When to start an affiliate program for your B2B business.

There are thousands of articles out there that talk about How to start an affiliate program (either for a B2C or B2b business). However, many don’t go into detail on the exact time or indication for when it is a good time to explore an affiliate program for your B2B organization.

In today’s post I plan to give you just that: Immense clarity on when to start a B2B affiliate program

Let’s get started!

Factor 1: Product Market Fit

This is one many will overlook. “I have product/market fit. or “I don’t have this – that is why I want to have an affiliate program to get partners to sell more of my products to solve my problem!”  many might say.

But the truth is: You are only as good as your product.

If you have been able to get just 10 customers to buy your product and they don’t get substantial value (or it doesn’t fully encompass their needs), you don’t have product market fit.

Why is product market so important around affiliates & starting an affiliate program?

  • If your product doesn’t sell naturally  – there is no way it will sell through a 3rd party affiliate.
  • If you try an affiliate program BEFORe product/market fit – no one will win; An affiliate might promote it to his large audience but if it doesn’t capture customer value: customer will cancel and the affiliate likely won’t get paid commission.

This is why Product market fit is SO important in being a precursor to start an affiliate program.

But how do I know if I have product market fit?

There is a lot of writing on product market fit and how to tell if you have achieve it. I think the two biggest takeaways on understanding if you have reach it  are:

  1. If you have to ask if you have product market fit, you probably haven’t achieved it (coined by Eric Reis).
  2. If you have any of the following, you probably haven’t reached product market fit: long sales cycles, slow usage, bad or no feedback from customers on the value of your product.

Product market fit often feels more like an art than a science so don’t rush over it just to then realize it is at the core of many of the marketing and sales success you will do down the road.

Factor 2: Reach.

This can be tricky to determine and often companies over-inflate the reach they potentially have with their products or services.

That is why I want to introduce the Web Hosting Question

Web hosting affiliate programs are very successful. Beyond the favorable economics of them,  they actually win with their affiliate program because of the varied reach they have.

What I mean by this is – they can engage all different types of audiences like:

  • Developers & Developer communities who mention their web hosting services.
  • Publishers and bloggers who write reviews or talk about their customer experience with the web hosting company they use (plus, there is tons you can do with web hosting: apps, CMS, and the brands within them).
  • Integration opportunities.

Plus, they can engage these types of audiences in all different regions of the world due to the nature of the business. This gives a super wide reach for affiliates to promote their services to!

So the Web Hosting Question is just that: “Does my product or service have substantial reach – across audience, geography, or use of the product?”

So, when it comes to evaluating the answer to that, you have to be very honest. You don’t have to hit all the factors that the web Hosting Question covers – but it also can’t be a very limited (less than 1000),only in a specific region, using your product or service for just one specific reason.

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Are you still struggling with whether or not an affiliate program is right for your B2B organization?  I would love to help you tackle it. Leave a brief question below or setup a time to speak.

Overcoming 5 Common Objections When Recruiting Affiliate Partners.

If you have ever tried to reach out to a blogger/publisher/potential affiliate and get hit with a “No” or a response that wasn’t what you expected, this post is for you.  Recruiting affiliates takes a lot of time, energy, resilience and creativity. You will get hit with rejection from time to time, but in this post I am going to cover the common objections  – and even better, how to handle them.

So let’s get started!

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Best Affiliate Program Software for SaaS Companies [UPDATED 2019]

 

 

It’s 2019, and boy has the landscape changed over the years around what platforms offer the best features to successfully run an affiliate program for a SaaS business. You have options abound and all different types of structures to consider like – SaaS, self-hosted, and affiliate networks to run your affiliate program on.

However, since we đź’— SaaS companies around here – Today, we are going to talk about three different SaaS options to run your SaaS’ affiliate program on; considering budget, size of your affiliate program, as well as breadth of feature set.

The SaaS affiliate management software providers we will be looking at are:

  1. Tapfiliate
  2. PartnerStack
  3. Impact
  4. First Promoter
  5. LinkMink

 

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A Guide to SaaS Partner Program Types

If I had to guess – you are SaaS company. You’ve tried all types of other channels, paid (PPC, Linkedin Ads, etc.) as well as non-paid (social, organic, etc.) and have a good comprehensive strategy for getting customers through those avenues.

But you are looking to scale. You’ve heard of an Affiliate or maybe Referral program as a way to tap into other networks, both customer or other opportunities out there, but you don’t know where to start.

Before you get two far down the rabbit hole there – let’s step back and look at all the different types of partner programs for SaaS companies you could create:

  • Referral Program (or Refer-A-Friend)
  • Affiliate Program
  • Agency/Solutions Program
  • Integrations Partner Program

Below, I will dissect each one and describe when it makes sense for you to start one – given what type of SaaS you have or where you are at with your business.

