Tips on maintaining long-term affiliate relationships.

If you’ve already got a well-oiled affiliate marketing machine running on behalf of your business, you know that it’s one of the very best ways to promote. With a reputation for boosting conversion rates, strengthening brand awareness, and upping search rankings, it’s no wonder affiliate marketing earns 15​ percent of the total revenue ​in the realm of digital media advertising. But how do you keep the machine going with minimal maintenance, earning you big bucks along the way?

It all has to do with establishing strong, enduring affiliate relationships. Think of affiliate marketing as a carefully balanced triangle with you (the merchant), the consumer, and the affiliate working together, keeping the whole system stable. The truth is that a ​successful affiliate marketing program​ is one that serves each of the players equally. When one party fails to get value from the setup, they leave, and the triangle crumbles. This is our guide to helping you keep one arm of the triangle strong so that the whole system works to each player’s advantage.

Why Your Affiliate Relationship Matters

Finding strong affiliate partners matters, but maintaining them matters more. Because here’s the thing: Once you’ve found a good affiliate — that is, one who is closely aligned with your core consumer and garners you high conversions — you’ve already done half the work. You now have access to a whole world of valuable leads who are likely to convert. So yes, it’s well worth your while to do whatever you can to turn new affiliates into recurring affiliates.​

Keeping the relationship alive also signals to consumers and other partners that your relationship is genuine and trustworthy, and it leads to more high-value partnerships that benefit your business in other ways. As we’ll touch on below, authenticity is one of the main reasons why affiliate marketing works so well. It puts your product or service in front of your target consumer by way of a person or medium that they trust and have opted to like or follow. Their relationship serves as the bridge between you and the consumer.

You need to build strong affiliate relationships with influencers and affiliate managers because, quite frankly, your business may depend on it. According to the ​AffStat Affiliate Marketing Benchmark Report​, the vast majority of marketers value their business relationships with affiliate marketers, with nearly 50 percent calling them “somewhat valuable” and more than 32 percent calling them “crucial to my business.” We’re willing to bet that they’re a big part of your marketing program, or at least you’re hoping they will be at some point, so they’re worth fostering.

How to Retain Top-Performing Affiliates

So how, exactly, do you keep bloggers, publishers, and influencers as steadfast promoters of your company? It all has to do with running your marketing strategy like you run your business — ethically, fairly, and with a little bit of creativity for good measure. Here are some specific ways to keep them in good standing:

  • Don’t Be Evil​– Why not take a page straight out of the book of the company that answers 5.6 billion queries per day? Seriously, even though Google officially removed the clause ​from its code of conduct last year, the “don’t be evil” mantra still stands as a good rule of thumb for anyone who conducts business. The fact of the matter is that building enduring relationships is about focusing on the good and not being greedy or presumptuous, ensuring that everyone gets something out of the arrangement. Make decisions based on what benefits everyone and watch a genuine relationship blossom.
  • Brag About Your Success​– When an affiliate over-performs for you or you just so happen to be extra-proud of the success of a certain campaign, don’t forget to brag about it by posting about it on your social media profiles and sharing it with other marketers. This leads to more business for your affiliates — and we all know that referrals are a two-way street, so your affiliates are much more likely to recommend your business to fellow publishers and bloggers. Reputation is a big deal in this business, and you want yours to be in great standing.

