What Does an Affiliate Manager Look Like?

Here’s an issue that’s proving to be a common gripe. Seems more than a few readers are ready to launch an affiliate marketing program but can’t find the right person to run the show. They may be on to something. A quick search for “affiliate marketing” at Monster.com resulted in 57 listings. Admittedly some were for roles not exclusively devoted to affiliate marketing. Still, at least two dozen employment ads had “affiliate marketing” right in the title.

That got me thinking that perhaps other readers could benefit from some of the advice I was dispensing via email. For starters, quite a few readers were locked into the notion that they need to hire someone with prior experience. As they’re learning, that can be a tall order for an industry that’s basically sprung up overnight. Just consider the competition.

Who’s Looking for Affiliate Marketers?

Bostonians can help revitalize S&H Greenpoints. Based in Vermont, GreenMountain is hiring, too. In Silicon Alley the jobs are plentiful: AppleOne, Infosistant, Kaplan Education Centers and MyRecruiter are all looking. In California the choices range from Pasadena-based Petsmart.com and Irvine-based TravelPackets, to SF-based outfits like Headlight.com, OpenTable, TradeYard and Providian Financial. A short drive down 101 in Silicon Valley, online jewelry store Miadora is looking for a manager. Webforia, based in Redmond, is looking for an affiliate marketing manager. Ditto for Miami-based InExcess.com.

What’s the Right Skill Set?

So if you’re not going to find someone with prior experience, how do you know he or she can do the job? A few years ago, I had the privilege of working for a great manager. So here’s one of his pearls of hiring wisdom. Seems early in his career he’d gone for mostly nice people — and had nothing but headaches. His advice to me: Hire for brainpower; you can coach people skills. It’s advice I’ve found worth following. And so I pass it along to you.

Hire the smartest people you can. Look for backgrounds in math, econ, business — heck, even liberal arts. You’re looking for critical reasoning skills. With new and developing areas like affiliate marketing, you want employees who can adapt to change. One key component is an ability to take piles of data, synthesize it and instinctively know the right course of action. Many times, it’s simply a matter of applying dirt-world concepts to the web.

Besides the prospect’s actual course of study, you may find that the Ivy League universities, other top private colleges and name brand state schools act like a giant collaborative filter. Sure, there are always exceptions to every rule, but academic background is another great pointer when looking for someone to step into a role for which they have no prior experience.

What Experience Should They Have?

Well, it’s probably important for affiliate marketers to have some basic marketing experience. Even a few basics like the four Ps and a marketing 101 class can go a long way. You want individuals who have worked autonomously in the past; rote taskers need not apply. What you want are outside-the-box thinkers. People with a demonstrated ability to connect the dots never mind if those dots were in some other industry.

How Do They Use the Web?

Clearly, affiliate marketing experience is not necessary, but they must “get” the web and be passionate about it. Fear of HTML code should be a definite concern. Ideally, you would have a marketer that has dabbled on the side — maybe they’ve run a personal home page and joined an affiliate program or two. It is important that they understand the basic mechanics of how affiliate marketing works, where it breaks and so forth.

Remember, affiliate marketing is a job spent interacting with webmasters. As a result, I spend about 20 minutes per interview asking candidates about their individual browsing habits. Questions range from favorite engines for researching an obscure/emerging topic (“Yahoo” is the wrong answer) to what they’ve bought online in the past week/month/year (If they haven’t bought anything online in the last month that’s another eyebrow raiser).

I also solicit opinions about some specific sites usually ones they’ve already mentioned that are in some way competitive with each other. Finally, I ask candidates to try to think of sites that are useful and that they think I’ll never have heard of. This is my test of how plugged in a candidate is. If they can’t name a single site you’ve never been to, you don’t want them.

Happy hiring.

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