Do you want to attract more customers, create a buzz around your B2B business and cultivate your brand’s reputation?
You might want to consider starting an affiliate program.
An affiliate marketing program can help grow your customer base and build brand loyalty. Plus, it enables you to keep up with the competition. Affiliate marketing spend is slated to exceed $8 billion by 2022, up from $5.4 billion in 2017.
This guide will help you understand what affiliate marketing is and walk you through each step in starting an affiliate program for your B2B business.
What is An Affiliate Program?
An affiliate marketing program offers a commission to loyal customers or influencers that recommend your products or services to friends or followers.
You’ll decide how much commission to pay and other criteria that your affiliates must meet. Then, qualified affiliates receive a unique link that they can share in blog posts, reviews or social media posts. You’ll pay a commission for every sale that is made through that link.
Affiliates are often social media influencers, bloggers with a sizable following or even business consultants who recommend various B2B software and tools. They may be loyal customers of the businesses they promote or rely on affiliate programs as a source of income.
You can also look for affiliate sites in your B2B niche that rank or review products. For instance, MedicalAlertBuyersGuide.org draws traffic by ranking medical alert products.
The site earns money through commissions from the brands they have affiliate agreements with. Typically, affiliate agreements are based on the number of sales the affiliate brings in.
Affiliate programs are very adaptable, so even a B2B organization can create a structure that works well for its needs and goals.
5 Steps to Starting an Affiliate Marketing Program
Affiliate marketing can be a tricky concept at first, but creating an affiliate program is relatively simple.
You’ll need to think carefully about what will work best for your specific business. But with a little planning and the right tools at your disposal, you’ll start off on the right foot.
1. Set your affiliate marketing goals
As with any new marketing initiative, the first key step is setting performance-based goals.
Think about what outcomes you would like to see. Do you want to increase sales? Attract a certain type of clientele? Build customer loyalty?
Your chosen goals will determine your affiliate program’s structure and the KPIs you should track to measure its success.
2. Research your niche and competitors
Next, you’ll need to build a deep understanding of your niche. You’ll want to research your target audience, competitors and key influencers or bloggers in this space.
When researching competitors, pay attention to whether they offer affiliate programs and how they are structured. Take note of how much they pay affiliates and how their affiliate programs are made up. This way, you’ll make sure that you can offer something comparable and attract effective partners.
You’ll also need to take note of the kinds of affiliates that are active in your niche. Like the medical alerts example earlier and this ranking of community college nursing programs, many research-heavy niches have a group of websites that rank or review products.
If this is true of your niche, your B2B audience will likely rely on these sites to make buying decisions. You’ll need to structure your affiliate program to entice these kinds of websites and get more exposure for your brand.
But in other niches, such as marketing or SaaS, social media influencers may be much more common. In this case, you might require your affiliates to have a certain number of followers or post about your company at a certain interval.
3. Create your commission offer and program structure
With your affiliate marketing program goals and niche research in hand, it’s time to start brainstorming about what your affiliate program can offer and what it will bring your business in return.
First, you’ll want to decide how much you will pay in commission. The commission rate needs to make you attractive to affiliates while still keeping the program profitable.
Consider some of the following criteria to set your commission fee:
- How much do you typically spend to attract one new customer?
- How much revenue does one customer typically generate for your company in their lifetime?
- What percentage of new customers become repeat or regular customers?
- Can you count on your sales to have a high average order value?
Answering these questions should give you an idea of the range of compensation you can offer affiliates.
Next, consider what your competitors are offering and how you can stand out. Think about whether you’ll offer a flat commission per sale or a percentage of the revenue, whether you’ll offer cash or store credit and how long affiliate codes or links will be active for receiving commissions.
For example, PandaDoc, a document signing software, offers a fixed cost per lead.
Once you’ve established what you’ll offer affiliates, you need to decide what you’ll require from them. For instance, you could request that affiliates write an honest review of your product or service, as SimpleMoneyLyfe does with this Credit Saint review.
You could also ask your affiliates to include photos in their posts, add a personal note or endorsement or use certain hashtags associated with your brand.
You can even ask affiliates to use a certain call-to-action and display your logo, like in this example from an affiliate page for PEO providers.
Lastly, you’ll need to decide if your affiliates need to meet any other criteria in order to qualify for your program.
Here are some common affiliate criteria:
- Number of followers or subscribers
- Average monthly website traffic
- Customer loyalty, i.e., number of purchases they have made from you
- Blogging or content creation schedule
- Presence on certain social media platforms
Your affiliate criteria can be as strict or as loose as you like, depending on your business goals. If your B2B business has a long sales cycle or tends to retain customers for years, you may want to consider having stricter criteria and longer partnerships with your affiliates.
4. Recruit and screen affiliates
At this point, you should be ready to market your affiliate program to influencers, bloggers and other qualified affiliates.
You can approach this in several ways. One option is to use an affiliate network, which works similarly to a recruiting firm for typical hiring. The network will use your criteria to find the right affiliates for your business.
Affiliate networks can be an easy and fast way to jumpstart your affiliate marketing program, but they’re often expensive to work with and may not give you access to your affiliate information.
A more affordable and sustainable option is marketing the affiliate program yourself.
Announce it through your typical marketing channels to attract loyal customers, but also be sure to engage in direct outreach and marketing efforts to influencers and established affiliates in your niche.
One creative yet successful method that’s been gaining popularity lately is using lead generation quizzes to attract new affiliates to your program:
You can also use these quizzes to qualify an affiliate and get them excited about the possibility of joining your affiliate program.
But don’t forget that this page will need to be found by potential affiliate marketers. You might consider working with an SEO agency to give your affiliate program page a boost on Google. You can then work with your PR team or agency to reach out to specific influencers that you’d like to personally invite to the program.
Once you’ve reached an agreement with an affiliate, give them your requirements and criteria and have them sign a contract agreeing to those terms.
5. Track affiliates and adjust as needed
Recruiting affiliates is an ongoing process as you work toward your goals. In the meantime, you’ll need to set up and refine your system for tracking and paying affiliates.
You can use affiliate software to manage everything related to your affiliates. That includes signed agreements, length of the contract, number of sales, payment schedules and more.
As you roll out your affiliate program, expect to find some issues you need to resolve. You may have to modify your commission structure or affiliate criteria to make sure you’re attracting the right affiliates and influencers for your B2B niche.
It’s smart to get feedback from early recruits to your affiliate program. They can let you know what’s working and what’s not so you can adjust before your numbers grow too high.
Get Started on Your Affiliate Program Today
Starting an affiliate program for your B2B business is a great way to increase your business’s reach and build customer loyalty.
With a little planning and research, you’ll be able to define your ideal affiliate partner and create a structure that benefits both you and your affiliates. As you market your program and recruit your first affiliates, be sure to adjust where needed to stay on track with your business goals.
Continue to build good relationships with your affiliates and watch your B2B business grow.
Dustin Howes owns an affiliate marketing agency that is dedicated to helping companies maximize their affiliate marketing efforts. Through group coaching and private consulting, Dustin teaches program managers how to recruit the right affiliates, optimize working hours and how to take the growth of the program to the...