Over the past 10 years, the United States has nearly quadrupled its spend on affiliate marketing, as reported by Statisa. And, with over four million Google search engine results for the question “How to make money as an affiliate marketer,” it’s clear that marketers around the world are following the money. But with all of this buzz about affiliate marketing, where should a B2B affiliate marketer start when looking for opportunities? Sure, affiliate networks like PartnerStack get you access to programs, but what makes for a good affiliate program? Selecting the right programs for your niche and your content strategy is absolutely integral to your success.
Let’s talk about green flags to look for when joining a B2B affiliate marketing program.
How does B2B affiliate marketing work?
You’ve likely heard of affiliate marketing before, or maybe you’re an affiliate marketer yourself. If not, let’s level set: affiliate marketing is a partnership between a company and a publisher (or affiliate) where the publisher earns commission for generating traffic, leads, or sales for the company. While you’ll often hear terms like “passive income” come up in discussion about affiliate marketing, affiliate marketing does, in fact, take some work. Selecting the right affiliate programs, creating content plans, and constantly driving website/search engine optimization are by no means passive activities, and understanding how to select the right programs for you is the first step towards building a successful affiliate marketing business.
As an affiliate marketer it takes time, effort, and planning to create great content that appeals to your niche’s audience and creates conversions. This is even more true in the B2B affiliate marketing space, since the B2B sales cycle is longer than the B2C sales cycle with more touchpoints needed for decision makers to make a purchase, according to Forbes. What does this mean for B2B affiliates? You’ll want to invest time into forming the right partnerships from the start — partnerships that make sense for you, your content, and your audience.
Green flags to look for when joining a B2B affiliate program
Armed with knowledge about what B2B affiliate marketing entails and how it differs from B2C, these are the top green flags to look for when joining affiliate marketing programs so that you can make the most out of your affiliate partnerships.
Green flag one: A well-positioned product and a professional website
Maybe you’ve heard of this acronym before: WIFM. It refers to the question, “What’s in it for me?” that your audience will likely ask themselves as they interact with your content. As a result, in order to drive conversions or sales from affiliate links, affiliate marketers must focus on communicating the benefits of the products and services that they promote clearly and in a compelling way. Not just generally either — you’re going to want to tailor your message to your specific audience.
As a result, you will want to join partner programs with a well-positioned product and a professional website that clearly communicates both the functional and emotional benefits of the company’s product. For example, is project management software really just project management software? Or, is it a tool to give employees their time back and streamline productivity? You’ll want to look for professional branding, compelling messaging, and online presence tailored to sell the product functionally. But you also want to see that the vendor knows how the product makes users feel — trust us, feelings still matter in B2B SaaS, since it’s still humans behind the software. In fact, B2B brands drive significantly more emotional connections than B2C brands. In a study by Upland Software, 10-40 per cent of B2C consumers reported an emotional connection to a purchased product, compared with 50 per cent of B2B buyers.
Green flag two: The partner program’s product is aligned with your niche
Once you’ve evaluated the positioning of the product you’ll be marketing in the partner program, it’s time to ask yourself if the product really fulfills your audience’s needs. If you’re an affiliate marketer, you’ve landed on a partner program’s page because you think that your audience might be interested in the partner program’s product, but now it’s time to dive deeper and ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the product have reviews from people who are similar to your audience? If it does, odds are your audience will benefit from this product as well! You can check out G2 reviews or LinkedIn to answer this question. If the product has no reviews at all, note that, too — it’s best to look for products to promote that have a proven track record of appealing to end customers and meeting their needs.
- Does this product meet a need that your audience is searching for? Ultimately, your ability to convert on your links will depend on the search intent behind the search terms that lead your audience to your content. You can check out the search intent for a company’s website on your search engine optimization tool, like Semrush or Ahrefs. Key search intent that you’ll want to pay attention to is “transactional,” as this indicates that searchers are looking to make a purchase.
If you’ve done your research and mostly answered “yes” to the questions above when looking at the partner program’s company website and product, this is a sign that the program might be one to join.
Green flag three: The partner program has a detailed public-facing partner page
As an affiliate marketer, commissions that you earn on conversions represent time spent planning, creating, and editing content. When a partner program provides you with upfront information about what you can expect from the program that you’re considering joining, this is a good sign that you can also expect your time and effort will be valued. Plus, a dedicated public-facing partner page typically foreshadows the partner program manager’s commitment to your success in the partner program.
Information that you’ll want to look for on a public affiliate marketing partner page is a sales pitch of some sort, clearly describing why you should join the partner program. For example, an affiliate marketing program sales pitch might include description of the benefits of the program (look for the commission along with other perks of joining the program), a profile of the company’s ideal affiliate partners, or any other interesting facts about the program experience.
Green flag four: The program’s commission structure incentivizes you to sell more
Commission doesn’t create itself. So, at the end of the day, your job as an affiliate marketer is to set yourself up for success by selecting profitable partner programs. While high commissions are attractive on paper (think hundreds or thousands in cost-per-action reward structures), you’ll want to look for programs that are structured to account for tiered pricing and designed to incentivize you to drive more profitable sales. For example, it’s a good idea to look for programs that reward you proportionately to the profit that the company will make on the conversion you helped drive. If a company charges $50 for Subscription A and $100 for Subscription B, you should earn more for driving a higher sale, too!
However, this isn’t the only example of well-structured incentives: you should also look for companies that also run programs with bonus incentives based on performance. When a company builds your bottom line into theirs through incentives, you can trust that the company wants to work with you to enrich your business along with theirs. That’s a win-win (and a green flag).
Green flag five: The program’s commission structure is competitive
Consider looking at commissions in the context of the price of the overall product and industry — does the commission seem competitive to you given the buying cycle associated with the product, the amount of work that you’ll be doing to promote the product, and the need that it fulfills for the end user? Then, ask yourself if the program’s commission structure is aligned with other prominent partner programs in the product’s industry. There is no single right way for a partner program to provide affiliate marketers with commission, but ultimately, you’ll want to examine if the commission is suited to the nature of the product, along with its position in the market.
To check if a partner program’s commission structure is competitive with other products in the company’s niche, you can use the Google “vs.” search tactic. Start by entering the name of the company that runs the partner program you’d like to join, and then the term “vs.” You’ll see a host of other competitors come up in Google suggested search terms. You can explore those competitors to see if they offer a partner program, and if they do, take a look at their commission structure. If the partner program’s incentives are comparable to its competitors, that’s a good sign that partner program managers have done their research and are trying to attract high-performing affiliate marketing talent in line with their industry standards.
Time to find the right B2B affiliate program for you
Affiliate marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s up to affiliates everywhere to decide on the approach that works for them. While these positioning, communication and commission green flags are all factors that make for a well-run affiliate marketing program, earning in a partner program is ultimately up to the affiliate marketer. However, you can make the most out of your time and energy ahead of joining a program through pointed research and comparisons to other partner programs. Want to browse the strongest B2B partner marketplace? The PartnerStack Marketplace is the best place to promote and discover SaaS partner programs, including for affiliates.