Let’s go!

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How to Reactivate or Win-Back Inactive Affiliates

Often times, if you have an affiliate program that has been going for more than a year – you have partners that signed up to promote your product or service and….ended up doing nothing.

This is common in all programs – no matter how successful your product or service is and how many people promote it. The fundamental thing to consider, however, is that there is a variety of reasons partners stop promoting.

So step 1 is understanding that…

Step 1: Segment & Ask.

 

It sounds clear – but many times, due to the easy, self-service way you can sign up for an affiliate program, we overlook the person behind that affiliate application or profile.

To get started you will want to:

  • Segment your affiliates in to two categories:
    • Those who signed up and have less than 20 clicks (all time) on their affiliate links (This signals they either signed up and promoted a little with no success or signed up and tested their link but didn’t promote).
    • Those who referred one customer (all time) and haven’t done anything since.

NOTE: you will want to be mindful of the date range you are pulling here. I would not pull data for affiliates who signed up beyond 2+ years back. Many have likely lost interest and won’t receive your message very well.

Step 2: Figure out how you are going to help them.

First the non-promoters (those who have less than 20 clicks on their links)  they might have a specific hurdle they are facing. Some common ones are:

  • They don’t know how to use the promotional materials you gave them to utilize on their website.
  • They don’t have a cohesive strategy to position your product or service in front of their audience.
  • They got distracted after they signed up.
  • They lost interest.

Those affiliates who referred one customer and stopped – might have an all new set of problems they face like:

  • They didn’t get paid their commission for their first customer referred so they stopped promoting.
  • It was a single use promotion (helping a single client with a single need)
  • They moved on to promoting a competitor
  • They needed tools (that you didn’t have) to expand their promotion  of your product or service.
  • They, too, could have lost interest.

Step 3: Write out a personalized email for each segment.

 

 

Here you will want to reach out to each segment with the honest intent to help them out. An email like this could be the right approach for an example of the first persona that we listed above:

INactive affiliate email

The focus here is: to objectively find out what might be holding them back and then come up with solutions to set them on the right path. It’s not about “pitching” them to get back in the game and promote more; you are trying to find out some qualitative information that held them up in the first place. 

Step 4: Listen, Optimize, and chart out next steps.

 

The truth is: you are likely going to get mix bag of answers or even: no responses at all. So it is going to be hard to prescribe the right solution for ALL affiliates in your segment.

However, you are probably going to start seeing some recurring themes between affiliates in each of the segments.

For example: There might be a cry from the non-performing affiliates they need additional resources, videos, or tools to help them convert more referrals. While, for the affiliates that promoted and secured one referred sale – they might have stopped promoting based on: not getting paid for that commission, didn’t have their payment details listed, or simply – they just had a single use case for the affiliate program. 

Final: Where many go wrong… (AKA – don’t do this!)

Many think that offering money to come back and promote, is a guaranteed success to get someone from no promotion to promoting. My personal opinion: Money/commission might have correlation for deciding to promote your products or services again, but not a direct correlation. Often times, from the affiliate’s perspective, this action is seen as the opposite; the company’s bandaid solution to helping affiliates.

Therefore – It’s best to get some info back from affiliates before offering any bonuses (aka reactivation bonuses) for promoting your services. It could be used along with what you find out from affiliates through your reactivation, personalized emails – but not the carrot at the end of the tunnel.

Have you run a reactivation campaign to affiliates? Considering on doing one but have some questions? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Run a Successful Affiliate Program Contest

One of the prime ways to improve performance, motivate affiliates, and see what your affiliate program is capable of is to run an affiliate program campaign or contest.

However, many SaaS companies out there HAVE and have come away with lack luster results.

Given we have run over 40+ different contests and campaigns for our clients – we have seen a lot of what does work and doesn’t work.  And in the post, we plan to walk you through the steps we take for each contest to ensure it achieves its maximum potential.

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What’s the difference between an Affiliate Program vs. Referral Program vs. Influencer Program?

If you are a B2B SaaS company, especially one on a growth curve, you are constantly looking for ways to ramp up growth. Once you have secured organic, SEO, as well as paid channels as part of your marketing strategy- you might look to more indirect ones through partners. 

So you look around and you keep bumping into various words like, “Affiliate”, “Influencer” and “Referral” Program. And each time you have the same question:What is the difference between each and which one do I need?

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Do B2B Affiliate Programs work for SaaS Companies?

