Do B2B Affiliate Programs work for SaaS Companies?

If you are a B2B SaaS company  Рyou 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)  Рit 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Read More

Super Affiliates vs. Current affiliates: Which one is more important?

There comes a time in all affiliate programs where you ask yourself – “Do I need to start looking for super affiliates to drive my growth of my affiliate program or can I fuel it with my current affiliates?”

It makes a lot of sense:¬†If I can have one affiliate drive 20% of new sales, it’s going to be a quicker way to success then getting 100 affiliates to cumulatively drive 20%.¬†

However – it takes both. Let’s begin…

Why you ALWAYS need current affiliates.

Helena Lopes

Your current affiliates most likely signed up with intent for promoting your products or services. It’s also likely that they were actually your customer’s prior to coming along and signing up for your affiliate program.¬†It’s the least path to resistance and motivation¬†for them.

While there monthly performance might not be “pushing the revenue needle” for your company, you need your current affiliates because:

  • They probably know your product or service better than you, the merchant do.
  • Loyal and love your brand and want to promote at their will.

The only thing they lack is:¬†Reach and distribution to drive large quantities of customers.¬†That is where Super/Top Affiliates come into play…

Why you need Super Affiliates to grow your affiliate program.

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Super Affiliates have the reach and distribution but might not be as loyal to your product or service. Some (not all) affiliates promote a product/service in a specific industry based on the highest commission structure (not a recommend affiliate practice). If a competitor offers your super affiliate more commission and they stop promoting you Рyou lose out.

Although this can happen, there are many redeeming factors to working with and having super affiliates in your program:

  • They can reach verticals and audiences that you, as a merchant, could never have thought of; tapping into new customer channels.
  • Super Affiliates want high converting products or services. It will drive you (as a merchant) to improve conversion rate and user experience given some of these affiliate partners recommendations.
  • Most affiliates I have worked with are highly motivated and creative; They will work with you more like a committed business partner.

Why it takes a balanced approach.

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It’s very important to segment your affiliates and have different working styles and goals for them. It’s also important you don’t put more focus into one over the other because:

  • If your current affiliates don’t feel like they have support from you as a merchant (always chasing super affiliates) – they might report how badly your affiliate program is run.
  • If your spending all the time working with current affiliates and not attracting outside partners – you can have stagnant growth.
  • If you focus on super affiliate performance only and a big affiliate stops promoting – your affiliate program revenues will actually decline.

Are you having trouble recruiting Affiliates? I’d love to give you some in-depth, evidence based, strategies so you can get more qualified, affiliates into your affiliate program. Check it out here.¬†

 

Should you allow affiliates to bid on PPC terms or trademarks?

At some point in time, during the growth of an active affiliate program, you will have an affiliate (or several) use PPC advertising to promote your brand. When you do some research online on PPC advertising and affiliates, you will find conflicting opinions based on a) whether you should allow this at all or b) if you decide to allow it – when in your companies lifecycle is the best time to accept it.

I want to dive in deep so that you can have clarity on why affiliates promote this way, how affiliates use PPC to promote your brand, and whether you should consider it.

Why Affiliates Promote using PPC.

PPC Affiliate Advertising

Pay Per Click Advertising, or PPC advertising, is a low-barrier-to-entry way for affiliates to promote your brand. Essentially they are looking at Commission Arbitrage; Given the customer acquisition cost (Aka, in this example, how much they will spend in ads to promote your brand), can they deliver a customer and get a return (in the form of commissions from your company) that is higher than their breakeven cost? If the answer is¬†yes¬†and they can scale it – it’s a straightforward way to make money.

Here are some other reasons why an affiliate might promote using PCC:

  • Perhaps the merchant they are promoting is doing zero PPC advertising.
  • The merchant is doing advertising but missing some valuable long-tail keywords they can capitalize on.
  • The affiliate sees an opportunity in¬†trademark + keyword¬†options.

How Affiliates Promote on Google Adwords, Bing, or other ad networks.

Now that we have an understanding on the motivations behind WHY an affiliate would do this, let’s look at some basic strategies on HOW they do it.

Branded/Trademarked Terms:

This would be your registered trademarks (company name¬ģ‚ĄĘ). Affiliates bid directly on these terms on Ad networks and use the destination URL (or ad URL) as their affiliate link. This usually happens against or in place of a merchant that currently has PPC managed already internally or not.

