Developing Affiliate Relationships

You’ve heard the adage: Your best customers are past customers, right? So what does that have to do with affiliate marketing? Well, I’ve learned that with affiliate marketing it’s very much the same. Your best affiliates are past affiliates. Huh? What’s a past affiliate? Simple. It’s an affiliate you already have. Better still, it’s an affiliate that’s already producing even if all it’s produced so far is some measly amount of traffic.

Sure, it’s much more fun to brag about the size of your affiliate network, but really, who cares? When you talk to fellow affiliate marketers, it’s more interesting to learn how much volume they’re driving, not how many affiliates they have. In fact, some of my best affiliate marketing wins have come as a result of working with my current affiliates not recruiting new ones.

Take Inventory

In order to get more from your existing affiliates, you need to learn who’s doing what. My advice: Devise some type of system to tier your affiliates. It’s easy enough to rank your top performers, commonly referred to as super affiliates. These are basically the top 5 to 20 percent of your affiliate network. However, within your super affiliates, develop some additional meaningful breaks.

I’ve found tracking three or four sub-categories of super affiliates helps me to best understand the dynamics of my programs. You may find it useful to refer to these sub-categories as platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. As you move from top to bottom (e.g., from platinum to bronze), expect the number of affiliates at each tier to roughly double. For example, if you had 10 platinum affiliates, you might expect 80 to 100 bronze affiliates.

When you get beyond the 20 percent of your affiliates that generate 80 percent of the traffic (or the 10 percent that generate 90 percent, or…), you need a method of prioritizing all the seemingly also-rans. At first this can be challenging, but I’ve found a few useful ways.

The next step is to group together any remaining affiliates that earn commissions, but don’t qualify as super affiliates. This is your farm team. Your job is to get them out of the minor leagues and on to your roster of super affiliates.

What’s left? Frankly, this probably leaves about half your affiliates uncategorized. These should be sorted in two ways. First, rank the remaining sites based on the amount of traffic they generated. Any sites that generated lots of clicks, but no transactions, are good candidates for assistance. After this cut, rank the remaining sites based on the number of impressions they served. These sites also make your list.

Working the List

Now the work really begins. If you want your affiliates to work for you, plan on doing some work for them. Of course, start with the standard monthly mass emailings to your affiliates. Tell them about the best links, special offers and so forth. Just don’t expect too much.

The real value comes from making a personal connection. It’s important to have someone on your affiliate marketing team personally visit the sites of every super affiliate every month. Each super affiliate should get a personal email with specific comments and suggestions. Finally, congratulate your super affiliates on whatever milestone they’ve achieved. Think about raising their payout as appropriate. Make clear the steps they can take to earn even more through your program. That’s the obvious stuff.

The next step is to go through the same process with your farm team, your traffic generators, and your impression generators. Start by offering specific tips on which links are performing best. Propose new placements on the site for your links. If you can get your affiliates to engage in the conversation, you’re on your way. Also, try to broaden the depth of the affiliate’s relationship with your program by suggesting other ways they can partner with you and your partners.

The point of it all? You need predictable, frequent contact with your affiliates. Affiliate marketing is all about relationships, which can only come if you invest the time in understanding who your affiliates are. As you coach and develop your existing affiliates, you’ll find it’s some of the highest leverage time you’ll spend.

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