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.

Step 1: Lock down your strategy, structure, and unique prize.

Your strategy game:

Let’s first start with strategy and really zone in the intent here.  The standard goal for most affiliate contests are: Get affiliates to promote =more exposure=more sales and revenues.

Where most people shortcut in thinking about this is: “Let’s set a super high goal for all affiliates and give them a prize if they hit.”

Problem here is:

  • Not all affiliates are created equal; they can’t all refer 50+ customers through their channels.
  • which leads to: a completely de-motivational contest with assured lackluster engagement or results.

So how should you define your strategy to combat this?

Create Segmented Contests.

No one says you have to run contests for all affiliates. In fact, if you run high performance for high-end prize contests to all affiliates all the time – it certainly will give off the vibe: “You only care about the top performers.”

That is why you should run segmented contest.  How to do this?

  1. Segment your affiliates by avg. performance (high, mid, low/no performance).
  2. Devise a contest that would be attractive and capable/plausible for each of these audiences.

In example for each:

  • Top Performer contest: Hit X in given time period, get Y (as we talked above).  Never do “Top guy/girl gets prize” as even if they drive a lot of referral sales – they know that only one is going to win.
  • Mid-level performer affiliate contest: Beat your best (Give each affiliate a specific number from the best referral month they had – say last year. If they hit it, then they get a prize).
  • Low/no performer affiliate contest: Reactivation bonus. If they haven’t referred any sales in a given time period, if they refer one – they get a small prize.

The goal here is to keep the prize level set with their performance. Now let’s talk about prizes:

Affiliate Program Prizes: Cash, Gift Card, or….

They are is not one hard set rule to what prize would be advantage. After a lot of feedback though from affiliates over the years – cash seems to be king.

If, however, you decide to do a prize that is outside of cash there are some benefits as well as considerations to think about:

  • Prizes like cruises, gift cards, live show tickets, etc. grab way more attention then a simple cash prize in terms of engagement and participation. It’s a considerable differentiator if you are looking for wider participation and appeal in your contest.
  • If you are running contests with affiliates eligible outside of the U.S., be aware that there might be strict transferrable rules to get the prizes to them. If it is physical products, take note on shipping, border costs, etc.

If you don’t know what prize might be attractive to your affiliate base – survey them! It’s the best way to see what might be attractive in their eyes the next time you do a contest.

Step 2: Timing & Launch preparation.

One of the biggest issue in 90% of the contests (and why many of them fail) is: they don’t give affiliates enough time to prepare their promotions.

If you tell them about the promotion a week out or worse- when it starts (eek!), then expect to receive lackluster results.  Affiliates need preparation   to position the product or ample time to create a marketing campaign to attract potential customers.

Here are my general rules on this:

  1. Notify affiliates no later than 3 weeks until start of the contest on details.
  2. Remind affiliates a week out of contest start.
  3. Then, email them on contest start day.

In general, affiliates will appreciate the notice and good will of allowing them to prepare their promotions for success.

What should be the length of my contest?

Great question. I find that 30 days is the sweet spot. Any less and it’s a lot of work for affiliates for a small window of time, and any more  – affiliates lose interest.

What do you need to do to prepare for a contest launch?

Here is a quick list of items and to-dos to accomplish before you launch your contest:

  •  Create the terms and conditions for the contest – Don’t wing it!. Believe youme affiliates will ask you questions about qualified sales that allowed themmade them eligible to win the contest. You, however, have to address certain restrictions (like account usage, if the referred account cancelled their account, and so on) or face frustration from affiliates.
  • Create emails and any visual assets (both internal: landing page or visual themes for the contest as well external: banners; if it is around a specific promotion or sale of the product).
  • Touch base with your top affiliates to see if they need anything unique (cobranded landing pages, deep links, etc.)  to support this promotion.
  • Create a communication and logistics calendar to mark when you need to notify winners, when prize needs to be awarded, and so on.

Step 3: Launch! & Post Contest Items.

Now you are ready to launch! Notify various departments (like your support department in case questions come through on the contest) and get ready to track performance.

After your contest, perhaps 3 months or so or by the end of the year – you will want to survey your affiliates and include questions about the contest to seek feedback on what they did or didn’t like.

Wrap up…

As you can see, a lot of planning goes into running a successful contest to your affiliates  – but it is totally worth it.  If you set the right rules, notify them early, you can see big results coming from your affiliate contests.

Bonus Question:

If the cost of my giveaway is far more than my contest goal for affiliates to hit – what do I do?

This is where you need to come to grips with your cost vs. LTV numbers. In addition – you can hold the accounts for 1-3 months to ensure retention gets you closer to break-even or higher prior to releasing the prize to the winner.  Note: You will want to specify this both in your Terms and conditions but also at contest start AND – notify pre-qualfied winners and make it very clear that prizes won’t be awarded until the pending period is up.

This answer also goes to those who are concerned about high volume of unqualified customers – just for affiliates to try and win the prize (vs. having customers who would stick around and be targeted, quality users of your product).

Published by

Taylor is the Founder of The Up Foundry. 7+ years starting, managing and growing affiliate programs for Technology, subscription, and SaaS-based companies, Taylor works with clients all over the world to generate millions in sales and revenue from their affiliate programs each year.

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