In the first piece in our Path to SaaS Channel Readiness series, we broke down how SaaS companies can steadily scale up partnerships revenue through an approach called the Partnerships Pyramid. In this piece, we'll be focusing on the very base of the pyramid, the type of partner program most SaaS companies should consider launching first: affiliate programs. Affiliates are partners that drive traffic to your properties through tracked links, and earn a cut when that traffic converts.
The high reach that affiliates have, combined with the limited resources that are required to set up this type of program, make it the ideal way to start generating indirect revenue. But what types of relationships and audiences are you reaching through affiliates? Let’s look at the different types of affiliates you can collaborate with.
The different types of affiliate partners
Affiliate partners drive traffic to your campaigns and website, reaching new audiences you wouldn't reach through direct content alone. The most common types of affiliate partners include:
- Content creators: Experts and specialists that have used content to grow a trusting audience. The interests and values of these niche audiences are what determine the content (and thus the solutions) these affiliates publish and promote.
- Influencers: Similar to content creators, influencers are characterized by the loyal following they have amassed. However, instead of leveraging their expertise in a topic/area, they leverage their personal brand. This means partnering with this type of affiliate does not only impact conversions but increases your brand awareness through their wide reach.
- Large marketing partners: Sites that publish articles within a specific industry vertical. These can include larger publishers like Entrepreneur.com or Forbes.com. Their established reputation as a trustworthy source as well as the high volume of traffic they drive makes them a valuable partner to work with.
- Large publisher networks: These networks make it easier to work with multiple large marketing partners, allowing partners programs to coordinate dozens of articles across multiple marketing partners. Examples of large publisher networks include Skimlinks and Viglinks.
More and more, looking to third parties for expertise and recommendations is becoming part of the B2B buying cycle — and that search for knowledge often leads buyers to affiliates. In a 2018 study by CSO Insights, 44% of B2B buyers surveyed rated subject matter experts from industry or third parties as their preferred resources to solving business problems, above any other type of resource. Working with affiliate partners can greatly increase the amount of content being created by industry experts about your product, and reach buyers when they’re actually looking for a solution.
This is also the stage at which buyers are solidifying their needs and requirements, before they start reaching out to solution providers directly. Getting these key partners on your side early on doesn’t only influence the buying process, but could determine whether you’re even considered in the first place.
How do affiliates drive revenue?
Affiliates drive value through the traffic they generate towards your website or campaign landing pages, which you convert into leads and paying customers. Here’s what the full journey looks like:
- Partner A applies to your program. Their application is reviewed and approved by you.
- Partner A receives a unique trackable link found on their partner dashboard which directs to your website or landing page.
- Partner A includes this link in relevant content they’ve created and promotes this content to their audience.
- Partner A’s audience discovers this content and clicks the link. Prospect B clicks on the link and that micro-conversion is now attributed to Partner A through tracking cookies.
- Prospect B is now considered a lead driven (or at least influenced) by Partner A and if they convert into a paid customer, Partner A is rewarded through the partner platform.
These attributed conversions aren’t limited to the first sale. They can be sign-ups, recurring subscriptions, add-on purchases, and any other revenue-generating actions.
How do you compensate affiliate partners?
A large part of recruiting and retaining high-value affiliates is offering an attractive incentive. Aligning your incentive to the expectations of the partner can also determine whether they choose to promote your solution over a competitor’s. There are two main compensation structures common in affiliate programs:
- A flat rate, wherein the partner receives a fixed dollar amount per conversion. This is more commonly used within the B2C space and less in B2B SaaS partner programs.
- A revenue share structure wherein instead of being paid once, partners are given a portion of the revenue they generate within a time frame (eg. 1Password rewards partners 25% commission on first-year signups) or on an ongoing basis (Socialboost rewards partners 20% recurring commission for life). Typically, in B2B SaaS, a revenue share structure is more suitable to the complexity of the product and the buying cycle.
How do you recruit affiliate partners?
Making use of your existing channels to promote your program is the simplest way to get started with affiliate recruitment. Commonly overlooked is making sure to highlight your program landing page on your website. This is the first place partners will be looking for it. Be sure to link your program's landing page in your site's footer navigation, which should be on every page on your site.
