Online retailers frequently ask me, “How much time am I going to need to run an affiliate marketing program?” Larger companies often employ an internal, full-time, dedicated marketing manager who focuses her attention on growing the affiliate program. However, for smaller companies, this may not be an option. Perhaps there is a single individual responsible for multiple marketing channels, or perhaps it’s a one-person show whereby the owner is managing all marketing efforts.
At a minimum, the affiliate manager should perform the following tasks daily:
- Approving affiliates;
- Responding to affiliate support questions;
- Tracking sales and conversions to address any spikes.
If these were the only tasks performed, however, the affiliate program would likely stumble along with very little growth, and possibly lose money. That's because there is more to running an affiliate program than what I've just listed.
An experienced affiliate manager keeps affiliate engaged with the program. It’s the continued outreach and strategic positioning that creates a solid affiliate program with solid growth prospects.
This is accomplished by:
- Identifying and recruiting high-potential affiliates;
- Negotiating custom terms with strategic, higher-volume affiliates;
- Educating affiliates about existing and upcoming promotions;
- Developing affiliate tools and creative ads that maximize conversion;
- Conceptualizing and measuring sales promotions that drive revenue or leads;
- Forecasting sales and ensuring effective ad spend.
Using an Existing Employee for Affiliate Marketing
Tasking an existing employee with these responsibilities is one solution. Employees with a marketing background can certainly grasp the basics of affiliate marketing. They can learn the nuances with time. However, there are benefits to hiring someone with actual affiliate marketing experience. She will understand the specific technical requirements involved in adding affiliate tracking on your site and can help ensure a smooth integration. She will also have established relationships with affiliates; it will take less time to recruit key players into your program. She will add credibility to your program, helping to recruit affiliates. She will know how to drive traffic to specific deals, and how to position a single product in different ways to appeal to different types of affiliates. By hiring someone with an affiliate marketing background, your affiliate program will ramp up quickly and cleanly.
Hire Internally, or Outsource?
The benefit of hiring someone internally is that she will have immediate insight into your business. She will understand of your seasonality and will know how to develop promotions that complement your other marketing initiatives.
For example, during marketing meeting your affiliate manager may learn that a particular item is selling well through non-affiliate channels. The manager can immediately develop an affiliate campaign designed to increase that product's exposure. If you had outsourced the affiliate management, you would need to direct your outsourced program manager to develop a campaign around this product. Moreover, an in-house affiliate manager can work with your customer relationship management team, your search team, and all of your marketing channels to ensure a cohesive campaign.
But there are also benefits to outsourcing affiliate program management. It may be more cost effective. For many OPMs — i.e., "outsourced program managers" — at least one part of their fee is performance-based. You will likely pay a small monthly retainer, with the remainder of the fee calculated as a percentage of revenue. You won’t be paying for insurance, vacation days, or overhead. Ideally, you will want to hire an OPM that has clients in complementary categories, as it will have a base of active affiliates that could fit for your program.
An online jewelry retailer, for example, an OPM with a client portfolio that contains beauty or wellness brands would be a good fit. This OPM will already be working with affiliates that target the female demographic. Additionally, an OPM will understand the performance of other brands, and can help guide the jeweler's affiliate marketing efforts accordingly. Finally, OPMs will likely have relationships with affiliate networks, helping to provide access to discounted pricing and a accessible tech support.
Finding an Affiliate Manager
Getting the word out that you’re looking for an affiliate manager is not difficult. You can post your position in affiliate job forums such as ABestWeb and Affiliate Summit. You will likely get many inquiries. The challenge will be to winnow the applicants down to someone who can most help your company.