As more retailers add affiliate programs to their marketing mix, it’s becoming clear that tossing the job of overseeing the program onto any marketer’s plate is not necessarily the best decision. Successful affiliate programs require consistent creativity, oversight and management, and in many cases, demand the attention of a full-time talent with relevant experience. Adding a channel that effectively licenses a brand to others is serious business, and companies need to be very careful when turning over the keys to their affiliate program (which is why many companies hire an experienced agency). However, for those that feel that an in house manager is the way to go, here are three things to consider:
1. How serious a commitment is being made to the affiliate program? Is it a top priority or one of many? Many marketing departments rely on staff to manage more than one marketing program, or multiple aspects of different programs. If a marketing team is structured this way, managers need to be very thoughtful about the priority of the affiliate program in relation to other responsibilities. Managers spending at least half their time on the affiliate program will inevitability be pulled in other directions. This often results in making the affiliate program a lower priority as an indirect channel, and the program will lack the basic oversight needed.
2. How will the success of the affiliate program and program manager be measured? Ultimately, marketing programs are all measured on revenue generation but, as many know, it’s more complicated. When evaluating the success of the program, companies need to look for growth over time, percentage of high-producing affiliates, and brand integrity. Don’t let meaningless metrics, like total number of affiliates in the program, stand as a success metric.
It’s also important to have a good sense of how the person hired to manage the affiliate program will be measured. This will help ensure that company goals are appropriately aligned with the candidates. Set expectations from the start. For example, strong affiliate relationships consistently produce results, so consider how to evaluate this on an ongoing basis. Are top affiliates getting a high quality of interaction from the program manager? Affiliates are sales people and brand ambassadors. They need to be cultivated and nurtured on an ongoing basis. Any program manager needs to show that he/she has the hands-on experience finding and cultivating relationships with affiliates that produce.
Also consider looking for candidates with excellent analytic skills. The easy numbers initially generated by affiliate data rarely tell the whole story. Look for candidates who can go “under the surface” to identify trends and opportunities.
3. Do you know what questions to ask potential program managers? It’s not uncommon for a hiring manager to have limited hands-on experience with affiliate marketing programs, which are extremely complicated. When a candidate describes the success of prior programs under management in topline revenue terms, it’s very important to explicitly understand where the revenue came from (i.e. from what types of affiliates). Were sales from affiliates generating new customers or mostly from existing customers using coupon sites to score a bargain? When the answer is the latter, the affiliate program likely had a lot of overlap with other channels and the sales were inflated.
Other topics to explore with candidates include experience with affiliate recruiting, developing terms and conditions, affiliate fraud, designing incentive programs, brand management and creating compelling content.
Finding solid skills and experience in all of the areas outlined above may be difficult, as successful affiliate program managers are both left- and right-brained. The strong relationship and creative skills expected from a good marketer must be balanced with solid analytic, organizational and tactical prowess. Good candidates should have broad demonstrable skills in addition to prior experience. The considerations outlined above will go a long way towards helping companies find the right person for the job.