If you are a B2B SaaS company  – you are always on the look out to leverage new marketing channels to bring in qualified customers or clients. One that comes to mind, but often gets the most confusion around is: affiliate programs.

And the real crux behind the question, in my opinion, is: Are there SaaS affiliate marketers or publishers out there, that would promote my product or service to bring qualified customers?

Truth be told: mileage varies by what target customer a particular SaaS company is going after, but with that said, you can use the below factors to determine whether or not an affiliate program could work for your B2B SaaS company.

Factor 1: Size and Scope of your target audience.

If you have a very narrowly defined target customer or client, the chances an affiliate program will work are much lower. Why?

Affiliates/Publishers, especially in the B2B space, are looking to have decent leverage over the audience type it can go after. They are going to be looking at scalability after they test how to promote your products and services. If there is a smaller cap on reach, the chances are that they can be profitable on their promotions (with considerations on conversion rates and LTV if you have recurring commissions)  – it is much more riskier for them to take.

Factor 2: How customers actually buy and consume your service.

This is more important than SaaS company’s might realize. If you have a self-service model (where a customer/client signs up to use your service on their own) it is infinitely easier and more straight forward for affiliates to promote your service.

If you have a lot of “hand holding” during your sales process (demos, RFP’s, etc.) affiliates will be less likely to influence that interaction making an affiliate program harder to work out for you (not to mention tracking attribution for these partners).

Factor 3: Test!

The last factor is less of a factor and more of advice. There can never be 100% confidence, given if the above factors are not met, that an affiliate program would not work for your B2B company.

The barriers to entry are quite low (in terms of technology and acquisition cost) to launch an affiliate program (and if you are considering one, check out this helpful guide to launch one).So always consider testing one with your current customer base or small, targeted group of marketers to see if it would work for you.

Still not convinced an affiliate program is right for B2B SaaS companies?

I think the best way to show that an affiliate program can work for a B2B SaaS Company, is to show you two SaaS businesses that have thriving B2B affiliate programs.

Shopify B2B Affiliate Program:

Shopify has a thriving affiliate program of bloggers, agencies, and more referring clients to their B2B commerce product. It’s a great example of a B2B business that has done some really amazing things with their partner program.

LiveChat Inc. Affiliate Partner Program:

LiveChat, a B2B SaaS company that sells live chat software to other online business, is a primary example of how you can have a successful B2B SaaS affiliate program.

Are you still stuck on whether or not your B2B SaaS company would get anywhere with an affiliate program? Leave a comment below – I’d love to more about how I could help. 

How to Pitch and Recruit SaaS Affiliates.

You might have an idea of where to find affiliates. However, once you find them – how do you actually pitch them so you have the best chance to create an affiliate partnership?

Let’s set the stage first. Today, some of the best affiliates get inundated with emails and calls to promote merchant’s products. It’s gotten out of control. So the very first precursor to going out and pitching affiliates is to be mindful of their time and be laser focused on what you see as plausible outcomes for them.

 

1. Set Strategy & Mindset.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The economics of almost all affiliate programs are: 90% of revenue/sales come from just 10% of your affiliate partners (Also known as a modification of the 80/20 rule, better known as the Paretto’s Principle).

Therefore, your strategy in recruiting shouldn’t be around how many total affiliates you can signup for your program (as we just learned – nearly 90% of those luke warm interested affiliates will send zero customers), It should be around finding those SaaS Affiliates that can bring long term value and be in that 10%.

2. Research the affiliate’s website.

Bich Tran

Before reading any further, if you have a head scratching moment and ask, “Where do I find these affiliates first?” Check out this post first: 12 Ways to Find Affiliates to Promote your SaaS Software Company

You might be itching to contact an affiliate prospect but before you do you are going to want to review their website heavily. Run through and find answers to these questions or complete the following tasks:

  • First impressions: What is their main focus? What are they trying to promote to their audience?
  • Are they promoting any of your competitors?
  • Can you determine what segment they are? Meaning: Large Publisher, Blogger, Review site, CPA marketer, or other.

Note: Some of the best affiliate marketers won’t publicly share how they are promoting; they build tension around the problem they are looking to solve then request you join their email list or community. I always suggest that you resist the urge to pitch them before you consume some of their content and be in their community  – overall, to understand what they are about. 

3. Find and verify their email address.

There are a ton of tools out there to do this. Here are just a few:

  • Hunter.io -free plan
  • Lusha.co Chrome extension 
  • Vocus.io – preferred. This is a nifty tool that sits on top of Google that does prospecting/verification of email addresses but also does followups, mail merge, snippets/saved emails and a ton of other things. It’s inexpensive and solid. We use it in-house for our own recruiting methods.