Promoting your program through your blog, social media and through email can capture not only potential customers that are already following you but also existing customers, who are often a great source of partners.
In addition to promoting your program through owned channels, promoting your program through a partner network can boost your partner recruitment efforts. Partner networks bring large numbers of partners together and give them access to joining multiple programs through a single interface, reducing the friction in partners discovering and joining relevant programs (like yours).
One way to reach a large network of partners is through the PartnerStack Marketplace, which is a significant driver of partner acquisition for many companies hosting their programs on PartnerStack. One example is Reply, a multi-channel sales engagement and lead generation platform, that recruits 81.6% of their partners through the PartnerStack Marketplace. Those partners are able to drive real value through the program with 57.8% of Reply’s channel customer acquisition being driven by partners who joined through the PartnerStack Marketplace.
When partners have access to joining multiple programs, it’s easier for them to position products together in ways that resonate more with their audiences, and create more credible content by talking about multiple solutions. In this way, the Marketplace offers a distinct advantage to both partner and program.
There are other ways to get external support with partner recruitment, too. For example, you can work with a partner recruitment provider, like Grovia. They build targeted segments of ideal partners, build outreach lists and establish automated recruitment campaigns, so you can onboard and engage even more partners at scale.
Affiliate programs are often spun up with limited internal resources to start with, so remember that when it comes to partner recruitment, you’re not on your own.
Best in class examples of affiliate programs
Maropost is a testament to how quickly you can build a successful partner program. They launched their affiliate program in 3 weeks and in the 6 months following their launch, they’ve recruited over 260 partners and have driven over $1 million in revenue. While you can read the full case study of their success here, some main points that contributed to their success include:
- Prioritizing executive buy-in
- Collaborating with marketing to properly enable their partners
- Choosing the right tradeoffs to launch quickly and start driving revenue
A huge part of the success Maropost found in investing in partnerships is their eagerness to take the learnings from their first few programs and integrate them into the launch of subsequent ones (they now run seven!).
Unbounce, a platform for building landing pages and optimizing marketing campaigns, drives over 25% of New Trial Starts from their affiliate partners. New Trial Starts are Unbounce's most important marketing metric, with over half of those trial users converting into paying customers. And Unbounce's partners don't cannibalize their existing marketing channels -- they reach all-new audiences Unbounce wouldn't reach otherwise.
The success of Unbounce's affiliate program is built on their willingness to provide affiliate partners with the resources they need to succeed. Learn more in the full case study.
Opencare curates highly-rated dentists locally and allows anyone to book appointments instantly — and also provides dentists with a new source of patient acquisition. Their program tracks partner attributed sign-ups through PartnerStack, drives that data back into their own systems and then tracks which sign-ups convert into completed appointments. This data then gets sent back into PartnerStack to reward partners based on those conversions.
This demonstrates the importance of a flexible partner platform that will allow you to customize your partner program to fit the needs of your SaaS solution. By automating attribution and making use of the partner network, they’ve gained over 10,000 customers in the span of 2 years, 72% of which has been directly driven by PartnerStack’s network of partners.
To see more examples of best in class affiliate programs, see this post by B2B SaaS Reviews.
Start driving value with affiliates
From content creators to publisher networks, working with affiliates is a great way to expand the reach of your internal marketing and sales teams in a cost-effective way. Affiliate programs also offer an accessible way to kickstart your indirect revenue channel, providing the foundation for multiple partner programs to come as you scale the partnerships pyramid.
In the next part of our Path to SaaS Channel Readiness series, we’ll be covering how to build a successful referral program on top of the foundation and learnings of an affiliate program. By the end of this series, you’ll have a complete roadmap to channel readiness that will prepare you to sell through large channel marketplaces including Ingram Micro Cloud.
Want to fast track your path to selling through partners in the Ingram Cloud Marketplace? Register for Pinnacle, a program designed by Ingram Cloud and PartnerStack to help you scale the partnerships pyramid while driving revenue ASAP. Learn more at https://www.ingrammicrocloud.com/lp/en/pinnacle/