Branded/Trademarked Term + Keyword:

Perhaps an affiliate noticed there is a brand they want to promote where a lot of people are searching “Branded Term + Discount”. They might run ads to capture (especially if they have a coupon or promo code) people looking for discounts prior to checkout.

Non-Branded/Industry Terms:

This is when affiliate is bidding on terms in your industry and directing people to their affiliate link (that goes to your website). For instance, if you are a VPN service – an affiliate might bid on “VPN Service, Torrent, IP masking” as a way to deliver ads to prospects searching these terms on google.

Should you Allow Affiliates to Bid on PPC?

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Given what I have seen as typically low performance by PPC affiliates and risk to the merchant from a branding perspective, It’s often times not a best practice to allow PPC advertising in your affiliate program.

The only exception is really around: Wether or not you are currently doing PPC advertising for your company. In certain cases, if you have no expertise in-house and not looking to hire a dedicated employee or agency Рworking with an affiliate to do this (in return for a commission) is a cost effective solution. However, I would preface: you really need to vet this affiliate and build a close partnership with this person to keep branding and goals on point. Without it, their might be some negative branding implications as well as if you are paying the affiliate too high of a commission for the amount of customers you receive from it.

Is there anything you can do to prevent them promoting on PPC if you don’t allow it?

Scott Webb

There is no way to stop affiliates from running the ads outright, however there are ways you can monitor, notify affiliates and networks of ads that are running.

First though, You need to ensure¬†Your affiliate terms and conditions have appropriate language against PPC advertising.¬†If you don’t have it in your current terms, add it and notify all affiliates of changes.

Then, you can use a tool/platform like BrandVerity to monitor PPC activity. Brand Verity allows you to:

  • Setup email reports of PPC activity based on the terms and locations you specify (like the ones mentioned earlier in this post).¬†
  • Allow you to see, exactly, what affiliate ID is bidding on what terms for what geographic location.
  • Submit trademark infringements directly to search engines for takedown.
  • ¬†Monitor coupons, social media and other outlets.

If there is any doubt that your affiliate program has PPC affiliates and after runnig through these steps – you still are worried, just contact us today for an audit and strategy session.

Free Trials and Affiliate Programs: Should you pay commissions on free trial accounts?

Free Trial Commissons

If you have a Software-as-a-Service company, you most likely have a free trial option. At some point in time, you might have considered compensating affiliates for driving free trial signups.

Much of this thinking comes from a basic hypothesis I hear a lot:

You believe there is a correlating relationship between compensating an action to an affiliate, and a affiliate providing more traffic (thus increasing the probability of more trial signups, and potential upgrades to paid accounts – in the long run).

While certain affiliates very well could operate this way – a vast majority don’t. On the whole, there is not a direct causation relationship between compensation and the ability for an affiliate to drive more qualified leads to sign up for a free trial account. It’s much more nuanced than that.

So, should you compensate affiliates for free trial account signups? In an overwhelming majority of cases, The answer is: NO.

Why? In my experience, when managing an affiliate program that compensates affiliates on free trial signups – the outcomes and takeaways usually are:

  • You will get an increase in traffic and sometimes an increase in affiliate applications. However, given our experience: 95% of the increase in traffic (as well as new affiliates) won’t and don’t lead to higher paid conversions.
  • You, as merchant/advertiser, have to be more rigid on verification of those commissions – which ends up taking more time than the ROI it produces (AKA total amount of revenue derived from all trial accounts upgrading to paid accounts). Additional verification also increases support volume since many of those affiliates just try to turn a buck, want to know why verification is taking so long.
  • Qualitatively (and to point #1): The top affiliates I have worked with often don’t have interest in a lower commission rate free trial. They are interested in driving paid accounts (which is good: as it aligns, or should align, with your company goals for the affiliate channel) as it results in higher commissions and more impact for both parties.

Stuck with Free Trial Option

Stuck free trials

But what if you ONLY have a free trial option? Meaning: A new prospect/customer must signup for a free trial account and then upgrade to a paid account. Should you compensate affiliates on those free trial signups or just when they upgrade?

This is a case, separate from this question (and a topic I will cover in detail in future posts), where your company hasn’t aligned for a Cost Per Action (CPA) consideration for affiliates.

In other words, you are doing a disservice to affiliates if the only way for an affiliate to drive a paid account is to force them to drive a free trial signup first. Almost all affiliates want to ensure they get the commission for referring a paid account, so any impediment to that is going to lower confidence.

