How to Keep Top-Performing Affiliates Engaged — and How to Push Them Away

What does it take to recruit and retain the very best affiliate partners? Get tips straight from a top-performing partner.

Affiliate marketing is a great way for businesses to market and sell their products. Affiliates are people who promote a company’s products to earn commissions on sales or leads they generate. Affiliates exist in both the B2C and B2B spaces. The success of your business depends in part on the number of affiliates you have, how engaged they are, and what incentives keep them motivated.

And I’ve seen both sides of the equation. 

Before becoming a full-time blogger and affiliate, I was an Affiliate Manager at a large tech company in Austin, Texas. I managed over 4,000 affiliate partners and affiliate became our biggest digital marketing channel. Today, I’m a full-time blogger and on the other side of the affiliate equation. I’m currently in hundreds of affiliate programs and make over $100,000 per month from my blog, primarily from affiliate revenue. 

In this article, we'll look at what it takes to keep top-performing affiliates engaged and happy, as well as the things to never do — unless you want to push away the very affiliates you've been working so hard to attract.

What keeps a top-performing affiliate partner engaged in a program?

The following are some of the things that keep top-performing affiliates engaged in an affiliate program:

Smooth user experience and strong conversion rates

Let’s face it — affiliate partners want to get paid. And the best and most highly promoted programs are often the ones that make them the most money. 

Enter your conversion rates. Offering a great user experience is a big part of a successful affiliate program. Top affiliates know that and they'll always look for opportunities to work with companies who make this a priority.

Having a well-designed website that is easy to navigate, more likely to convert visitors into leads or sales, and less likely to irritate the user with impatient pop-ups and ads is a great start. Tell your affiliates about your design process so you can grow together as a partner in building an effective lead generation platform.

Consider using some of the best email marketing software available to increase conversion rates, and make your life easier as well as the life of your affiliates. Remember, conversion rates are what your brand can control in the affiliate monetization equation. And earnings per click (EPCs) are often the most important metric that affiliates care about. Also, if you’re promoting software, consider the trial experience that your users will have. If it is too complicated to sign up for or set up, they are more likely to give up trying to get the software to work and churn out, killing the potential affiliate commission.

In addition to the above, when it comes to the user experience, affiliates need tools that make life easy for them as marketers. A website that offers a variety of customizable solutions is more likely to retain visitors and allows affiliates greater flexibility in how they promote the offer on their sites. The checkout experience also plays a role in how affiliates view a program. If the last step in purchasing is an overly lengthy process, your affiliates are likely to become frustrated when the people they send over skip out on making the sale, which increases the likelihood of them abandoning your program.

An affiliate who believes you have their best interest at heart will be more invested in promoting your business over one that feels that you don’t care about their success as much. Moreover, defining success from the get-go is crucial when it comes to being able to measure whether you’re moving in the right direction or not.

Realistically, these factors are all outside of the affiliates’ control but can have a significant impact on how engaged they are with your business. Ensuring you are providing them with the smoothest experience possible is an important way to retain top-performing affiliates.

Competitive commission rates and bonuses

Commission rates and bonuses are other areas where you can give top affiliates an incentive to remain engaged with your business. The more incentives and higher commissions you can provide, the better chance you have of retaining them; plus, establishing a mutually beneficial relationship makes for happier affiliates and associates — which makes everybody want to stay involved.

Top affiliates know that every company has its ups and downs so they might be willing to accept lower commission rates at times if it means they can earn more during peak periods or with specific promotions.

Quite often, we will hear from an affiliate manager saying something like: "I have some great news. We've decided to increase commission by 50% on red widget sales during this month so thank you for all the hard work.” This is great news for everyone involved. It's also good to be able to offer affiliate commission bonuses for referrals as appropriate.

Top affiliates like these options because it motivates them to work harder and more frequently; plus, offering flexibility allows you to solve problems with your campaigns quickly (getting more traffic is usually a great thing) or reward affiliates who are doing a great job generating leads or sales.

The ability to make recurring vs. one-time payouts

Part of keeping top affiliates invested in your program is by continuing to reward affiliates for increasing sales or lead generation, paying recurring commission, and marketing support.

Being able to offer these options will help you retain the affiliates who have high-performing websites, a large following on social media and/or email lists because it's not as easy for someone to get started with an affiliate program if they don't already have leads coming in. 

