This scene from Jerry Maguire is the key to a successful affiliate program. It’s all about helping me helping you. That’s what affiliates are saying to you: help me help you. It’s your response to that question that will make your program a success or a failure.
Last night, I started jotting down a little list of the things it takes to create a successful new affiliate program. It is key to nail down all of these:
1. Tracking. This is the most fundamental aspect of any successful affiliate program. Affiliates simply have to know that their transactions are going to get tracked. If transactions are not being properly tracked you will not have affiliates for very long.
2. Proper payment terms. Affiliates need to know that their transactions are going to be tracked. But they also need to know that they are going to get paid. I have heard this complaint from a lot of CPA marketers, especially. There are many fly-by-night networks out there that do not have a good reputation for paying affiliate partners. As an Advertiser, I would not do business with those types of networks. And, I would always make sure – above all – that my affiliates get paid, paid on a regular basis and paid on time. If someone is investing in you, you have a fiduciary duty to pay them. Nothing will kill the trust more than this one.
3. Focus on the ROI of your affiliates. Once you have nailed down tracking and payments, it is key that you provide a conversion experience that allows affiliates to win. If affiliates are not making money, they will not be your affiliates for long – especially if they are spending their money to drive traffic.
4. Cookie duration. This is another important question that you must decide for your burgeoning affiliate program. The longer the cookie duration, the more appealing the program will be for your affiliates. Obviously, you do not want to pay an affiliate for a sale that they did not drive. But, you have to be fair to your affiliates. And, you have to give them a cookie duration that is in line with the rest of the category that you are in and one that allows them to win.
Any successful affiliate program involves a good relationship between the program head, the account team at the network and the affiliates. If there is no trust, you will not have a successful program. The longer the cookie duration, the more goodwill you are providing to your affiliate audience. The affiliates’ concern about your program is that they will drive you traffic and you will not pay them for it. You need to make sure – as the head of the program – that you convey to them that is your intent to pay them for all the traffic that they drive for you. Preserve the trust.
That being said, you need to also make financially responsible choices. I know some very large programs that pay on – not just a last touch – but an affiliate click anywhere in the conversion flow. I would think long and hard before I consider this type of arrangement. Pay affiliates for the value that they create. But, you do not have to pay then in situations where their efforts did not provide the value that led to the sale.
5. Ensure that you have an accurate means of awarding the commission. If you are paying on the last touch click, you need to make sure that you have a means of the de-duplicating against other channels. No doubt, there will be some challenges in putting together this type of internal functionality. But, it is essential for the long-term success of the program. You do not want to be awarding commissions to two different partners for the same transaction or crediting multiple channels for the same transaction.
6. Have good reporting. Good reporting is key. This is the advantage of being with a large and effective network like Commission Junction. Their reporting is outstanding. And, by going with a network like this, you don’t have to even think about details like reporting. It just happens and affiliates are already integrated into the networks’ reporting. So, you do not have to explain anything to anyone. This is a huge advantage for a new program.
7. Have a good account team or establish good relationships with affiliates. Mostly, do both – if possible. In running programs in the past, I have always had a good account team. That is a huge asset. But if you do not have that, it is key that you be available to help affiliates when they have problems or questions. If you are willing to pay for it, having an account team at an established network like Commission Junction or Linkshare is highly beneficial.
8. Give them the tools to help them convert. You have to look at the competition in your niche to see what they are providing to their affiliates in order to help them convert. For some categories, having good creative might be enough. But, in other categories, you may in fact need to develop promo codes. Bottom line, you need to help your affiliates be successful in converting their traffic.
You can’t go with the Field of Dreams model to developing an affiliate program. You can’t build it with the hope that they come. Building a successful program takes a consistent effort. It’s hard work and a lot of fundamentals. It’s not a quick fix. It will take a while. But, if you invest in the relationships and the fundamentals, over time, your efforts will be rewarded. Otherwise, you might build it and they might not come!