  • Let Their Passion Show​– Don’t expect every partner to automatically share your passion for your product or service, but remember that the only way they’re going to be able to genuinely promote it is to be able to try it and enjoy it first-hand. Make sure to provide them with free or discounted products and services from the start. We always advocate for partnering only with affiliates who actually​​ support your brand, simply because consumers are extremely turned off by anything that feels authentic. Let them promote your product or service in a way that’s genuine to them but still aligns with your branding goals.
  • Provide Solid Incentives​– If you’re looking for ​ways to attract new affiliates and to keep them engaged even after the initial deal, you’ve got to provide a few high-value incentives right out of the gate. Some of the best affiliate marketing incentives include giving your reps free stuff (more on that below), providing them with extra freebies to hand out to their friends, using special discount codes just for them, and offering competitive commission rates.
  • Use a Tiered Commission Structure​– Speaking of commission rates, remember that not all links, promotions, and conversions should pay the same, and that some require more time and effort from the affiliate than others. We advocate for the idea of using a tiered commission structure wherein different actions garner different rewards — perhaps you pay more if the consumer opts into marketing e-mails after making a purchase or if they convert a new customer rather than a repeat customer, for example. In the same vein, it’s probably a good idea to tier your affiliates based on performance so that you pay the top performers more than new affiliates, incentivizing them to work harder.
  • Shower Them with Swag​– Many of the companies we work with send their affiliates and partners company swag — branded stickers, t-shirts, hats, etc. — and products as part of “rep packages.” These gifts serve you in several ways. First, they incentivize your affiliates and make them feel appreciated and like part of the family. Second, they put them in the position to wear and promote your brand out in public or naturally on their website or social media. When you’ve got influencers rocking your swag without getting paid, you know you’re doing something right — even if it’s just designing really cool promotional stuff!

  • Remember That You’re Partners​– One of the things we often see contributing to a sour affiliate-merchant relationship is one person getting more out of the arrangement than the other. In order for this type of marketing to work, everybody has to be rewarded at the end of the day — you in the form of more business and your affiliate in the form of a commission. Don’t try to eke out free promotions from your partners, ever, and you’ll have much better relationships.
  • Make Working Together a Breeze​– Think about a time you had to work with someone who was generally less than pleasant, evasive, or hard to reach. Most likely, you didn’t do much to keep this relationship alive or in good standing. It’s generally a good idea to keep the doors of communication open with your affiliate, fostering an active, transparent relationship. Don’t make your affiliates feel like they have to track you down for answers or insight, and always keep them in the loop if you won’t be in contact for a period of time.
  • Frontload Them with Information​– In this day and age, content marketing relies on providing high-value content to the user. Gone are the days of meaningless, keyword-stuffed blog posts. Now, if you’re not providing value to your audience, you might as well chalk your efforts up to money wasted. As such, it’s important that you give any and all representatives of your brand tons of information to reference. This not only helps the produce top-notch content when promoting your products or services, but it also helps simplify their writing or producing process — and that means major points in your book!

  • Work with the Right Affiliates​– At the end of the day, you’re not going to have a desire to reward your affiliates if they don’t adequately represent your brand. Start off strong by working only with the partners that make sense, provide value to your business, and are easy to work with. As you know from being a human being conducting business, life is a whole lot easier when you’re working with people you actually want to work with. And it does make rewarding top performers a bit difficult if you end up working with the wrong person. Don’t be afraid to be picky, especially if you’ve got options on the table.
  • Pay Affiliates Quickly and Reliably​– Remember that your partners put in a lot of work and effort to promote your brand, from constantly producing engaging content to grow their followers list so they can, in turn, help grow your business. Reward them and keep them as active members of the roster by paying them immediately and reliably. Never make your affiliates — or any of your partners, for that matter — have to chase you down for payment.
  • Reward Your Top Partners​– Last, but not least, don’t forget to reward your affiliates as much as possible. You don’t necessarily have to have a formal rewards program in place — though that is a great idea, too — but make sure you’re at least acknowledging and calling out massive wins or big efforts. Though gift cards, freebies, and bonuses are amazing and always well-received, a personal, hand-written card or e-mail of thanks really goes a long way in showing affiliates how much they’re valued.

Know Which Affiliates Are Worth the Effort

We’re not naïve. We know that not every affiliate relationship deserves to be wined and dined! That’s where our​ affiliate tracking software ​comes into play. With Refersion, you can launch, track, and manage affiliate marketing strategies from nothing, so you know exactly where your most and best leads are coming from. Make sure you’re aware of your top affiliate partnerships and be sure to prioritize them when you’re planning contracts, bonuses, and incentives.

As you can tell, keeping your best affiliates happy really comes down to holding up your end of the bargain and rewarding their hard work. As long as you keep these things in mind, you’ll be well on your way to long-lasting affiliate relationships that keep the marketing machine running at its best with virtually no effort from you. As your partner in all things affiliate marketing, Refersion is happy to help you build a program that works and keeps on working for the foreseeable future.