You’ve signed up with Refersion. You’ve created your account and taken care of the basics. Now all that’s left is… actually launching a campaign. Many merchants get nervous at this step, not quite knowing how to first dip their toes into the affiliate marketing waters. But there really is a foolproof way of launching your first program that positions your campaign for success, while giving you a ton of data to use as you expand out. The key?

Your first affiliate campaign should be a VIP Loyalty Program.

Why Start with a VIP Program?

We’ve written about how to find affiliates many times, but our top recommendation never changes: converting your top customers is one of the best ways to start working with affiliates. Customers who are already loyal and excited about your brand can quickly become amazing partners in your affiliate journey. By grouping them into a VIP program, you can begin to leverage their zeal by getting them to start referring your products & services.

Additionally, it’s easy for any business to get started. In fact, you may already have a loyalty program in place, which means you can quickly launch your first affiliate campaign. And if not, this is a great reason to start one up.

With the program in place, you’ll have a built-in way to test out affiliate marketing offers with your most loyal customers, which can then help you launch your program to the general public with both confidence and data to back up your campaigns.

Step 1: Convert Top Customers into VIP Members

First, identify and create a list of your best customers. While your criteria for “best” may depend on your type of business, your data should be able to highlight them without much guesswork on your part. A good place to start is with these two data points: highest LTV (lifetime value) of your customers over the past 1–2 years; and repeat purchasers. Those that rank high on both these lists indicate that they are your most loyal fans.

Next, ease them into the mindset of becoming an affiliate by offering them entry into your new VIP Loyalty Program. Consider the psychology behind this approach: asking someone to become an affiliate is akin to asking for them to put in work; but offering a VIP program is like giving them a bonus. It’s an invitation into an exclusive club, with additional benefits. All you need to do is make it irresistible and easy to join.

Sephora’s program boasts over 17 million members

To this end, create an exclusive offer that you will use to hook in your VIPs. For example, a 15% commission for referred sales. You can even sweeten the pot by offering a 20% discount for all of their new referrals, so their friends and family will immediately have a good experience.

Step 2: Analyze Your Results

While you may be tempted to open up your new VIP Loyalty Program to everyone, before you do, you can learn a lot of great information by analyzing the results from this initial campaign. Questions you can answer include:

  • What was the overall ROI? This can help you calibrate how much of a commission rate you can afford to pay out.
  • Which products sold the best? This can help you figure out what products you can lead with for future affiliate campaigns, or if the margins on another are not worth it.
  • How long did the average referral take to complete a purchase? Knowing this will help you calculate how long it will take to see profits via affiliate marketing in general.

This is a great time to get to know your affiliate marketing Key Performance Indicators, which will be essential in giving you data on how well this and future campaigns perform.

But besides the metrics, this first campaign can give you a lot of practical insights into managing affiliate reps, including:

  • How quickly can you process payment (sending commission to your VIPs)?
  • Which VIP members are pulling in the most sales?
  • How are they going about marketing your brand?

That last question can be particularly helpful as you grow your affiliate marketing strategy. Your best customers might give you a new perspective on how to market your own brand, or show you how NOT to market your brand. Remember, there is a certain level of trust you are conferring to your affiliate partners to represent your brand. There is a balance between giving them the freedom to market the way they want to, but also keeping your brand and voice under your control. Running this VIP campaign first can give you insights into how to manage this balance. For example, a tactic you need to watch out for is an affiliate promoting their unique codes/links on your own social media posts, as they’re basically taking conversion traffic you’re generating on your own:

Pro tip: pay close attention to how your VIPs are leveraging social media as they work to bring in referrals. SMBs can learn a lot from their best customers’ use of Facebook and Instagram, seeing what works and what level of engagement their posts get. Because these platforms are so important to future affiliate campaigns, gleaning insights from your biggest fans is always a good idea.

Step 3: Iterate

You’ve launched your first affiliate marketing campaign! But while you should definitely celebrate your successes, you’ll quickly learn that this is not a “set it and forget it” type of marketing program. Despite the fact that other people are out there working for you, it takes a commitment of support to make sure your newly minted affiliate reps continue to perform for you for their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th sale.

The beauty of starting with a VIP Loyalty Program is that it’s less likely to fail. After all, you’re working with your biggest fans. That’s why we call it “foolproof,” and a low-risk way to test out the waters and learn from your first outing. Now, it’s time to iterate and begin opening up your affiliate program to the rest of your base.

Each time you launch a new affiliate marketing campaign, you’ll learn a little more about how to make the next one even better. For small businesses, it’s not uncommon for your affiliate channel to account for 30% of sales. Done well, it’s a huge source of revenue that businesses can’t afford to ignore, so it’s up to you to learn, rinse, and repeat.