Long story short: you should offer the ability for a new prospect to either a) signup for a free trial (and upgrade in the future) OR directly buy an account from your website. Then the affiliate can choose how he wants to drive leads or paid prospects to your SaaS business without being locked in.

Curious to know your experience and opinion. Thanks!

What fields to include in your Affiliate Program Signup Form.

Your affiliate signup form, the form a affiliate partner/publisher must fill out in order to be considered in your affiliate program, Is the starting point with your relationship to them as a merchant/advertiser.

Often times, depending on who’s in charge in the company, what affiliate platform the program is run on (perhaps a myriad of other factors) and so on: There isn’t a clear answer on what you need to collect from affiliates upfront prior to this consideration.

Given our knowledge of working on many programs in the past and present, of which, have had anywhere from an email address and a name field to long, multi-step form: Our goal is to find the balance; one that converts the right kind of affiliates for your program reguarly but also gives you (the merchant/advertiser/affiliate manager) enough information to know how the affiliate is going to promote. So, Let’s get to it!

The Long form vs. short form double-edged sword:

SaaS Affiliate Program Form

There is often an initial emphasis, on behalf of you the merchant/advertiser, to collect ALL the information upfront. More data captured, the more we can do with – right?

The opposite might be true as well – if we only collect two or so fields, won’t we be missing valuable information that allows us (as a merchant) to understand how they intend to promote?

That is why we select a balance: Only capture what is truly needed upfront in order for them to promote.  A form with 5-7 fields is ideal in striking this balance. But what are the specific fields to use?

The Affiliate Program Signup Form Fields you should have:

Below, are the form fields we believe should be the tenants of every affiliate program signup form (in order of importance) – and why:

  • Email Address –¬†first and foremost. If they don’t complete other actions in your panel/affiliate platform, there is really no effective way to communicate with them beyond an email address. Equally, if they don’t finish the affiliate signup form – you can capture them and setup re-abandonment campaigns (more info on this to come in future posts).
  • Full Name –¬†¬†Not only for Terms and Conditions acceptance but also so you can personalize any emails and future communication to them.
  • How they plan to promote your products/platform/brand –¬†This should be an open-ended question. You can derive a lot from a potential affiliate partner’s own words on how they plan to promote your services.¬†This is really important.¬†I only find a small number of merchants actually ask this question, and even less merchants that don’t actively do anything with this information.
  • Website (URL) –¬†Some might argue, having a website is not technically a prerequisite to promoting a specific product or service. However, we have seen a huge correlation; 93% of the mid to top level affiliates we work with, have a website. ¬†This also allows you to gleam more data from their website on how they have promoted other products and services in the past.
  • Self-identifying questions –¬†Each affiliate is different, but often can be correlated to a certain category. What do I mean by this? Popular categories really depend on the type of business, but here are just a few: Coupon site, Media Publisher, Blogger, Loyalty site/Rewards, marketing agency, and Digital Marketer/Coach. These categories can be a selection box which will allow you to segment your affiliates and send communication that is¬†important to them(vs. generic affiliate program information).

What about Terms and Conditions? Yes – active acceptance by each affiliate partner is crucial in your program. More information on this on our post, “5 Things You Should Have in your Affiliate Welcome Email”.

But what about Tax Info (for U.S. Publishers)? Shouldn’t I collect upfront?

SaaS Affiliate Program Tax

This goes without saying: The Up Foundry is not and can not provide legal or tax counsel to you or your business. Prior to acting on any of the below information, please seek the appropriate legal or tax professionals for your business and/or industry. 

If there is a high fraud risk in your affiliate program (think credit card affiliate programs) – then yes, I would add this. It truly is contingent on your type of product/service/good and an independent decision you must make.

However, most SaaS-based affiliate programs, must collect this information prior to the first commission payout. This goes back to what is needed and when; In most programs tax information isn’t needed upfront because affiliate partners signing up might not even refer a customer. By adding this information, it only creates a barrier for affiliates start promoting.

This is also why extra fields would be omitted from the form (like city, state, etc.) because you would collect these information (and it will likely be more accurate since there are tax implications) at time of tax document collection.

Anything else to consider?

You might run into limitations set by whatever tracking platform you used to manage your affiliate program. For example, if they require a certain amount of information to be collected on the form (or if the form is not editable), you might not be able to test this.

