Affiliate tools can be a great mechanism to increase affiliate activation, revenue, and retention. Searching for useful affiliate tools online, however, can be discouraging and frustrating as most searches that include Affiliate Tools in the query return results are ridden with Get-Rich-Quick books and affiliate marketing “systems”.
As an affiliate manager, it is often challenging to identify affiliate tools to build for your program and determine which of those will contribute the most to the success of your affiliate program while generating a Return on Investment (ROI). Having developed affiliate tools myself as well as for clients, I thought I would share some insight around identifying and building affiliate tools that fit your affiliate program needs. I’ll also cover how to determine what will help your affiliates overcome challenges, generate incremental sales, and yield the best ROI.
Ask, And Then Listen
This approach is often the best place to start when it comes to figuring out which tools will most benefit the affiliates in your program. If you’ve been managing the affiliate program for some time, you likely already have emails from affiliates that hint of challenges they face that you may not be aware of.
If you’re lucky, you have emails from your affiliate partners asking for help and specific tools that will help them start promoting your affiliate program better. I’ve always found the affiliates that provide the most unsolicited and candid feedback are the best affiliate partners to work with in an affiliate program.
If you are brand new to affiliate marketing or just recently took over program management, asking for feedback in your newsletter or sending out a dedicated communication to your affiliate base can be a great starting point and means of gaining valuable insight. You can also take the opportunity to evaluate and analyze tools that your competitors are making available to the affiliates in their program.
Regardless of your tenure, being organized and tracking these types of conversations and requests is essential. If you’re not organized and tracking this data, you may be hindering the success of your affiliate program by having lower affiliate activation, lower revenue, and increased affiliate attrition.
Affiliate Tool Analysis
Once you have data around specific challenges and roadblocks affiliates are facing, take the time to analyze and identify core issues and root causes of the “pain” they are experiencing. What you’re really doing is starting to build your business case as to why you need these tools for your affiliate program. If you document these pain points, you will likely begin to see trends and be able to identify ways to address individually, or ideally, find ways an affiliate tool could solve multiple pain points through a single solution.
While this may sound simple, it is one of the most critical milestones of the project. Think of it as the foundation of the project. A comprehensive analysis and thorough understanding of “pain” your affiliates have will enable you to architect a foundation that is strong and solves the underlying challenges and core affiliate issues.
This will also keep your project focused, on time, and on budget. Having a weak foundation will likely result in scope creep, exceeding your budget, extending the timeline of the project, and, in some cases, failure to get affiliate tools in the hands of your affiliates altogether.
Keep in mind that there are many moving parts when it comes to developing affiliate tools in-house, including:
- Creating a scope document for each tool that clearly outlines the technical requirements and features.
- UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) design is an important element, so that affiliates using the tools find them intuitive and easy to use — as they will ultimately be your end-users.
- If you’re building tools like a widget or affiliate landing page generator, you’ll need to include graphic design to ensure the output of the tool (widget or affiliate landing page) meet and follow your company’s branding requirements.
- Engineering and development resources to do the coding, database work, and any other back-end development to ensure these tools have the necessary affiliate tracking or network integration needed.
- And last, but not least, you’ll need usability and product testing to ensure the tools you’ve built actually work and do what they are supposed to.
Having strong use-cases, being able to clearly articulate the solution, estimated revenue lost/gained via affiliate tools will help you prioritize against other in-house development projects.
Planning And Execution
You’ve asked affiliates what they need, received an overwhelming response, and now find yourself with an extensive list of affiliate tools that that will invigorate your affiliate program and take the affiliate channel to the next level. This is where being putting on your project management “hat” comes into play.
Depending on the number of affiliate tools you are looking to build, you may find yourself having to phase development over several months, even quarters. Leveraging the same organizational prowess you exhibited earlier in the project, you want to make sure that the different teams working on this project are working in harmony to complete the different phases of the project when they should.
Another thing to take into consideration when you’re planning this project is your businesses seasonality. Planning around your seasonality not only can create a sense of urgency, but can also help ensure you’re not building a tool that may disrupt your affiliate program during Q4, or whenever your business’ busy time is. Same holds true with your affiliates — your publishers are less likely to implement a tool that may negatively impact their Q4 sales spikes.
Affiliate Tool Delivery And ROI
Getting affiliate tools out the door and in the hands of your affiliates can give you a great feeling of accomplishment. Creating a communication plan and promoting your affiliate tools in your blog, affiliate portal, and newsletter are all important in getting your affiliate partners to adopt and start using these new affiliate tools.
You’ve worked hard to get these created, so make it a big deal with your affiliates! Do a series of webinars where you can demo and showcase the different affiliate tools you have available or create an affiliate promotion that rewards affiliates for using the tools to better promote your brand and products…and make it fun!
You’ve also probably promised an increase in affiliate channel revenue to your boss in exchange for budget to build these tools out. Make sure you’ve got ways to segment and track sales attributed to these tools. Depending on the platform you’re using to manage your affiliate program, associating a dedicated and hidden creative ID for traffic generated through the affiliate tool is an easy way to attribute revenue to each of your affiliate tools via creative performance reports.
If you provide sales data and prove how scalable (and profitable) these affiliate tools are the first time through, it will be that much easier for you to expand functionality with existing tools and expand your repository of tools to offer your affiliates.
Having the best affiliate tools for your program means happier affiliates, improving affiliate program metrics, increasing revenue, and being able to attribute an ROI to affiliate tools that will likely make your life easier as an affiliate manager.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.