If you polled a group of B2C marketers today, virtually all of them will have experimented with affiliate marketing on some channel at some point. Why? Because it works.
In 2022, Statista projected $8.2 billion in affiliate marketing spend — and that’s just in the US. But does that affiliate marketing success translate to B2B? And if it does, how do you ensure that affiliate marketing doesn’t dilute your brand? Those are the questions many partnership leaders have that causes them to express skepticism about affiliate marketing.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what affiliate marketing is and highlight the benefits it brings to B2B businesses and bust the skepticism around it. Plus, we’re sharing how to optimize your affiliate marketing strategy for 2023 and beyond.
New to partnerships? Here's a quick overview on affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing strategy in which an affiliate partner earns a commission for generating or converting leads for another company.
You’ve seen the affiliate marketing industry at work in your day-to-day life as a consumer. Your favorite content creators share affiliate links to clothes they wear, vitamins they take, and even hotels they stay at.
It’s the same concept in the B2B world. One SaaS company partners with an affiliate to offer their followers, prospects, or customers discounts on software they can use to enhance their productivity, streamline their workflows, or generally improve their workflows.
Because it’s a bit easier to onboard new customers in a product-led motion, the Slacks, Notions, and Canvas of the world have been leveraging affiliate marketing for a while now, tapping into B2B social media influencers and newsletter networks.
But affiliate marketers can work wonders for sales-led companies, too. Take HubSpot or Fiverr, for example. Although it may be harder to come up with compelling affiliate offers when selling to the enterprise, doing so can dramatically accelerate the typically slow deal cycle we see in traditional B2B SaaS.
Is affiliate marketing worth it in 2023?
The short answer: yes.
Creators, publishers, review sites, syndicates, and established businesses have relationships with your target audience or a particular niche market you’re going after, which decreases the time it takes to generate leads and increases the volume of qualified leads that you get — all while reducing the cost of customer acquisition.
And because affiliate marketing is still a relatively nascent strategy in B2B, the quicker you can take advantage of it, the faster your brand awareness will grow.
B2B brands like Unbounce, a no-code landing page builder, are already seeing success with affiliates: 25 per cent of new trial starts come from their affiliate program. Interact, an interactive quiz platform, drives a whopping 20 per cent of their company revenue through affiliate partners.
Roman Chygur, Partnerships and Affiliates Manager at SE Ranking, an SEO tool, says their affiliate marketing program is one of their most effective channels for driving traffic. “We’ve had considerable success when partnering with affiliates who manage professional blogs, YouTube channels, and online communities because of their targeted exposure and credibility, which resonates well with our B2B audience,” he shares.
So, why are B2B companies reluctant when it comes to affiliate marketing?
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention what some marketers see as downsides to starting a B2B affiliate marketing program. Most B2B marketers worry about:
- Ad fatigue
- Consistent brand messaging
- The complex B2B sales cycle
- Implementing software to support and monitor an affiliate program
The good news is that there are ways to overcome each of these obstacles — and that’s what we’re covering next.
Strategies to maximize performance-based partnership success
1. Find the right affiliate partners
Partners make or break your affiliate program. Pick the right ones, and you’re bombarded with great leads. Pick the wrong ones, and you’re left with unqualified prospects or no leads at all.
So, as you recruit affiliate partners, make sure they:
- Can get you in front of a potential customer base you couldn’t access otherwise: Be it an industry, vertical, geo or certain buyer role. Doing some in-depth market research will help ensure the juice is worth the squeeze.
- Commit to your program requirements: This is important so you can monitor and track KPIs.
- Use sanctioned messaging at appropriate times: You don’t want your affiliate partners spamming your audience with off-brand, interruptive marketing.
- Are excited to promote your product: You want your affiliate partners to have skin in the game in order to win together.
As with most things in partnerships, good things come from focusing on quality — not quantity.
And remember, not all of your affiliates have to be serving the exact same audience. In fact, a more diverse group of partners can help you reach a wider audience and hit your affiliate revenue goals much faster.
2. Listen to your data
The best affiliate marketing platforms have built-in analytics tools that allow you to track and segment affiliates based on their performance.
Keeping a close eye on affiliate KPIs like clicks, leads, conversions, and AOV will not only justify your affiliate investment but also help you refine your ideal affiliate profile and partner with companies that your ideal customers actually want to work with.
