful Affiliate Marketing: Supporting Your Affiliates

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Helping your affiliate succeed pays off by helping your affiliate program to succeed. Frank Fiore describes how it's done.
This article is adapted from chapter 13 of Pay for Performance: Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants (Que, 2001).
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Just as it takes work to run a successful affiliate program, it also takes work for your affiliates to earn decent revenue from it. Simply creating a web site, putting up your offer links, and waiting for the commissions to roll in is not enough to earn money for them and increase sales for you. Keep in mind that the bulk of web sites that join your affiliate program have little know-how about marketing their site on the Net.

Affiliates need to work hard at developing and promoting their sites and convince people to visit them. And you can help. After all, the more successful your affiliates are at generating traffic to their sites, the more impressions your offer will make and the more click-throughs and sales you'll receive. Putting it simply, the more successful your affiliates sites are, the more successful your affiliate program will be.

This doesn't mean that you have to go into the e-commerce consulting business to help your affiliates become successful. Far from it. But there are some things you can do to help your affiliates optimize their sites and merchandise your offers, which in turn will increase their commissions and your revenue. Affiliates are your business partners and are a direct arm of your sales department. And just as a new employee has to be brought up to speed, your affiliates can't be expected to perform at their highest level without training and guidance. This can take the form of both offline and online guidance—offline with direct one-to-one contact, and online with access to resources on your site.

The formula for a successful affiliate program is simple. Increase the number of potential customers who view your offer on your affiliate sites, increase the number of sales they produce, and increase the number of times they return to buy again. To do all that, you need to service your affiliates properly, support and train them to sell your offer, and help build a list of prospects and customers to encourage new and repeat sales.

Servicing Your Affiliates

It's obvious that affiliates are the cornerstone of a merchant's affiliate program. But it's a wonder that so few programs actually service their affiliates and treat them like true business partners. The relationship between you and your affiliates is an interactive one that builds and supports a mutual dependence. If your affiliates are not happy or don't get the necessary marketing tools, training, and support, they'll either under perform or, if they're good, leave for a more lucrative and supportive program somewhere else.

It's not the number of affiliates that matters, but the quality of the relationship you have with them. Creating that relationship with personal service is the key to building a successful and profitable affiliate network. That means helping your affiliates not only reach your sales goals but also achieve their full potential.

A good example of someone who supports affiliate marketing efforts is Declan Dunn. He sees his affiliates as true business partners. Working closely with them, he offers to pay half of the advertising costs that they spend to promote his books. If these affiliates are willing to go the extra mile and promote his product, he's going to make sure he helps. It's a win-win situation for both Dunn and his affiliates. He gets more exposure across the Net for his new book, and his affiliates make more sales.

You may think that paying your affiliates' advertising costs is going too far in supporting those affiliates. But if you see affiliates as your partners in business and not as a source for cheap advertising, this makes sense. The bottom line is this: To be a real success in affiliate marketing, you have to look beyond what's considered affiliate marketing today. Just offering a set of links, some promotional copy, a tracking and report mechanism, and a marketing tip or two is not enough to set you apart from your competitors' programs and to keep your affiliates loyal.

You have to work with your affiliates not just to grow your sales but to also grow their sites by teaching them how to market successfully on the Net. They must do more than just market your program successfully. All this may seem like extra work and expense, but it'll pay off in the long run. Look at it as a marketing expense. Take some of the marketing money that you would use for acquiring more affiliates who might or might not perform, and use it to supply training materials and advice to your current affiliates. Increase their success on the Net, and they'll increase yours.

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