Also consider any spam implications; the shorter and more basic your form is the greater chance is left open for bots and crawlers to spam your form. So be careful.

How to Find Affiliates to Promote your SaaS Software

If you’re like me, after an affiliate program launch or when you are researching how to grow an affiliate program that has been up and running for awhile – you might consider¬†finding affiliates to promote your services.¬†

But how do you do it? Especially for a Software as a Service Company? There is not a manual or easily adoptable game plan to run to. It takes a lot of creativity, testing, hard work and timing.

I’d like to break down all the ways SaaS founders, CEO’s, Marketing Managers can find affiliates to promote their product or service effectively.


How to promote your SaaS software affiliate program:

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This includes some of the many strategies you might have already done. However, here is several ideas you can easily execute:

1) Promote your affiliate program to your customers Р On your website/application you can:

  • put your affiliate program signup link in your footer or top navigation of your website.
  • Add your program signup link in your company email autoresponders: think invoices, newsletters, action oriented email triggers; essentially, where it makes sense.
  • input an accessible link or prompt within your application (after they have logged in).
  • promote the affiliate program to your returning customers, on your app login page.

2) Promote your Affiliate Program on Ranking Websites, Directories or Forums:

While this won’t get you loads of affiliates, given you are competing with other affiliate programs, it is true that communities focused around affiliate marketing are always looking for new offers to promote.

Here are some areas you should add your affiliate program to:

3)Promote your affiliate program through aligning partners or services (co-marketing)

Say you are a web hosting company and you are trying to promote your affiliate program. You could reach out to partners so that they could reach out to their affiliate partners. For example, Perhaps your partner is a Content Delivery Network (CDN) and they have affiliates promoting their CDN service. They could send out an email to their CDN affiliates saying, “ABC web hosting company is offering a special commission rate to promote their web hosting service along side your promotion of CDN.”

Thinking outside of the box of the traditional ways of getting reactive affiliate sign ups can go along way of growing your affiliate program.

4) Offer your Affiliate Program to Sales or Account Management Affiliate Leads:

Your front line sales and account management team can mind you gold in terms of prospects or new customer’s that might be a good fit for your affiliate program. Why? They talk to potential prospects – even if they don’t end up using it themselves, their business could benefit from promoting you. ¬†But how?

Say, you’re a help desk SaaS software company. One of your Sales Executive’s talks to a enterprise customer that mentions – ” We are going to be an enterprise customer of yours, but we also are thought leaders in the customer support tech. space – and teach others how to best support their customers through strategies and tools”

Now, the customer didn’t explicitly say the words, “affiliate” -which is often where a Sales member might not think anything of it.¬†You, as the CEO or founder, can create a referral incentive system that rewards the sales team member for sending your marketing manager or affiliate manager a lead. if the affiliate signs up and refers sales/commission – the sales member would get rewarded.

I believe there are so many missed opportunities in here; even if the prospect doesn’t up for your product or service initially – there could still be a business case for him/her to promote it. You just have to explore those opportunities.


How to proactively find individual SaaS affiliate marketers:

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We are going to spend a lot more on proactive or outbound finding/recruitment of affiliates. Why? This is often the biggest question mark that SaaS founders come to me, trying to understand. The dissonance (I believe) is in the notion or question:¬†” How can some one who is not a customer or does not know my product – be an advocate and marketer of my product and service?”

To that, I always say: It’s about the unrealized value from both parties (your SaaS company and the affiliate partner/publisher) that you present to them.¬†

5) Find SaaS Affiliate Marketer’s review or ranking websites:

This can range from small publisher sites all the way to Tech review websites – like PcMag.com, TopTenReviews.com, and Reviews.com.

I group these together as many of these websites have a review of your product and then they rank these providers (per category/industry) on a separate industry page with all your competitors. These are not mutually exclusive meaning РYour review can have little or nothing to do with how you are ranked on the website (this can be a moral conflict -I realize). 

You might be skeptical and think a lot of these website are only going to want: flat fee ad placements, super high commissions, or very specific cost requests.

Not always the case. 

In my experience, a lot of these review websites are willing to review your product/service and work off an initial CPA (commission) basis. If they send good traffic and you can garner them a good conversion rate – there more likely to negotiate a higher ranking placement (as if: they are getting paid $20 per referral and only getting 10 from your competitor, vs. $10 per referral but conversion rate is higher getting them 100 customers a month).