But that’s not all the data you have available at your disposal. If you work with creators, for example, the comments on their branded social posts can be a gold mine. Their followers (and your potential customers) might be:
- Mentioning other competitors you hadn’t heard of but should be aware of
- Asking questions that should be on your FAQ page
- Wondering about certain features or new integrations that could be added to your product team’s backlog
- Wanting to see a public-facing pricing page that’s not currently on your website
- Leaving positive comments about your product that serve as excellent testimonials or language to include in your marketing campaigns
3. Perfect your program design
While following B2C affiliate program best practices is a good starting point, it’s important to remember that B2B buyers are a different beast.
They have stakeholders they need to consult with, complicated tech stacks, and a strong desire to work with companies they trust. For these reasons, B2B affiliate marketing programs should carefully consider:
What affiliates promote
Affiliates don’t have to be selling your product — especially if you sell to enterprise buyers who don’t (and can’t) make impulse purchases.
Instead, Graham Grieve, a marketing expert at agency A1 SEO, suggests, “Offer valuable resources, such as whitepapers, webinars, or e-books, that would assist potential customers in understanding the nuances of your offerings and the broader market context.”
Asking affiliates to reference valuable, educational content in their blogs can be a great link-building exercise, driving traffic to your content marketing and pulling leads into the top of your funnel.
Some affiliate marketing programs pay partners based on impressions, others on the number of leads they bring in. But paying based on performance guarantees that you see ROI and don’t waste your time on disengaged affiliates.
Tarun Agarwal, VP of Growth at Mailmodo, an interactive email builder, explains, “We’ve had more success with payouts happening on conversions and not on leads. The quality of leads takes a hit when a partner's incentive is to give you volume, and you end up spending time on junk leads."
Affiliate commission comes in all shapes and sizes — flat fees, sliding scale, recurring revenue share, percent of ACV. Find a methodology that’s easy for you to manage, works for your accounting team, and is favorable to your partners.
To ensure you don’t undermine long-term collaboration, David Godlewski, CEO of Intelliverse, an outbound sales and contact center software, suggests, “Use a mix of payment methods. For instance, pay affiliates a base amount for their work so they're fairly compensated for their efforts, and then add bonuses for meeting specific goals. That way, you’re rewarding them for their hard work and their ability to drive results.”
One affiliate marketing trend is to tier your commission structure based on referral engagement. For example, a referral attending a webinar may get a baseline commission. A referral signing up for a demo would bump the affiliate to a higher commission tier, and a referral that makes a purchase gets an affiliate the highest payout.
4. Become an affiliate yourself
Affiliate programs can work both ways. If your affiliates like working with you and see the value in you as a partner, they may ask you to become an affiliate of their program, too.
And if you have the resources, why not? Their products and services are complementary to yours, you can repurpose marketing material, and you can generate some (relatively) passive income by including referral links in:
- Email marketing campaigns
- Blog posts
- New customer onboarding flows
- Social media posts
Beyond that, you could gain additional insight into your audience from the affiliate analytics dashboards in their portal, and you may gain some inspiration from their program structure and operations.
5. Study other affiliate programs
Right now, we’re at a sweet spot with B2B affiliate marketing — there’s still a ton of whitespace, but there are also plenty of examples of companies excelling at it (maybe even your competitors).
Take the opportunity to learn from them:
- Read reviews of their affiliate program
- Pay attention to the content and offers their affiliates are promoting
- Review their program entry criteria
- Figure out how their commissions work
- Determine what affiliate marketing software they use
If you’re stuck, here are a few affiliate programs to follow:
A word of warning: don’t copy and paste. What works for one company won’t necessarily work for another (for example, partner-led strategies may not work for sales-led companies).
Start your affiliate sales engine
A fine-tuned affiliate marketing program can be a powerful revenue stream, consistently reeling in warm, qualified leads. But great affiliate programs aren’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Getting to the set-and-forget state is tough without the right tools to keep you and your B2B affiliate partners on track.
Look no further than PartnerStack, a purpose-built platform for partner organizations that organizes and streamlines your affiliate program. Explore our affiliate marketing module by scheduling a demo, or earn from the best B2B brands by joining the PartnerStack affiliate network.