Affiliate links might be most commonly associated with the B2C world, but B2B marketers, affiliate links have potential you can’t ignore. But, how should you best leverage affiliate links? How do they fit into your overarching affiliate marketing program? We’ve got the answers.
When most marketers think of the affiliate marketing business and affiliate links, the first thing that comes to mind is consumer goods and online stores. In reality, affiliate links can play a meaningful role in B2B marketing campaigns, too. As of 2022, the affiliate marketing business in the U.S. is worth $8.2 billion — and growing.
And the number of influencers in the B2B space building meaningful relationships with unique audiences is only getting bigger, increasing the opportunity for B2B affiliate marketers brands to connect with different segments of their target market. “It’s always been companies coming to me saying, ‘Do you want to work together? We’ve got these interesting stories to share, and you’ve got an audience,’” Bernard Marr, a B2B content creator and influencer, tells Bloomberg. Two million people follow Marr for his insights about digital transformation, leading companies like Microsoft, Google, and IBM to reach out about potential partnerships.
There’s huge potential out there, and your B2B marketing campaigns can benefit from savvy use of affiliate links. In this guide, we’ll break down how affiliate marketers can best leverage the power of affiliate links in their affiliate programs.
What is an affiliate marketing program?
Affiliate marketing is part of a performance-based marketing program. Affiliate marketers find publishers with an audience in a particular industry and reward them for promoting their products and services. These promoters become affiliates who earn a commission for sales and leads generated through their personalized affiliate links.
Some of the best affiliate programs are associated with B2C powerhouses, like the Amazon affiliate program (aka Amazon Associates) and the eBay Partner Network. But affiliate programs go beyond online stores. They offer B2B marketing teams tremendous potential — so much so that advertising giant Ogilvy is building a B2B influence specialist team.
When B2B brands share another brand’s affiliate links, they can accelerate through the “know, like, trust” journey prospects have to go through with their products. This means sales happen faster and with less manual work required.
How can you make the most of your affiliate links in your B2B affiliate marketing program?
At first glance, an affiliate program might sound as simple as distributing affiliate links and waiting for the sales to roll in. In reality, executing on an affiliate marketing strategy takes much more effort. It’s a full-time job that requires at least one internal affiliate marketer, the right technology, and consistent communication with your affiliate network. So keep the following in mind while building — and maintaining! — your affiliate program.
Assign an internal affiliate marketer
Sure, there are tools that can help you take a “set it and forget it” approach with some elements of your affiliate marketing program. (We’ll talk more about tech that supports your affiliate marketing program later.) But generally speaking, you’ll need a dedicated account manager for your affiliate marketing program.
Even if you choose to outsource the management of your affiliate marketing program, an internal team member will need to:
- Oversee the affiliate marketing strategy
- Approve communications with affiliates
- Review results and refine the program
See more: 6 red flags affiliates should look for before joining partner programs.
Understand where to add affiliate links in your buying journey or sales funnel
The B2B buying journey can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years, and loop in six to ten stakeholders along the way. To make the most of your affiliate marketing efforts, be mindful of the buying journey when designing your landing pages and training your affiliates.
Direct affiliate link clicks to customized landing pages
Visitors clicking on an affiliate link either have high purchase intent or are very qualified prospects. Be strategic about where your affiliate marketing links take consumers, and create landing pages that meet the needs of your prospects.
- If your marketing program’s goal is to collect qualified leads, direct visitors to a landing page that asks for their email so you can add them to an educational email marketing campaign.
- If your marketing program’s goal is to convert, direct visitors to a landing page with a special offer.
Educate publishers on the best content to include affiliate links in
Of course, this brings us to an important question: how do I know where to direct people and maximize my marketing efforts? This is where it’s important for affiliate marketers to understand their affiliates and their audiences well. The kind of content your affiliates produce plays a big role in determining just how close to a purchase decision a visitor is.
Review videos and tutorials draw audiences with high purchase intent
If the affiliate produces review videos and tutorials, viewers are likely closer to making a purchase. They’ve already passed the Awareness and Consideration stages of the buyer’s journey. They know what their problem is and they know what options are available on the market. Now they’re in the Decision stage and they’re evaluating their options through product comparisons, demos, and case studies. In this case, your affiliate links will be most effective if they go to a special offer.
Webinars and interviews draw people in the consideration stage
On the other hand, if your affiliate shares general information about the problems they’re solving in their industry or tools that interest them through podcasts, interviews, or online courses, then a link leading to a lead gen form for email marketing might be your best option.
Source affiliate program partners yourself
It’s tempting to post an open application for affiliates and hope the rainmakers line up to participate in your affiliate marketing program, but there’s a better approach.
Highly-qualified affiliate partners can have many, many affiliate program offers sitting in their inbox. It’s important to spend time crafting a compelling pitch for your affiliate marketing program and reach out to individuals directly. It’s a worthy investment considering 10 per cent of affiliates account for 90 per cent of the revenue in most affiliate marketing programs. You’ll want to target those high-value affiliates with a solid pitch.
When setting your affiliate marketing program, keep in mind that there are different types of affiliates:
- Unattached affiliates: This kind of affiliate promotes your product or service, but they don’t have experience using the product. This is usually through banner ads or other items that sit alongside their content.
- Related affiliate marketing: This kind of affiliate has some experience solving problems related to your solution or using services like yours, but not significant experience with your product. They might mention your product as a potential resource in a blog post or video.
- Involved affiliate marketing: This kind of affiliate uses your product, understands it well, and has positive feelings about it. They are willing to openly recommend your product, not just passively advertise it.
