It’s hard to believe that we’re already a month into the fourth quarter. Most affiliate management initiatives are centered around the holiday shopping season; and, now that those plans are in motion, this is a good time to start thinking ahead and planning for 2013.
While it may take a little more doing to get your affiliate program planning done during the peak shopping season, it can also be the best time to do so because of the increase in performance and affiliate activity in Q4.
Increased revenue means higher visibility within your organization, making it easier to be top-of-mind with those approving budgets for next year. Increased affiliate activity means that any inefficiencies in your affiliate marketing program are likely a significant pain-point for you at the moment, and will inspire innovation and improvement.
I wanted to share a simple to-do list that will help you get started in thinking about ways to improve your affiliate program in 2013.
1. Create Your 2013 Affiliate Marketing Plan
An affiliate marketing plan is one of the most valuable documents you can create for your affiliate program, yet many affiliate managers do not take the time to create such a document. Your affiliate marketing plan should serve as a month-by-month blueprint for the year.
Some of the best affiliate marketing plans I’ve seen include: promotional calendar, affiliate communication strategy, affiliate incentives, scheduled product releases, creative refresh timelines, and other items critical to managing your affiliate program efficiently.
A couple of things to keep in mind when you’re creating an affiliate marketing plan. First, it shouldn’t be a how-to-guide for your boss; it should serve as your own strategy guide. Keep it at a 30,000 to 50,000 foot view.
Second, your affiliate marketing plan will likely change at some point during the year, and that is ok. Different initiatives will take priority during the year; being able to pivot your affiliate marketing plan is just as important as creating it.
Last, if sitting down and writing a 12-month affiliate program just isn’t feasible — start with the first half of the year or even quarterly. The best affiliate managers are reviewing and revising their plan every three to six months to ensure it aligns with current priorities.
2. Create A Professional Development Plan With Your Personal Goals For The Year
Now that you’ve created a plan for your affiliate program, invest the time to create one for yourself. Creating a professional development plan each year helps you set your own personal goals and be accountable.
These can include developing a certain skill-set that will advance your career, or revenue goals that you hope to achieve through the affiliate program that year. It can also include something outside of the office, such as getting involved with an industry association.
What’s most important in creating a professional development plan is that the tasks listed on it should help you achieve a desired goal, the tasks should be feasible/achievable, and you should share it with others to keep you accountable.
If your organization requires professional development plans, they already know how valuable they are. If not, it could be an interesting pitch to your boss as a strategy to bring your team together and grow professionally.
3. Create Or Update Your Affiliate Recruitment Pipeline
While Q4 is great for increasing affiliate revenue; historically, it tends to be horrible for recruiting new high-caliber affiliates. Many top affiliates will go on a merchant freeze in the months leading up to and into Q4 — until the peak holiday shopping season is over.
The reason some affiliates impose a merchant freeze is the same reason Internet retailers and e-commerce businesses impose a code freeze in Q4: you don’t want to introduce anything new that could have a potential negative effect on traffic, page indexing or revenue.
If you don’t have one already, create an affiliate recruitment pipeline. Each time you identify an affiliate that aligns with your brand and product offering, add them to your pipeline and track your progress. To keep things manageable, limit this to strategic affiliate partnership opportunities. This can all be done via spreadsheet; however, if your company uses a CRM system like Salesforce or Batchbook, you may be able to go that route and avoid duplication.
4. Affiliate Program Clean Up
While Q4 might be a difficult time to recruit new affiliates into your program, it is a great time to step back and analyze your existing affiliate base and identify ways to refresh the program.
An affiliate program refresh can include: improving the categorization of your existing affiliates, deactivating inactive affiliates, and revisiting your approval criteria for affiliate approvals to align with current and upcoming marketing initiatives. If this is the first time you’ve done a program clean up, and you are hesitant about doing a program clean up in Q4, put together a plan for Q1.
• Categorize your affiliates: Creating and assigning categories to your affiliates is an easy way to improve the operational efficiency of your affiliate program. It also enables you to run sub-campaigns that target specific affiliate groups. Possible categories include affiliate type (coupon, paid search, loyalty, etc.) or sales performance (active, inactive, no sales in 3 months, etc.) In some cases, affiliates may belong to multiple groups, such as coupon and inactive.
• Deactivate inactive affiliates: Sometimes, there is a notion to recruit as many affiliates as possible into an affiliate program. When merchants focus on quantity of affiliates in the program rather than quality, they can quickly find themselves in trouble. Opening up your program to everyone can increase exposure to fraud and affect your program performance — which can include decreasing your overall conversion rate through the affiliate channel.
• Realign your affiliate approval criteria: It’s a good idea to review and assess your current affiliate approval criteria on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. As priorities shift, you need to make sure you’re recruiting and approving affiliates that align with your current marketing objectives.
5. Identify The Resources You Need For Success In 2013
After creating your affiliate marketing plan, making a professional development plan, updating your affiliate pipeline, and getting your program ready for Q1, you may find that the work needing to be done exceeds the bandwidth of currently available resources. It might be time to hire someone or retain an affiliate management agency or OPM (outsourced program manager) to support your affiliate marketing initiatives.
Having multiple people managing the affiliate channel is common as the affiliate program grows, providing more revenue and more affiliates.
While you can hire and train a new employee, it may be more strategic to retain an affiliate management agency. Partnering with an affiliate agency is a turnkey option that will bring outside experience and industry expertise — reducing the time it takes to begin delivering results and having a positive impact in your affiliate program.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.