Affiliates also know that new channels require time to build up so offering recurring commissions gives them more longevity with an affiliate program.

Easy to use, uncomplicated dashboards

Top affiliates are typically very busy so they need simplicity with all the tools that are being provided. They want to be able to access everything from one single PRM software without having to sift through a lot of confusion or complicated steps along the way.

I personally believe PartnerStack is the best tool as it has one of the easiest dashboards to get started with and use. This does make a huge difference when it comes to recruiting and keeping affiliates.

Affiliate dashboards should have up-to-date and relevant data so affiliates can make decisions based on accurate information rather than assumptions or speculation. However, providing too much information is not beneficial either.

The content surrounding your affiliate program is also important because top affiliates know that consumers respond better to certain types of products or offers based on their interests. Affiliates need to see how you represent yourself, what type of brand identity you carry and why it would be valuable to them if they're going to promote your business.

Content templates or writing the content for the publisher

Here are some ways how you can help publishers in achieving a higher degree of success (which means that it's a win-win situation for everyone):

  • Graphic designers can work with the publisher to design compelling graphics.
  • Content writers or editors can provide interactive content to support your publishers including writing articles out or even giving input on what should be included in the article.
  • Social media managers can research data on the latest trends on various social media channels and create a post for the publisher about them.

What to do if you want to push affiliates away

Now that we've looked at the things you should be doing to keep affiliates engaged, here are some things to avoid so that you don't push away the best performers. Avoid these red flags when working with affiliates.

Asking to be promoted without offering anything of value in return

Affiliates are always looking for new products to share with their audiences, so instead of asking them to promote your brand just for the sake of it, offer them what they want: good commissions, a product or service that aligns with their target audience, and appealing payment options.

Being unable to collaborate on anything outside of the affiliate channel

If a brand can’t accept a cross-promotion or co-marketing effort but expect the publisher/affiliate to do a bunch of work, that isn’t a good sign. This includes sending multiple emails asking for something not related to the affiliate program or making requests that would put affiliates out.

Moreover, top affiliates are very busy. They need to be selective about what campaigns they take on because if they don’t deem it to be worth their while, they won’t invest the needed resources to do it. From your side, this means that you should make it as easy as possible for affiliates to send you more traffic, leads and sales.

Offering short-term, small bonuses while ignoring long-term ones

Top affiliates do want to work with you for a long time. They are looking for non-disruptive bonuses or offers that can help them grow their business. You don’t have to give everything away, but if you provide something valuable that's going to last, then they are more likely to put additional marketing efforts behind your brand or product. Affiliates want to build relationships so offer real incentives and perks which will increase their authority in the industry as well as produce better results on every campaign they run through your channel.

Ignore conversion rates and competitive commission rates

I really have left the best for last, so pay special attention to this one.

The numbers do matter to affiliates. Consider setting commission rates that can attract more publishers to promote your brand instead of paying too much to a few publishers who don't perform as well as they could. Affiliates are looking for competitive rates, access to data on conversion rates and your sales numbers so that they can more accurately determine what conversion rates and commission rates they will be able to make. Tracking the number of sales, conversion rates, and how much you're paying out to affiliates for every order that comes through their channel is also a good way to stay on top of your affiliate marketing campaign costs, in addition to keeping affiliates for the long-term.

Ultimately, affiliate marketing is all about money

Offering your affiliates long-term and recurring commissions is a great way to incentivize them to work harder for your brand. If you're ready to take your affiliate program to the next level, then my advice is that you should be prepared to offer recurring deals and commissions.

If affiliates believe they can get more money from working with you now and in the future, they are going to invest their time and effort in promoting you which means that it will be much easier for all parties involved. The goal here is not just about getting one sale but rather building a sustainable relationship that will lead to multiple sales over time. 

Affiliate marketing isn't easy, but when it comes down to it, the most difficult part of running an affiliate program is getting your affiliates to promote and sell for you. The best high paying affiliate programs know that by providing value in return, you're going to get more out of each affiliate. If they don't see the potential in working with you long-term then it doesn't matter what kind of bonus offers or incentives that you have currently put in place. Your goal here is to find affiliates who are willing to work with you for the long haul.

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