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Getting Started With An Affiliate Marketing Program

4 minute read

My first taste of an affiliate marketing program came with law school and online poker. While not the most common cocktail when it comes to word-of-mouth marketing strategies, I saw the network effect firsthand. I was referring friends to play poker online and making a small amount in affiliate fees. As I continued to share my affiliate links, that small amount doubled, tripled, and eventually grew to be enough to pay off my law school loans, shift my career path, and kick off my journey as an entrepreneur.

Now this is probably why affiliate marketing has a special meaning in my heart. This is also why it really irks me when marketers tell me affiliate marketing won’t work for their business because “it’s outdated.”

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, Amazon currently has over 900,000 worldwide members in its affiliate programs1. More so, the Amazon Affiliate Program is used by over 1.2% of all websites on the internet. It’s been proven that affiliate marketing can drive new customer growth for your business and use indirect advocates to make sales.

So what exactly is the hesitation from marketers?

Well, the reality is, running an affiliate marketing program is a lot of work. It’s not a strategy you can set and forget. Like any other marketing strategy, it takes time to create and define the specifics which will deliver results for your business. And then it’s continuous management of your program. Some brands with successful affiliate marketing strategies in place have dedicated staff fine tuning their programs on a daily basis.

Now this is not to deter your company from trying affiliate marketing. In fact, if you’re up for the challenge (you’re a marketer, of course you are), this channel is one that will provide remarkable ROI. We’re here to help you get started with 5 best practices to run an effective in-house affiliate marketing program.

STEP 1: Develop a Plan For Success

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Know the stakeholders in your company who can help execute on the program. While marketing likely will handle the content & collateral, you’ll want to sync up with your tech team to add tracking codes to your website. Don’t forget to circle up with finance as well, depending on how you plan to pay those commissions. If you’re going to automate the process or scale an existing program, this is also when you want to start vetting technology vendors to find the right fit for you. The more prepared you are, the smoother and more successful your launch will be.

STEP 2: Know Your Numbers

Affiliate marketing is about driving positive and efficient ROI for your company. Know your average customer acquisition cost (across other marketing channels) along with the lifetime value of those customers. Armed with this knowledge, you can create an incentive that affiliates will appreciate while leaving a healthy margin for your company.

Figuring out the incentive structure can be tough but start with the basics. Do you want to give a percentage of the total sale (leaving room for someone to purchase multiple products), or do you want to give a specific monetary bonus for a single product or service? Not sure what will work best for you? Check out these case studies to see what worked for other companies.

STEP 3: Inviting Affiliates

The next step in the process is deciding whether you want to launch an internet-wide affiliate program, posting information that’s publicly available on your website, or if you want to keep it more exclusive and reach out to specific influencers or thought leaders.

Our expert take: It’s critical to curate, vet, and establish working relationships with the best and most relevant people to represent your products and/or services.

STEP 4: Educate Affiliates & Maintain Relationships

coaching.pngWhether you choose to maintain your affiliate program using spreadsheets and manual processes, or invest in affiliate marketing software to automate the program, the next stage in the process is to continually educate your affiliates about new product launches, updates and offers. Some of our most successful clients choose to do this through monthly webinars or email updates, and others work 1:1 with influential affiliates to go over product details and perks. Your affiliates are almost like an in-house sales team – giving them the opportunity to stay up-to-date on your offerings will increase sales.

STEP 5: Analyze Success

While the Ambassador software can show you insightful metrics, your data doesn’t do you a lot of good if you don’t interpret it. Every month, set aside time to sit down and analyze which affiliates are bringing the most business, and analyze how they are doing this. Would it make sense to offer affiliate bonuses, or are there similar brands or people that could be beneficial to engage to join your program?

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Looking for a real-world example from a company that has freed up 10+ hours per month and increased referral and affiliate sales by more than 300%? 

Litter Robot Case Study

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_(company)#cite_note-110

Posted in Affiliate Marketing

Jeff Epstein

Written by Jeff Epstein

Jeff Epstein is the founder and CEO of Ambassador Software, the World’s #1 Relationship Marketing Platform which enables brands like Hulu, SAP, Hewlett-Packard, HubSpot and Madison Reed to build & scale referral, affiliate, partner and influencer programs.

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