Offer a competitive affiliate sales commission
If you want to convince the best affiliates to join your affiliate marketing program, you’ll need to offer competitive rates. While there’s no cut-and-dried formula for setting your affiliate program commission, there are a few factors to keep in mind:
- Your competitors’ affiliate sales commission: If your competitors are offering a 15 per cent commission for every sale generated through an affiliate link and you’re only offering 10 per cent, you stand a small chance of attracting those sought-after affiliates. Remember that brands usually can’t promote competing affiliate links at the same time.
- Your customer acquisition cost: How much does it currently cost you to acquire a new customer? Ideally, your affiliate program should be a way to lower customer acquisition cost (CAC), so your affiliate marketing shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg.
- Your profit margins: What’s your affiliate income? How much are you making on each new customer? You don’t want your affiliate link commission payouts to eat into your profits.
- Your customer lifetime value: You’ll have to pay a competitive commission on each affiliate link, so verify that you’re actually earning a meaningful amount of revenue from each new customer obtained through affiliate marketing.
You’ll also need to be prepared to answer questions like:
- Do we want to offer affiliate link commission for both conversions (sales) as well as qualified leads (a visitor providing their info for an email marketing campaign)?
- Do we want to offer bonuses on affiliate income when affiliates surpass a certain number of sales in a month? A year? A quarter?
- Do we want to offer different affiliate link commission tiers (the higher the tier, the higher the commission) that affiliates can level up to once they surpass a specific number of lifetime conversions?
These are factors that your potential affiliates will also be considering when deciding whether to share your affiliate links or your competitors’ affiliate links.
Find an affiliate marketing technology platform that automates the busy work
You don’t want your day-to-day work as an affiliate marketer to be taken up by busy work. That said, much of this busy work (like paying affiliates on time!) is an important part of your success.
With the right technology, you can automate affiliate marketing busy work and focus on the strategic work.
The right platform can help you:
- Create affiliate links
- Track the performance of different affiliate links across channels, specific affiliate marketing products, influencers, and more
- Pay affiliates promptly and accurately for leads or sales generated from their own affiliate links
- Provide an affiliate dashboard for publishers to view the performance of their affiliate links without having to send manual reports
- Send automated messages or email marketing campaigns to affiliates based on triggers (e.g., An affiliate receives a congratulatory email from their dedicated account manager once they pass into a new commission tier or surpass a goal.)
On the hunt for a great affiliate program technology? We’ve got one of those.
Related: Here's how automation saves you time and money.
Use data to continuously refine your affiliate marketing program
As your affiliate marketing program grows, you’ll have access to a wealth of data. Use it to build one of the best affiliate programs by analyzing your data and asking questions like:
- Which affiliate campaigns are bringing in the most revenue?
- What are the most successful affiliates doing to bring in revenue?
- Is there an incentive I can offer to encourage affiliates to adopt specific behaviors?
Educate your affiliates on tried and tested affiliate link sharing methods
Set your affiliates up for success when it comes to promoting your affiliate links. Their primary focus is on engaging with their audience, so they may not know the best spot to place affiliate links. Educate them on all of the different opportunities to share your affiliate links such as:
- Description of YouTube videos for tutorials and reviews
- Resources section in the description of a YouTube channel
- Resources pages that list their favorite products and services
- Newsletters and emails
- Online courses
- Turning popular blog articles into videos (and vice versa) so there’s double the opportunity to share their affiliate links
- Sharing affiliate links on popular B2B forums like Reddit or LinkedIn
You can also share affiliate marketing best practices. For instance, sharing an affiliate link on social media sites might not generate the best results.
In some cases, popular B2B review sites or information hubs, like Quora, don’t allow a direct affiliate link. However, sharing a link to an article that includes your affiliate links can be more effective, since the overall article will deliver value to their audience, not just a product pitch.
Including affiliate links in high-value content also helps is a great search engine optimization technique for your program as well, since it can boost how many people stumble upon your affiliate links.
And don’t forget to take the time to remind your affiliates to check the rules and regulations around the affiliate marketing industry. These can differ based on local laws or even the platform used while promoting affiliate links.
How do you find people to share your affiliate marketing links with?
B2B influencers, particularly in the SaaS space, are people who have a solid understanding of your target customers’ problems and regularly share insights from a unique point of view. While it may be difficult to convince the biggest players to participate in your affiliate marketing, you can use them as a standard against which you measure potential affiliates.
For instance, consider some of the biggest SaaS influencers like Dharmesh Shah, co-founder and CTO at Hubspot, Hiten Shah, a serial SaaS founder of online businesses like CrazyEgg and KISSmetrics, and SaaStr.com founder Jason Lemkin. These influencers not only have successful track records, they also routinely share their insights about the technology industry and talk about the companies and marketing tools they find most exciting through blog articles, guest posts, email newsletters, and more.
Consider B2B influencers who are on the same trajectory these mega-influencers were on five years ago or ten years ago — they could be ideal affiliates to engage with now and stay with as they grow.
Can you get in touch with employees of big SaaS companies sharing their insights about the industry on their personal social media pages or blogs? Can you connect with founders who are sharing the day-to-day grind of building an online business from the ground up and the tools that are helping them do so? They could be your target audience for sharing your affiliate links.
Become an affiliate partner: You could join an affiliate marketing program yourself
There are also opportunities for brands themselves to join affiliate programs. If you’re a managed service provider or agency that uses, sells, or manages Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to its customers, you can both run and participate in affiliate marketing. PartnerStack has its own affiliate program that gives publishers, solution providers, and companies the chance to become affiliate partners and make money referring PartnerStack’s B2B partner relationship management tool.