Recently, an affiliate received this termination email and shared it with an affiliate manager discussion group: Dear Lands’ End Affiliate,
We are sending this note to let you know that your site will soon be removed from the Lands’ End Affiliate Program.
You may recall that when we updated our affiliate offer last April, we included notice that affiliates with commissions of less than $250 per quarter are subject to removal from the Lands’ End Affiliate Program due to low activity.
We thank you for your interest in Lands’ End and wish you and your business the best.
The Lands’ End Affiliate Marketing Team
His posting resulted in a lively discussion centered on several key issues that all program managers should consider.
The general consensus of the group was that Lands’ End’s policy to terminate affiliates that may be producing as much as $1,600 per month is drastic. (Lands’ End’s public offer to its LinkShare affiliates is 5 percent.) Most of us would welcome the participation of affiliates consistently producing even half this amount.
Group members further pointed out that the Lands’ End program also stipulates zero return days, and it extensively promotes its toll-free order number throughout its site — both of which are hurdles for affiliates’ earning potential.
So is there a point at which you should terminate an affiliate relationship?
Brandi Palechek, the Affiliate Manager at Junonia had this to say: Affiliates are business partners and deserve to be treated as such. They are also entrepreneurs, businesspeople, and regular folk like you and me. Many of them need a little guidance and are very appreciative of any time you spend helping them. Cutting unproductive affiliates out of your program just doesn’t make sense. After all, does it really hurt to have your banners and links on sites that don’t sell well for you?
Well said, Brandi. However, it may still be prudent to periodically clean house of nonproducing affiliates with little or no sales, and certainly of those who don’t participate. Program managers should consider that variable costs may be involved with image serving or emailing affiliates.
Potential costs aside, though, the key issue here is one of support.
The affiliate who was terminated replied to Lands’ End: “Have you considered helping me to achieve the commission minimum rather than booting me from your program?”
According to the affiliate, he received no response. Clearly, the strategy is to focus purely on super-affiliate relationships. Perhaps Lands’ End should have considered a private program rather than participating in a large network and risking the alienation of thousands of small affiliates who are also their potential customers. But given its strategy, it could still do a much better job of handling terminations.
Chris Kramer of NETexponent had a good suggestion: “[It] could have had a better spin on it [by saying], ‘We’re sorry we can’t continue our business relationship, but we value you as a customer, so please enjoy this $10 coupon on us.'”
Regardless of your partnership program strategy, it’s absolutely critical to provide members of your “sales force” with the tools and support they need to succeed. So how does an affiliate program manager do this effectively when he or she has potentially thousands of affiliates?
One of the first things I do for my clients’ programs is to create an “Affiliate Central” site. Sometimes this can be a section on your e-commerce site, but often it’s best to create an entirely new site, like companynameaffiliates.com.
I suggest this for two reasons. First, it may not be appropriate to have extensive marketing and sales training materials available where your regular customers may wander in. Second, it gives the affiliate manager a site that he or she controls. I’ve often heard affiliate managers complain that they must wait days or weeks to implement changes to the affiliate program information on the company’s primary site.
Your “affiliate central” should provide the following:
- An extensive list of answers. You know what the frequently asked questions are, so make sure you have the answers. Include your program terms and conditions, when and how you pay affiliates, and so on.
- Tutorials. There are a host of affiliate marketing topics; include everything from registering a domain name, creating a site, and driving traffic to developing advanced affiliate marketing strategies.
- Effective sales tools. Give them tools for your program, and offer specific tips on how best to use them, sometimes referred to as “best practices.” However, go beyond instructions such as “place our banner in a prominent position on your home page.”
- Real-world success stories. In today’s competitive market, you need to share success stories with your affiliates. Give them specific examples of how successful affiliates do things and provide them with links to the resources they’ll need. For instance, it’s not enough to say “include us in your newsletters.” Show your partners how to create a pop-up subscribe box for their sites. Tell them about resources that will help them compile and manage their lists. Let them know about inexpensive ways they can get more subscribers. Give them tutorials on creating an effective newsletter.
- Updates. Keep it fresh! You should be sending out an affiliate newsletter that reveals your most effective sales tools and techniques, your hottest product links, and your latest and greatest deals for customers. And be sure to post the information on your affiliate site as well.
- Personal contact information. This seems like a no-brainer, but the majority of the programs I’ve reviewed provide only a generic email contact (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). If you want to establish productive partnerships, provide your name, email, and phone number. I promise, you will not be overwhelmed by phone calls.
One example of an excellent affiliate-central site is Kaplan’s Affiliate Café. There are also plenty of public affiliate marketing resource sites that you can let your affiliates know about. One I created is PartnerIndustry.com. It provides much of the information mentioned above, plus links to helpful discussion groups, program directories, and even profiles of interesting affiliate sites.
Thou Shalt Help Thy Affiliate Partner — make it your golden rule!