Many of the above tools also have the ability to verify the email address can deliver email. I highly suggest you check this as it will save you a lot of time when putting your email together.

A note about Contact forms and group alias: If you can’t find an email address on a website and the only way to contact them is either by a group alias (i.e. support@company.com) or contact form – you may have run into a dead end. I’d suggest doing some googling to find out who might run the site and communicate through other channels (twitter or facebook) to reach out to the SaaS affiliate. Most alias and contact form submits go un answered in my experience.

4. Your Pitch.

nappy

This is part 1 of 2 where most folks go wrong. They start by pitching their affiliate program to the SaaS affiliate prospect and not looking at it from the affiliate’s angle. Here are some tips based on the research you found in step #2, researching their website:

  • If they are mentioning a competitor on their website: Be mindful they might be well tied to this competitor’s tool or affiliate program. It’s best to focus on three things: What sets your SaaS company apart from the competition (without naming names), why that is important to his/her (affiliate’s) audience, and what the affiliate can stand to benefit/expect from working together (high converting offer, higher commissions, recurring bonuses).
  • In an aligning vertical but not promoting your industry: Make a case for why promoting tools in Industry A (your industry) goes along with Industry B (Whatever they are currently promoting). For example, If they are promoting a web hosting provider and your SaaS company does website backups – make the case for why those go hand and hand.
  • If you have no indicators to go off of and it is completely cold: Focus on concrete ideas that might help the SaaS affiliate partner and get creative (see below, in the email copy section, on ideas).

Your First Reach out – Email Copy.

As I mentioned at the beginning, SaaS affiliates get inundated with pitches and requests to promote all different products and services. That means yours has to stand out, but stand out in a meaningful, value-driven way (not a quick turn of the head for attention but nothing else). 

For this reason, I like to use the AIDA format for my outreach emails. To get some ideas on crafting your own, I’d suggest you read this great post by Neville Medora about Cold Emailing like a boss and take a gander at one of the example emails he uses from Sam the Founder of HustleCon. Don’t copy this – create your own!

When I did this, I decided to create animated gif of me using a whiteboard to say, “hello!” to achieve my attention aspect of my email. Did it work? One of my prospects tweeted this:

I still do variations of this (and also include video in a tasteful way) to recruit the right type of affiliates to my client’s affiliate programs. And you know what? it works for me. Check out just a snapshot of a week of recruiting and the results:

84% open rate. What is not listed: Response rate was 63% and close rate (if they signed up for my client’s affiliate program was 28%).

Before you get discouraged and think your outreach doesn’t work – TEST, TEST, TEST. You will get some no responses. That is just part of this process but what is more important is finding out what works and resonates with your prospects.

5. The followups.

This is part 2 of 2 of what I see people get wrong. They have lack luster followups or don’t have a proper method or system of following up. Let’s start with the tools first and then get into your followup strategy.

Tools for Followups:

  • Vocus.io – I use this religiously because I can setup some basic followup templates but custom/personalize per recipients so they are not dull, blanket followups. 
  • Reply.io – Another great tool, especially if you need/require a CRM integration.

Followup Strategy & Cadence:

The key to following up is not just to say, “Did you look at this?” It’s to get a temperature gauge of where this fits in to their busy schedule.

For example, I tend to follow up a week after my first email with perhaps additional information I didn’t include in my first email. Or, if the client released a new feature/function between my first email and my second email and I think it would be pertinent to the prospect based on my research: I talk about it.

Cadence:There is no science to the correct cadence to emails. It usually looks like this:
  • Day 0: First/Initial Email
  • Day 7: Followup
  • Day 14: Final Email followup.

I’ve learned that there will definitely be people not interested. That’s reality. However, the assumption that because someone doesn’t answer your email isn’t a causation affect of their interest. It might mean there is interest but it is not an priority at the moment so they choose to push it aside. As such, on my last email followup, I include something like this.

Big Tips on Followups:

There is a lot of nuance in email communication and it’s hard to gauge interest or where someone is at with the conversation. Here are some general tips that you need to keep in mind when doing followups:

  • If you get a response and they would like you to followup in a few months because it is not pertinent right now, always schedule it. This sets your credibility and responsiveness expectations if they do decide to work with you. I like to use the vocus.io tool to set this up and remind the prospect why we originally were talking. Any pertinent information goes a long way.
  • Be mindful of peoples discretion to get emails. Don’t turn it into a autoresponder series for them where they had no interest in the beginning or didn’t even opt-in.
  • Test your followups. Don’t get static; people see the same “hey – wanted to bump this” followups all the time. Use what works for you – creative copy, humor, empathy, etc.