6) Through Organic Ranking Combinations & How To’s (Long tail):

Beyond the simple “Review” appending your software or industry term, there is could also be a lot of long tail industry terms or phrases that could be good affiliate prospect/potential.

Take ¬†for example, If you have a VPN affiliate program. Seeing popular searches like, “how to setup a VPN” heads good publisher results:

A good brainstorming exercise to get you finding opportunities is:

  • Go through your help articles or boil down the common things that your customers say why they love your SaaS service.
  • Google search variations and see what comes up as tops ranking articles, websites, or blog posts.
  • Make a list to see if those publishers as possible affiliate prospects.

7) Find Competitor affiliates & deeper backlink Research:

Another way to look at growing your affiliate program with high performing affiliates, is looking at other competitors. No- I am not talking about stealing affiliates from competitors; that is highly likely to backfire since those affiliates probably have good familiarity with your competitor’s products and services.

However, some affiliates that promote one product or service can sometimes promote a competitor. This is in the form of:

  • Industry Roundups:¬†For example:¬†Top 5 email marketing providers reviewed
  • Competitor vs. Competitor: Leadpages vs. ClickFunnels -who is the best?

It’s likely that these type of pages are affiliates of multiple affiliate programs. If there are industry roundup posts that you are not on – I would approach them and see if there is a possibility to be reviewed and added in the future or work with them to see what is possible in the future.

You can also look at some aligning content that is well ranked and see who are the top referring URL’s to this content. Using SEO tools like ahrefs.com, provide a gold mine of backlinking and even redirect referring URL data.

8) Find SaaS Affiliate Marketers through Affiliate Networks:

This is reserved for SaaS companies who want bigger “network” effects beyond their internal affiliate program and have the budget to pay for it. Running aligning affiliate programs on networks like CJ.com or ShareASale.com, can be quite successful for:

  • SaaS companies that have a broad customer market (reasonable price, not a lot of prerequisites to be a customer, etc.).
  • SaaS companies that can support localization in other markets (for example: Latin/Spanish, German, etc.).

Please Note:¬†There is often a common misunderstanding that, going with a network is good because, “that is where all the affiliates are at.” Not necessarily true. A network is good for some SaaS companies but cost prohibitive for others. Also – networks have a lot of restrictions between Advertisers (your SaaS company) communicating with Publishers/ Affiliates so the ability to recruit good affiliates can often be tough.¬†Check out my video, “Considering an Affiliate Network? Watch this first.”

9) Find SaaS Affiliate Marketers at Conferences:

Targeted conferences are some of the best ways to develop relationships with others that might, in-turn, develop into great affiliate partnerships. While, obviously, the upfront cost to attend is high, I have found that the longtail of getting to know somone you have meet face-to-face sometimes trumps all other forms of active recruiting or finding affiliates.

The key is targeted conferences. Many conferences that are industry based just have a bunch of vendors or other Advertisers trying to do the same strategy. Some great conferences that heed good relationships (in my opinion) are:

Here are some others provided bt Affiliate Guide: http://www.affiliateguide.com/events.html

10) Find SaaS Affiliate Marketers by Running Facebook Ads & Retargeting

This is one strategy that I believe is truly under-rated and that many Advertisers are not even doing. The idea is simple:

  1.  People come to your affiliate information/signup page
  2. If they don’t sign up for your affiliate program
  3. You run retargeting ads promoting the affiliate program to these individuals to get them to signup.

What kind of benefits does this create?

By marketing your affiliate program (perhaps using different mediums or value propositions beyond the commission structure), you can pique someone who has already had intial interest in the program, to convert to become an affiliate. A good example I have noticed is: ClickFunnels. They give you an onslaught of information on their affiliate signup page and then retarget you with a campaign on Facebook talking about how to: win a sports car by being a top affiliate of theres.

Another option is to take Create a Custom Audience  (look-a-like audience) with Facebook Ads, by using the information you have on file with your current (preferably top performing) affiliates. Essentially, if done right, can attract more of the same type of affiliate performers.

11) Ask your Top Affiliates:

This can have great success:¬†If you do it right.¬†You do not want to come off as creating competition for your top affiliates (by bringing their friends or colleagues into the mix) and you don’t want to create an MLM option (these often never lead to success for all – just widens the gap between top performers and those underneath and can be an absolute mess).¬†

However, if you ask them about what conferences they attend, what groups they are a part of — in a way the promotes learning more about them and also, causually, if they know any other people that could be a good fit for your program: it can lead to some great opportunities.

