Thou Shall Help Thy Affiliate Partner

Published by Click-Z
Recently, an affiliate shared this termination e-mail he received with an affiliate manger’s 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.

Sincerely,

The Lands’ End Affiliate Marketing Team

His posting resulted in a lively discussion centered on several key issues all program managers should consider.

The general consensus of the group was that Lands’ End’s policy to terminate affiliates who may be producing as much as $1,600 per month is quite drastic. (Lands’ End’s public offer to its LinkShare affiliates is 5%.) Most of us would welcome the participation of affiliates consistently producing even half this amount. It was further pointed out the Lands’ End program also stipulates zero return days, and they extensively promote their toll-free order number throughout their site; both of which place hurdles in front of their 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, business people, 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, I believe it may be prudent to periodically ‘clean house’ of non-producing affiliates with little or no sales, and certainly those who don’t participate. There may be variable costs involved with emailing your affiliates or image serving that program managers should consider.

Potential costs aside, the key issue here is one of support.

The affiliate who was terminated, replied to Lands’ End with: “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 their strategy must be one of focusing purely on super-affiliate relationships. Perhaps Land’s 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. Given this strategy, they could do a much better job of handling terminations.

Chris Kramer of NETexponent had a good suggestion: “[They] 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 your ‘sales force’ with the tools and support they need to succeed. So how does an Affiliate Program Manager do this effectively when he/she has potentially thousands of affiliates?

One of the first things I do for my client’s 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/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’ site should include:

An extensive list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, including your program terms and conditions, when and how you pay affiliates, etc.

Tutorials on a host of affiliate marketing topics, including everything from how to register a domain name, create a site, and drive traffic, to advanced affiliate marketing strategies.

Provide effective sales tools for your program and specific tips on how best to use them – sometimes referred to as ‘Best Practices’. However, I encourage you to go beyond instructions like, “Place our banner in a prominent position on your home page.”

In today’s competitive market you need to share ‘real world’ 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 site. Tell them about resources that will help them compile and manage their list. Let them know about inexpensive ways they can get more subscribers. Give them tutorials on creating an effective newsletter.

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 this on your affiliate site as well.

Provide your personal contact information. This seems like a no-brainer, but the majority of the programs I’ve reviewed only provide a generic email contact, i.e. affiliates@company.com. 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 Test Prep’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 examples of interesting affiliate sites are profiled.

Thou Shall Help Thy Affiliate Partner — make it your Golden Rule!

© ClickZ, Inc., all rights reserved, used by permission of ClickZ

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