Learnings From My First Quarter as a B2B Affiliate Manager

Hit the ground running and make the most of your first 90 days with expert learnings from PartnerStack’s affiliate marketing manager.

If you’re running an affiliate partner program for a B2B SaaS company — or going to soon start running one — this article is for you.

When I joined the team at Lucid Software back in spring 2022 to run their affiliate partner program, I really had no idea what I was doing. More importantly, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I spent a ton of time searching for new partners, building out robust partner enablement email campaigns, and collecting partner promotional materials. Now I know that all of that was a waste of time because our affiliate program had some fundamental issues that needed to be addressed first before any of those efforts would make a difference.

So when I came to join the team at PartnerStack to run their own affiliate partner program, I did things differently. Here’s what I did and why.

Assessing the costs and revenues attributed across the customer journey

First, I mapped out the key events along the journey a PartnerStack customer takes:

  1. Click  
  2. Signup  
  3. Intro call  
  4. Demo  
  5. Negotiation  
  6. Closed deal

Then I pulled the data of the past year for each of these events broken down by source:

  • Direct
  • Organic search
  • Paid search
  • Paid social
  • Referral
  • Affiliate
  • Channel
  • Outbound

Then I calculated the average cost and average revenue for each event by each source.

The final table looked something like this:

A chart displaying the costs and revenues attributed across the affiliate customer journey
*These numbers are made up, but you get the idea.

This data helped me find the answers to questions like:

  1. What are the limits to my affiliate commission structure?
  2. How does traffic quality compare between affiliate and other paid marketing channels?
  3. What should my target cost per signup, revenue per signup, and conversion rates be?
  4. Is there a marketing budget available to be re-allocated to the affiliate program? Is there a business case I can make for doing so?

Once I had a stronger sense of the foundation of my affiliate program, I was set up to start testing and learning with other parts of the partner program.

Test and learn with a new affiliate commission structure

Based on what I learned from assessing the costs and revenues attributed across the customer journey, I discovered that our existing commission structure could be improved to make it more profitable and attractive to quality affiliate partners. I used the data collected to build a business case for an experiment: offering pay-per-lead commissions to a select few trusted affiliate partners. I was able to get this approved and quickly find a few affiliate partners that were interested and ready to ramp up referral volume to take advantage of the new commission structure.

See more: Affiliate marketing tools to streamline your program management.

Engage top affiliate partners

I found the top 10 affiliate partners for each of these metrics:

  • Volume of signups
  • Volume of revenue
  • Highest average revenue per signup

Once I identified them, I reached out saying:

Hey ___,
I’ve just joined the team at PartnerStack and I want to improve our affiliate program until it becomes your new favorite!
Would you be willing to have a 15-minute call so I can hear what your experience partnering with us has been like so far and what I can do to make it better?

I went into those conversations armed with one key metric: the average EPC (earnings-per-click) they had received from us so far. I made it a point to communicate that I wanted to help them increase that average EPC via the new pay per lead commission structure. They all liked that. After all, affiliate recruitment is important when running a partner program.

Troubleshooting tracking and lead routing

I learned at Lucid Software that having a foundation of robust tracking and attribution is critical to the success of an affiliate partner program. So, one of the first things I did at PartnerStack was to run a bunch of tests with our link tracking and I found opportunities to make our systems more robust. I had to put partner recruitment on pause until I was able to fully audit the system and implement the improvements, but I believe that it was worth the long-term benefits of having solid tracking, routing and attribution.

Related: Perfect your partner rewards and commissions with these questions.

Expanding the partner recruitment strategy

Only after I built this foundation of solid data, relationships and systems did I feel ready to dive into partner recruitment. Since then I’ve built out a solid system and it’s chugging along nicely. This is something that I’ll continually experiment and iterate on, but it currently involves the following:

  • A primary list in Notion of potential partners with stages, notes, metrics, etc.
  • PartnerStack’s network of affiliate partners
  • Organic search and competitor backlink analysis via Semrush
  • Automated email outreach campaigns via Respona
  • Finding top relevant voices on LinkedIn

I have many more thoughts on B2B affiliate that I’m excited to share, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Hopefully this helps someone make much better use of their first 90 days as a B2B affiliate program manager than I did for my first time.

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