12) Specialized Advertiser-to-Publisher Platforms:

There are a couple of platforms that allow you to search bloggers and other publishers (on their platform) – to reach out to and connect by industry/product/interest.

A few that come to mind are:

Depending on your industry or vertical, you will have different results.

In closing: it just takes a little bit of creativity and thinking outside of the box when it comes to finding good affiliates. Many Marketers looking to focus on their affiliate program

 

 

 

2018 Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Definitions & Abbreviations

Looking into creating an affiliate program for your Technology or SaaS based company – but get bogged down with all the terminology when doing your research?

This post is meant to be used as a resource for understanding “lingo” commonly used in the affiliate marketing industry so you are not confused with reference terms.

Entities in Affiliate Marketing:

  • Merchant –¬†Is a company that offers a service or product (Can also be used interchangeably¬†with “Advertiser” in the context of having an affiliate program. More below).
  • Advertiser –¬†In an affiliate marketing relationship, the Advertiser is the entity that offers the product or service that the Affiliate/Publisher promotes to an audience.
  • Affiliate (partner)¬†– ¬†Is any person, company, or organization that promotes a Merchant’s/Advertiser’s products or services.
  • Publisher –¬†Another name for an affiliate or affiliate partner.
  • Network –¬†A third party platform used by Advertisers to run their affiliate program on. For the Advertiser’s benefit: A network handles payment of commissions and collection of tax forms, compliance and monitoring, and other services an Advertiser might not be equipped to handle. For the Publisher’s benefit: The Publisher can centralize all affiliate programs they are a part of under one area. The network acts as a middleman marketplace for the two entities.
  • Sub-Affiliate Network – A Network for which the network operator’s themselves, join affiliate programs as Publishers. They then recruit affiliates under their network to promote these products and services at a lower-than-offered commission rate (commission arbitrage).¬†For example, If I ran an affiliate network, I can join example.com’s affiliate program for which I would receive $100 for each customer I refer to them. I would then allow my sub affiliate’s to promote, and then I would pay them a $50 commission (netting $50).
  • Offer:¬†The actual product or service that is being promoted from the merchant on behalf of the affiliate.

Affiliate Program Building Block Terms:

  • Commission: The reward an affiliate/publisher receives for performing some action designated by the Merchant/Advertiser.
  • CPA (Cost-Per-Action): The basic commission structure of all affiliate programs;¬†Publisher performs this action, they receive this commission amount.¬†
    • CPS (Cost-Per Sale): Specified Commission for the action of referring a sale as an affiliate to a merchant/advertiser. For example: If I as an affiliate, refer 1 customer (make 1 referred sale) – I would receive $50. $50 is the CPS.
    • CPL (Cost-Per-Lead): Specified Commission for the action of referring a lead as an affiliate to a merchant/advertiser. A lead can be anything from submitting a web form, starting a chat, etc.
    • CPC (Cost-Per-Click):¬†Specified Commission for the action of clicking on a link from an affiliate to a merchant/advertiser’s website.¬†This is costly and often not used any affiliate programs anymore.¬†
    • CPM (Cost-Per-View or Pay-Per-View PPV):¬†Specified Commission for the action of viewing a webpage through a link to a merchant/advertiser’s website.¬†This is costly and often not used any affiliate programs anymore.¬†
    • Pay-Per-Call: Payment from Merchant to Affiliate for triggering a call to the merchant (other specifications to qualify such as call time, region, etc. can be qualifications¬†for the commission).¬†
    • Pop offers or traffic:¬†This refers to running ads on mobile apps and games where the affiliate can run a merchant’s ad and get paid a commission rate (there can be different types like Pop ups, Pop under and toolbars).
    • Redirect offers or traffic:¬†This refers to promoting a merchant or sending traffic through parked domains or redirect domains. For example, if someone owned a domain: fastfreeinternet.com and the affiliate is promoting a internet service provider, working with the owner of the domain (or part of a redirect network) could redirect that URL to the merchant’s affiliate link for a specific period of time.
  • Cookie Duration: Is the window of time provided by the merchant to the affiliate from when: a link is clicked by a prospective customer to when they buy the product or service. ¬†For example: A cookie duration of 60 days means: a prospective client ¬†has 60 days or less between the time they clicked an affiliate link to when they buy the product or services (to ensure it is attributed to that affiliate.
  • Tracking Pixel:¬†an image or javascript code placed on a merchant’s site to track clicks, impressions, sales/conversions, etc. (there are different kind of pixels to track different behaviors).

