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 💗 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:
Best Starter Affiliate Management Platform: Tapfiliate
Tapfiliate was founded by Thomas van der Kleij in Amsterdam in 2014. Since then, Thomas and team have built a great offering for SaaS companies to not only run an affiliate program – but multiple partner programs under one roof.
Who is it for?
<$5MM ARR in sales SaaS company. Haven’t launched their affiliate program and or: affiliate program is on autopilot or less than 6 months old.
Why is it great/Why you should consider:
It’s built for smaller SaaS companies; Cost is competitive, plenty of integrations offered, setup & tracking is straightforward, and team is very responsive to customized requests. Also, we love the customized triggers! (ability to send emails based on partner activity or inactivity and other elements) and the ability to create multiple programs – say for refer-a-friend, resellers, or any other options you care to use.
Two plans $69/month and $149/mo and then also custom pricing for enterprise. They do have overage fees on Impressions, Clicks, Conversions, and Affiliates. However, they are pretty high limits for a small SaaS company, I wouldn’t anticipate you hitting those limits.
Things we don’t favor:
- The affiliate information/sign up page (page where partners signup for the program) can not be customized (UPDATE: They have made changes to allow more basic UI customization — but do not allow extensive knowledge about a program: FAQs, details on payment times, commission rates, etc.)
- Also, reporting is pretty segmented; While it has a lot of info around referrer, acquisition (geo, device, browser, country, etc.), and other conversion metrics you should use to stay on top of your program with – it is all spread out and can’t be layered to see patterns and other behaviors.
Best Mid-Level Affiliate Management Platform: Partnerstack
PartnerStack, (formally GrowSumo) A Canadian company out of Toronto, was started by four gentlemen (Neil Chudleigh, Like Swanek, Jonathan Mendes, and Bryn Jones) not too long after Tapfilate started, in 2015 coming out of the widely popular startup incubator, Y combinator.
Truthfully, I hadn’t heard of PartnerStack until early to mid 2017 – odd, because I constantly am on the hunt for affiliate tracking platforms and tools for SaaS businesses.
I had the opportunity to get a demo of it earlier this year – to see what was under the hood and since and had the ability to test out the platform extensively.
Who is it for?
$5MM-$20MM ARR in sales SaaS company. A company that might have used a custom solution in-house (or self-hosted, low cost platform) in the beginning, but outgrew it for something more robust.
Why is it great or why you should consider .
The design and processes of the platform are well thought out. A huge selling feature that PartnerStack has is: You can create what they call “challenges” per program, per partner; a way to incentivize your partners to hit certain milestones. This is lacking in almost every platform I have ever used however (Tapfilate has bonuses you can do based on criteria hit by the affiliate), BUT it is one of the most successful strategies in running an affiliate program in my opinion.
Also – there is a small but powerful setting called “Self Referrals”. I run into this all the time in a program; An agency or group servicing a client of theirs, wants to signup on behalf of the client and get commissions. In the past, though, there has never been a good way to distinguish this from people trying to subsidize their own account with a commission for referring themselves as an affiliate. In PartnerStack, you can turn on this feature and manually approve the ones that come in self referred. HUGE. They also have a full testing suite prior to launching your program to make it an easy transfer to go live.
Starting at $500/month. They have 3 plans, $500/month, $800/month and an enterprise plan (that is custom pricing). They also take 15% processing fee on all paid commissions.
What we don’t favor:
- Transaction/Processing Fees (15%). This is why we don’t put ANY of our clients on networks because of these crazy high fees. It’s not even inline with average credit card fees. It’s also obtrusive to the very growth of their customers; The more commissions processed, the more success of a program (i.e. their customer), however – more going to PartnerStack .
- For what you pay for – I expected a little more in two departments: attribution tracking (or dynamic payouts) and multi-channel reporting. For attribution – I’d expect that you would be able to split commissions based on different referrers in the line (based on assigned value) on each given sale if needed. On the multi-channel reporting side, seeing all the various touch points/referrers in a line of a sale happening so you can analyze patterns. Update: As of Feb. 2019 and according to staff, some variance of this feature is in the works.
Best Enterprise/ 360 Affiliate Management Platform – Impact (formally, Impact Radius).
Impact Radius (now rebranded as Impact.com) was started by a few former CJ.com employees, back in 2008. They have now branched out to offer several different products/offerings beyond managing affiliate programs. The platform for managing an affiliate program, is now called Radius by Impact: Partner Marketing – Impact.
Who is it for?
$20MM+ ARR in sales SaaS company with global affiliate partners. A company where the affiliate and other partner marketing channels make up a large part of their revenue (30%+).
Why is it great/Why you should consider .
Radius does a good job at complicated, global spanning programs. Here are some other areas I like:
- Top-notch attribution tracking: They can track sales across your other channels (SEO, Sales, Social, etc.) with precision. Easily the best out there for this.
- In-depth and solid reporting.
- Easy contracts with affiliate partners. If you have uber-specific terms per affiliate, there process to manage this is quite straightforward and simple.
Unfortunately, Impact doesn’t release its pricing. From clients I have worked with in the past I can say: you are going to be paying 4-5 digits per month to Impact (on top of commissions) based on how much traffic your affiliates are driving and how many commissions you are paying out.
One of the key, instrumental pieces I love about Radius is called: A Subway graph. Since the platform is more than just affiliate tracking platform (they can track your other channels as well) – they use the subway graph to show you both:
- What the visitor saw prior to purchase (from other channels: display, social, PPC, etc,) as well as
- Other affiliates in your program.
This is big stuff if you want to find out common patterns/channels that prospects take prior to sale happening.
