Simply launching an affiliate program does not guarantee revenue. I’ve seen many affiliate programs fail because of the “if I build it, they will come” mentality. Affiliate programs need to be managed on an ongoing, daily basis.
Consider the thousands of affiliate programs that exist. Now consider this: According to the 2013 Affiliate Summit AffStat Report, 63.4 percent of affiliates focus their efforts on fewer than 20 programs. If you’re not actively managing your affiliate program, the chances that your program falls within one of those 20 slots are slim to none. Affiliate managers continuously work to keep their brand front and center in the affiliate’s mind by providing a steady flow of content and promotions.
I am frequently asked if a company needs to hire a dedicated affiliate manager. My answer is “yes.” From ad trafficking, to trademark monitoring, to reporting and affiliate support, it is easy for an affiliate manager to fill 40 or more hours per week. There are two options for hiring: (a) a full-time employee, or (b) outsource the role to an agency.
Affiliate Manager: Employee or Agency?
The benefit of hiring a full-time employee is that your affiliate manager is fully immersed in your company. By being on-site, she can (a) easily learn of upcoming new products, (b) quickly access data, and (c) easily gauge key drivers of revenue. Plus, if tracking goes awry, she can harangue or cajole the tech team in person. The disadvantage to a dedicated internal affiliate manager is cost and training. Affiliate manager salaries typically range between $50,000 and $100,000 depending on the individual’s experience and size of the company. Additionally, while it’s easy to find candidates who understand marketing, it is more challenging to find someone who has specific expertise within the affiliate marketing field. Affiliate managers must have a thorough understanding of tracking technology and code, of industry-specific legal issues such as tax nexus and trademark protection, and of how to identify quality affiliates and keep them engaged. Ideally, they will also have established relationships with affiliates that they can recruit into your program. If you can’t find someone who fits that bill, but you have a bright, driven individual with potential and a willingness to learn, then definitely invest in training.
The other option is to outsource management of your affiliate channel. The benefit of outsourcing is that you get a seasoned manager with established affiliate relationships. A good outsourced program manager can quickly recruit or activate proven affiliates in your program. Additionally, a new affiliate program will benefit from the credibility and visibility of an established agency. Costs associated with outsourcing your affiliate program vary, depending on experience and level of support, but you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $5,000 per month, plus a percentage of sales. The challenge is that your agency is likely managing multiple accounts. When interviewing agencies, be sure to ask how many accounts your manager would oversee. Fewer than five accounts would be desirable. Also, since the agency’s personnel are not on-site, they are not immediately aware of company news and developments. This is easy to overcome, however, with frequent communication. Expect weekly meetings and reports.
Regardless of whether you hire an in-house manager, or you outsource the affiliate-management function, look for these key skills.
- Marketing focused. While your marketing team drives the consumer promotional calendar, the affiliate manager should drive the affiliate promotional calendar. For example, if there is a new product launch on the horizon, what can the affiliate manager do to get affiliates geared up to boost promotion of the new product?
- Relationship oriented. Affiliate managers work directly with a variety of individuals, from your internal IT team to a mommy blogger. As such, they need to have strong communication and relationship building skills.
- Analytically advanced. Any marketing expenditure should be tied to revenue, and an experienced affiliate manager will ensure the proper tracking and attribution is in place to account for all promotional activities. He should also be able to ask the right questions and manipulate data to get the answers.
- Tech savvy. From testing the affiliate-tracking pixel to coding content for affiliates, affiliate managers need to have basic HTML and code knowledge.
- Detail oriented and inquisitive. There are many nuances when it comes to affiliate marketing — from understanding different state legislative requirements in regards to tax nexus, to tracking the success of a single paid placement. Affiliate managers need to be detail-oriented so that they can manage the specifics, but inquisitive enough to see the big picture.
- Fits with company. Most of all, regardless of whether you hire an in-house or an outsourced affiliate manager, you want to hire someone who is a good fit with your brand and culture, and who can be an ambassador of your brand.