Affiliate promotional terms:

  • Banner: ¬†Usually a JPEG or a Gif (animated) file that affiliate’s place on their website or blog to display an advertisement of the merchant’s products or services.
  • Text link:¬†Html code that presents text with a hyperlink in it (usually an affiliate link).
  • Deep linking: When an affiliate links to another page on a merchant’s site, than what is provided in the default affiliate link. For example, if your default affiliate link is: example.com?affiliate=TOM and an affiliate wanted to link to a merchant’s pricing page – they could use a deep link like:¬†example.com/pricing?affiliate=TOM
  • Swipe files:¬†written content (such as blog posts or email copy) that are created by the merchant for the affiliate to use to market their products and services better.
  • cloaking links (redirects):¬†When an affiliate runs their assigned affiliate link or parameter through a redirected URL so that other affiliates or merchants don’t see their structured URL’s. Note: this is a best practice ¬†– and not seen as something an affiliates is doing to not allow you to see how they are promoting.¬†
  • Cobranded landing page –¬†A page provided by the merchant (on the merchant’s site) that has information about a specific affiliate/publisher so that the specific publisher can use it to promote sed merchant for better conversion rates.
  • Typosquatting –¬† a method used by some affiliates to take advantage of misspelled domain names (often redirected to an affiliate link) in efforts to direct visitors who have misspelled the domain when typing into the browser.¬†For example, someone might buy McDonlads.com to direct people who type this, through an affiliate link. This is forbidden in most affiliate program’s terms and conditions.¬†
  • Trademarking bidding –¬†The act of bidding on a companies registered trademarks within Pay Per Click Ad networks.¬†For example, an affiliate could bid on “Gap.com” in their PPC ads, and show their affiliate link vs. the companies ads. In a majority of affiliate programs, this is not allowed.¬†
  • Cookie Stuffing –¬†¬†Considered theft/stealing, is the act a publisher intently makes by stealing attribution of another channel or affiliate’s referred sales. For example, an affiliate might figure out (technically) how to find other affiliate’s promoting a product and prior to customer’s going to the merchant’s site – they remove or overwrite the other channel or affiliate’s cookie with their own.
  • Toolbar –¬†Is a addon or extension to a browser for some function to a user. For example, one toolbar might promise visitors who download it – “earn money searching the internet.” The toolbar publisher would then direct users to sites he is an affiliate for, and if those users take a specific action – then the toolbar publisher gets a commission.¬†Toolbars are often not allowed in a majority of affiliate programs.¬†
  • iframed sites –¬†is the act a publisher takes to create a version of a merchant’s site within an iframe (so it looks like the real site to the user).¬†This is often not allowed and strictly enforced in most affiliate programs.¬†

Common Metric and reporting Terms:

  • EPC (Earnings Per Click):¬†In an affiliate program, it’s the affiliate’s earnings divided by the affiliates clicks x 100. This is used by affiliates to understand their earning potential if they choose to promote a program.
  • AOV (Average order value):¬†It’s the total revenue divided by the total # of orders for a given period of time.
  • CR% (Conversion rate percentage):¬†It’s the total sales/orders divided by the traffic for a given period of time.
  • ROAS (Return on Ad Spend): Is Revenue/cost of promotions or ads.¬†¬†

Common Commission Junction abbreviation and definitions:

  • Transaction –¬†Is a a commission record found in your CJ reports.¬†¬†
  • CID # (Customer ID) –¬†Is a unique number given to each commission junction publisher record.
  • PID # (Publisher ID) ¬†–¬†Is a unique number given to each website under a publisher record in Commission Junction (often use to correlate a commission record with a specific website under a Publisher’s account).
  • AID # (Ad ID) – Is a unique number given to each Ad (banner, text link, etc.) within a Advertiser’s
  • SID # (Shopper ID) – is a unique, alphameric code that is appears on a transaction to identify specific shoppers or sources of where a commission/transaction took place.
  • Program Terms: Are the established terms and conditions between the merchant and publisher.
  • Application Rules:¬†Are the accept and decline criteria you can put in place to approve or decline new publishers into your affiliate program.
  • Flex ID:¬†The Flex ID sub-tab enables you to assign an ID of your choosing to a publisher CID. This advertiser-assigned ID can be passed to your site on the click, from the respective publisher.
  • Corrections: ¬† The act of merchant correcting (and sometimes declining) a commission because it was: returned, duplicate, referred by another affiliate.
  • Subscriptions: ¬†For merchants to send data to CJ (through Email, FTP, etc.) with a list of Order ID’s to correct.
  • Publisher Sign Up Form:¬†Link merchants can link to from your website to direct your visitors to become publishers on the CJ network.
  • Publisher Group: ¬†A feature for merchants/advertisers to group publisher’s in their affiliate program (to report on or use to email with Commission Junction).