This also allows you to do commission splitting between affiliates if you see a lot of value is being driven at the top of funnel vs. last click.
Sadly, they don’t list a full feature set on their website like the other providers. Check out this page for more details on the platform from a feature perspective: Biz Dev/Channel Mgrs – Impact.
What we don’t favor:
- They don’t list their pricing. I get it; Uber and other large companies run their affiliate program on Impact. However, if you want to capture the mid-market (which I am seeing they are looking to go after), they need to offer transparent pricing.
- This is relative to a few years when I launched a program on their platform but: The time from contact to launch was a long time. Even with all the merchant’s ducks in a row, it took forever (this might have changed since then so take it as anecdotal).
What about affiliate networks? Which one’s do you recommend.
Here is where I am going to shy away from the path most of my competitors as well as colleagues in the industry take or will tell you:
I do not recommend affiliate networks for any affiliate program. (GASP!)
- They are fair too expensive and even their pricing doesn’t make sense. They charge upwards of 20-30% cut on each commission in your program. plus a network access fee. I’d much rather be charged a monthly fee than on each commission since: It can get out of my control.
- Their technology/feature offerings is slow to catch up to others I have listed (which begs the questions – what am I paying for). Both Commission Junction and ShareASale had 1990’s UI dashboards up until about 3 years ago and just now releasing features (one ever year – yikes) that help merchants manage their affiliate program.
- They tend to market that they, “have all the affiliates! Come and get them!” but then put up obstructions to actually reach out to them and work with them (Besides, finding affiliates even on networks, takes work.)
Up and Comers & Speciality:
FirstPromoter is a bootstrapped startup from Romania. They have been around since 2016 (or so their copyright says).
Who is it for?
Mainly Startups, less than $5MM ARR.
Why you should consider it?
- You can customize your “Campaigns” (Just another name for different partner/affiliate programs & terms, inside the dashboard) with fairly good granularity (even configure your reporting of these campaigns with only information you want).
- Pretty straightforward and easy to manually edit/decline/modify specific leads or customers in the panel.
Pricing ranges from $49 to $149 a month with 14 day trial – no credit card required. They don’t have transaction fees and the tiers are separated by how much your affiliates generate per month.
What we don’t favor:
- While the tracking script installation (upon setup) seems straightforward, the billing side tracking is limited to 4 payment platforms (Stripe, Brandtree, recurly, and ChargeBee). You can, however, integrate via API – but it looks like a bear.
- No way to customize the look and feel of the affiliate signup page (you can change the dashboard colors and CSS and the page for which Promoters get their links – but that is it).
- Media Assets options are limited – only banner options available.
LinkMink – SaaS Affiliate Management for Stripe
LinkMink was started in Boise Idaho (although they are a remote company) by Ky Palmer and Phillip Alexander. I was struck by their mission as it is very close to what we strive for at the Up Foundry:
LinkMink exists to serve SaaS companies who want to grow their revenue. We’ve seen affiliates work so successfully in the SaaS space that we wanted to build a platform that would be the easiest way to share revenue between SaaS and affiliate.
Who is it for?
Startups (Less than $1MM ARR) that use Stripe as their payment platform.
Why you should consider it:
- Straight forward, dead simple User Interface. I was able to jump right into the platform and see where the top features are.
- Although in beta, this is the first platform I have see that uses churn rates in the affiliate channel effectively:
Churn and LTV are super important to SaaS Companies – so I like that they are being cognizant that the same should hold true in the affiliate channel.
- If you need an easy, quick way to spin up an affiliate program (and of course, if you are on Stripe).
LinkMink’s pricing is very affordable – and the lowest price provider we reviewed here. Plans range from $39 – $107/month and are capped based on on monthly new revenue. View pricing here:
What we don’t favor:
I don’t have enough experience to say anything I strongly don’t like about LinkMink. I think they are still very new so some of the features needed for mature affiliate programs (and for Affiliate managers to use) aren’t there yet – like:
- There is no place to add promotional or media assets for affiliates to use.
- No way to create a customized affiliate signup form to match your branding of your company.
- No way to create a Welcome email for your affiliates (without API or Zapier connections).
- Perhaps personal preference but they have two areas: Leads and Referrals. Sometimes leads turn into referrals – so it would be nice to see reporting where I can see actions at that intersection.
I believe the team has a lot of good focus for the product – I’ll continue to follow them and see what they do!
But what about <insert tracking platform> ?
Whenever I talk to SaaS founders, they always ask me this question. Have you heard of XYZ? is it good?. Or people read this post and may think I have not tried a given platform. To clear the air, here is some others that I have worked with but don’t recommend and why:
- iDevAffiliate – Old code base and UI, Too basic, non-responsive support.
- Post Affiliate Pro – Intro plan doesn’t offer recurring commissions (immediate no go for SaaS), charge for a lot of basic features, reporting is weak.
- ShareASale – Better UI improvements in the last couple months. However – back to rule about network fees (while ShareASale is the least expensive network – we just don’t think companies should be charged on every commission).
- Commission Junction – too expensive (again – same as Shareasale). Reporting is terrible and running an affiliate program for a SaaS company on it is just short of a nightmare.
Did I miss one? Comment below and I can review it or provide my experience.
Out of all, Which one do you recommend?
In my opinion, I think Tapfilate is a solid option. Even excluding what I’ve mentioned earlier, I think the team and their vision is just right on. Out of all the providers, I find they are very supportive of working with my clients – no matter what the request is for.
A friendly disclosure: there are affiliate links in this post. Know a few things: 1) I test all software rigorously prior to recommending anything. 2) I only affiliate link providers I actually recommend and 3) The commission made from these affiliate links in no way affects the price or cost of your plan you choose. Thanks!