How to Effectively Manage an Affiliate Program

How to Effectively Manage an Affiliate Program


Many CMOs in charge of overseeing their company’s affiliate program often aren’t entirely sure what needs to be done to ensure the program is managed successfully. 

In the best-case scenario, their affiliate program simply doesn’t reach its full potential. In the worst-case scenario, the becomes a branding liability and an actual cost center if margins and fraud aren’t properly managed.

Affiliate program management means different things to different people, which can prove problematic. When a CMO perceives the affiliate management as a reactive service dealing with the nuts and bolts of a program and inbound affiliate customer service requests, they’re overlooking the big-picture goals of their affiliate program.

To effectively manage your affiliate program, you have to take a 360-degree approach to ensure you’re covering all the bases. Affiliate management should entail three specific things:

  1. Program strategy
  2. Affiliate partner recruiting, activation and development
  3. Program operations


Unfortunately, many affiliate managers fail to incorporate these key aspects, resulting in goal misalignment, wasted resources, and ineffective programs.

A retail client recently hired us to manage their pre-existing affiliate program. The brand had a strong stance against couponing, however, after digging into their program more, we found that coupon sites drove 100 percent of their program’s performance. And their checkout page didn’t even have a coupon code box!

Their program’s performance was so contrary to the client’s strategy that it didn’t provide value, negatively represented the client’s brand and drove up costs. The previous “affiliate management” agency had failed to notice this.

The Dangerous Misconceptions Of Affiliate Management

It’s difficult to determine where your management is lacking without a well-defined strategy, recruitment efforts, and operations plans in place. But if you’ve fallen into any of these traps, you need to rethink your approach:

You unknowingly receive only basic program operations.

While some marketers might think they’re receiving 360-degree program management, they’re often only paying for or receiving basic program operations, which can’t fuel a successful program.

Basic program operations include inbound customer service functions with affiliates, reporting, applications, etc. It’s more ops-oriented than creative or strategic, and there’s very little marketing in this basic form of affiliate program management—and not enough compliance and fraud management.

You allow networks to manage your program strategy and checkbook.

Many firms have turned over their entire programs to an affiliate network for “management,” which presents a serious potential conflict of interest.

The affiliate network is in charge of making key decisions on your company’s behalf, but part of your strategy includes choosing which networks you should work with in the first place, tracking how they’re doing and determining what you should be paying them. Additionally, since the networks earn a fee from affiliate sales, they have financial interests that can drive self-serving decisions.

You’ve hired one person to handle every aspect of affiliate management.

Superior affiliate management is complex and requires elements of creative strategy, business development, operations, and financial planning. It’s difficult to find those specialties in one person. Someone who’s creative and loves campaign development probably hates applications, reporting, ROI analysis, and fraud detection.

It’s also not cost-efficient for one person to do everything. You have to play to each employee’s strengths to oversee the three aspects of effective affiliate management.

Assign the number crunchers to fraud and reporting, the outgoing people and those with a deep industry Rolodex to recruiting, and the creatives to ideation. Wrap all that with a high-level strategist and superior client service, and you’ll have a formula for success.

By doing this, our company created a full-time equivalent comprised of people who possess the skill sets required for effective management.

You underestimate partner recruiting and activation efforts.

Affiliate partner recruitment and development is the lifeblood of your program, but it takes time and specialized talent, relationships, and tools. If you’re paying someone who has 10 or more accounts at a time, you could actually be overpaying for insufficient management. A program can’t grow if you’re not reaching out to new, high-quality people and dedicating time and resources on a regular basis to help them gain traction.

Revive Your Affiliate Programs With A 360 Approach

If your affiliate programs aren’t meeting your goals, your management approach might be the problem. To adopt a 360 approach, start with these four steps:

1. Educate yourself on affiliate management. The first step in sufficiently managing every aspect of your affiliate program is to stay informed and educated on the affiliate model.

We have an abundance of helpful resources on our Resources page as well as on our Outperform podcast (great for busy CMOs who can listen to a podcast while multi-tasking!)

2. Hire a reputable agency with expertise in affiliate marketing.

In a constantly evolving field, your program is much more likely to produce the results you want if a team of experts is working on it. You don’t want to delegate this to an overextended in-house marketing manager with three other channels on their plate or an agency that’s similarly stretched too thin.

3. Make sure your affiliate manager has extensive experience.

If your company doesn’t have the budget to hire an agency, be sure that your in-house affiliate manager has extensive experience in affiliate marketing. Require that they attend industry conferences and keep up with changes in the industry.

4. Keep the program controlled to start.

Limit your program to a select number of partners to increase transparency, reduce management strain, and mitigate fraud risks. Don’t expect the affiliate program to become a huge contributor to volume as it’s a much better contributor in terms of return on ad spend

If you’re not receiving 360 management, your affiliate program could actually cost you money. Programs generally lack strategy and planning more than anything. Without this vital step, the channel isn’t integrated into your marketing plan.

Don’t let your affiliate marketing program go to waste. Tackle every aspect of affiliate management with a comprehensive approach, and you can start reaping the true benefits of affiliate marketing.

Download our What To Know Before Choosing An Affiliate Program Management Agency guide to ensure your brand and affiliate program will be effectively managed and represented. 

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