If you’d like to see more affiliate marketing terms and abbreviations, check out the Earning Guys Article here.¬†

Are there terms that you have come across that you don’t know? Please comment below and I can answer and add them to the list!

How to Find Affiliates Breaking Your Terms & Conditions

If you had an affiliate program actively running for over 6 months, something you need to consider is how your affiliates are promoting you and if their promotions are violating your terms and conditions.

Why is this so important? Doesn’t verification of sales before commission payments are made, negate the need for upfront investigation? No – and here is why.

If an affiliate is promoting your brand and products/ services and is advertising wrong discounts, wrong information, etc. you’d agree that is not good right?

Or what if an affiliate is impersonating your brand with iframes of their site or by bidding on your trademark in Google — and driving customers that you’d already get if you were bidding on your own keywords. Not so hot, huh?

Therefore, to keep this in check we need to keep tabs on how affiliates are promoting that might not necessarily get caught and stopped through your sale verification process.

Finding Affiliates that are using faulty or large discounts to promote your products:

Most affiliates, at least in my experience, are making claims on large discounts for two main reasons:

  • They want to rank for: Your brand name + highest discount to piggyback organic traffic.
  • They just want to get the sale – even if it is misleading to the customer and maybe sneak one past the Affiliate Manager, it’s something they won’t have to deal with.

The best way to find this is the most obvious: Google. Look at the search results of various keyword combos like:

  • Brand name + discount code
  • Brand name + promo code
  • Brand name +¬†current year¬†code

There is another option that can be leveraged here as well that we discuss in the next section….

How To Find if Affiliates that might be advertising old, incorrect, or misleading product information.

While, some programs don’t require (via the affiliate Terms & Conditions) affiliates to be responsible for correct information about your product or service (which is a two sided street: you have to keep them updated on any changes)– it’s always important to keep abreast of bad or old information out there about you as a merchant.

The best way to do this is: constantly reviewing referring URL source information of traffic coming from your affiliates. 

Spending some time each week going through traffic from affiliate URL’s and reviewing the information presented on the page for which the affiliate is linking to you – is crucial. You then can reach out the the affiliate if they have wrong information, old screenshots, incorrect pricing, oversold info on products or service, etc.

How to find affiliates who are bidding on your Trademarks:

Unless you have a PPC team and/or actively running Google PPC campaigns for your trademarked keywords – you might not know this is happening.

To find out, my suggestion is:

  • Clear browser cache or open up an incognito window.
  • Search google for “brand name” and see if campaigns are running in the paid ad section that are not your own (do same for Yahoo!, Bing, Yandex and other search engines)

advanced tips:

  • some affiliates might run PPC ads at different times and advertising different geographies, that given your location and time – might not be able to see. You can use a browser extension like Tunnello as VPN to check from different localized search engines ¬†(.co.uk, .ca, .nz, etc.)
  • If you are running a large program, you can invest in continual monitoring and reports when new PPC bidders put up campaigns with your registered trademarks. A company I have used in the past to help with this is BrandVerity.

How to find iframes, toolbars, or anything else misleading:

These options are a little bit harder to spot  Рbut nonetheless, can be targeted given a few approaches.

With iframes and toolbars: using a combination of referring URL’s and an SEO tool like Ahrefs.com – can help you analyze the backlinks. For instance, with Ahrefs, you can search referring domains and select/Filter by redirect: this will basically show anyone (and their source referring url) that is cloaking and redirecting their affiliate link (which, if you’re new to cloaking doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing something bad at all. However, if someone is doing something bad this is often a method they will use to hide this. In other words, correlation doesn’t always mean causation).

To wrap up, this is by no means an exhaustive list of how to stop every trick in the book that affiliates may use to break your terms (nor does it assume that these are the only term breaking rules people often break). However, it is a good introduction to help you realize the importance and due diligence of monitoring this on regular basis.