6. On boarding an affiliate to promote your product.

Pixabay

A big misunderstanding in the recruiting process is: “Someone has interest, ok – signup and let’s get them to start slanging affiliate links and sending customers.”

Hold on, captain. Many partner want to test the waters. That means:

Step A: Product/Service Testing.

  • Product Demos –  by you or your team.
  • Test or Free Accounts: some of the best affiliates eat their own dog food and will segment some of their traffic to test your product/service. This will give the thumbs up/down if they will truly endorse it or not.

Assuming they like what they see, then you start talking about working together in the context of the affiliate program. See what we did there? We don’t talk about the affiliate program at the start of the conversation because it’s putting the cart before the horse; the promotion before the endorsement. We approach by helping and then offering options around working together.

Step B: Affiliate Program Onboarding.

Next steps, is to concierge them into your affiliate program. Don’t send them what all other reactive affiliates get when signing up for the program. Why? They might need assets beyond the typical affiliate program offers. What does that mean?

  • Content/Guides – They might need some additional content, guides, assets that is relevant to their audience.
  • Deep Link Request/Creation – if you have a complex SaaS platform that solves a lot of different, varied problems, an affiliate might want to link their affiliate link to a specific page on your site. That is essentially what a deep link is. Some programs decide to restrict and only do it by request only.
  • Co-branded landing page  – You might decide to wait until the affiliate earns some sales prior to this, but this should be in the back of your mind. You want to the affiliate to have the best converting tools (and a high converting landing page is definitely one) for their audience.
  • Discuss Terms, Bonuses, and exclusive discounts – It’s important to work with your new affiliates to establish some baseline metrics. They give you realistic expectations of results, and you provide exclusive terms, discounts (for their audiences). This is different from one affiliate to the next so you really need to balance the results with what to offer.

7. Reporting and Check-ins.

Lukas

Reporting : You might think the work is all over at this point, but it is just beginning. Every week, I look at my recruited affiliates performance for:
  • Increase/Decrease in traffic to their affiliate links.
  • Increase/Decrease in sales/referrals
  • Increase/Decrease in AOV (Average Order Value)
  • Account Expansion or Churn/Retention of those accounts they referred (rolling 6 months back).
  • and new referring URL’s (the link they are coming from prior to affiliate link being clicked)

This gives me a good indicator on both the quantity of their sales as well as the quality of the accounts they refer. It also gives me some indication (especially with the last bullet point) if anything changed in their promotion and if there is needs to jump on the phone to talk it over (for example, if things drop drastically – they could have stopped promoting you or switched to a competitor; important info they might not tell you outright).

Check-ins: A regular scheduled checkin is good  – but don’t over do it. Some affiliates like it by request, others like you to be proactive and see how you can provide value to what they are already doing. Just prescribe it based on the affiliate and how they like to work.

What do I cover in checkins and what is the schedule for them?

I check in with my top recruited affiliates at least once a month. What do we cover?

  • I share new product updates and or special promos they are eligible for –  that are coming down the line that might help their promotion.
  • I give advice on tweaks on ways to position and mention the product in their funnel for optimal conversion (or ways they can test).
  • I give them any stats (usually churn info) that relates to their accounts they refer that is not presented outright in their affiliate tracking dashboard.

Checkins are crucial to building a long term relationship with your recruited SaaS affiliates. I all too many times Affiliate or marketing managers that do recruiting: Getting them to signup for their affiliate program, and wiping their hands clean. Checkins are crucial to the trust of a partner knowing that you are keeping an eye on performance and there to offer help with they need it.

Wrapping it up…

Pitching and bringing on affiliates is hard work. You need to invest the time and energy to make it work – there really is no shortcuts in relationship building.

Tried all of these options and not seeing results? Sign up to be notified for a new guide I am working on, “Affiliate Recruiting 101 Guide”  to be released. It will include over-the-shoulder videos of how I recruit and more in-depth demonstrations to make recruiting affiliates work for you.

Formula for the Perfect Affiliate Commission Structure.

A big confusion area when analyzing or creating an affiliate program: What formula will give me a competitive, cost-effective affiliate commission structure to offer affiliates in my affiliate program.

In the above video, we talk about the fundamental questions you need to ask to create the formula for an effective commission to offer your affiliates. We cover the:

  1. The Margin Question.
  2. Analyzing your Affiliate value touch-points.
  3. Aggressive vs. room to grow.

Watch the video and read more on each area to be an expert at creating a competitive and sustaining commission structure.

If your new to creating affiliate commission structures and want to learn about all the various aspects and components, head over and read my article on, The Ultimate Guide on Affiliate Commission Structures

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