5 Keys to Building High-Impact Relationships in Affiliate Marketing

Earlier this week I participated on an exciting Affiliate Summit East 2012 panel [announced earlier here] where Eva Klein, Tony Pantano, Brook Schaaf, and yours truly discussed the importance of building high-impact relationships in affiliate marketing. Tony was looking at things from an affiliate standpoint, Brook was focusing more on relationships with internal team and affiliate networks, Eva was doing an amazing job steering the discussion via excellent questions… I tried to focus mainly on affiliate manager – affiliate (and merchant – affiliate) aspect of things, and it was certainly good to see tweets like the below one immediately after the panel:


Today I’d like to recapitulate the things I have said (in hopes that they will also help those of you who weren’t in the audience, and/or won’t have the opportunity to view the panel later on video):

1. What is High-Impact Relationship?

The keyword for me here is mutual benefit. The key characteristics: (i) transformation (as in transformational leadership where the leader transforms followers, while staying open to being transformed by them), (ii) mutual motivation, and ultimately (iii) productivity.

I also like how consumer psychologist Mark Ingwer has put it in his “Empathetic Marketing” (a must-read on the topic of relationships in business):

As in all interpersonal relationships, from friendships, to marriage, to company and client, trust and the promise of mutual benefits are the foundation for future growth and development. When we put others’ needs first in relationships, we’re more likely to make those relationships work. …relationships fall apart when one party (the business) fails to track the evolving needs of the partner… [italics & emphasis mine; p. 17].

However, do take note of the second bullet pointing the following section (about the major difference between personal relationships and relationships with your affiliates).

2. Specifics of Relationships with Affiliates:

  • Do not decide for them (i.e. don’t assume you know what this or that affiliate really needs for succeed, as differs from one affiliate to another), but ask them! Healthy communication (which always goes hand-in-hand with true collaboration) goes a long way.
  • Remember that unlike it is in personal relationships, once your trust is compromised in affiliate eyes, the relationship is almost always irrevocably broken. Experience shows that affiliates will seldomly give you that second chance. So do it right the first time!
  • Building solid relationships with affiliates often takes (a lot of) time.

3. Problem of Depersonalization:

Both affiliate managers and merchants tend to depersonalize affiliates. “So, how many super affiliates can you sign up for us?” is a common merchant question. And then while speaking to each other merchants and affiliate managers frequently operate with terms like “couponers”, “datafeeders”, “content sites”, and similar. The problem is, of course, wider that affiliate marketing. In search we talk of “UVs”, in direct mail about “eyeballs”, and so on, and so forth. As a result, this affects our overall approach to affiliates, and relationship, which is by definition a one-on-one arrangement, becomes much harder to build.

4. Collectivist vs Individualist Cultures / Approaches:

The above-described tendency to depersonalize affiliates often leads to mass/collectivist approach to them.

Historically, collectivist approaches are coupled with a neglect (or frequently suppression) of individual needs. In the Soviet Union (the country I was born in) from early school years it was made clear to us that we meant nothing as individuals, and only “together we” were “power.” The approach still works in some parts of the world; but the vast majority of capitalist countries values the role (and impact) of an individual.

Affiliates represent a highly individualist sub-culture. If you’re practicing a collectivist approach with them (which inevitably results in messed-up motivation), re-think it before it’s too late!

5. How to Build High-Impact Relationships?

(a) Recall that, regardless of culture, trust is the centerpiece and the key to solid foundation of healthy and long-lasting relationship; (b) Appreciate that affiliates are a highly individualist sub-culture, and adjust your approach(es) accordingly; (c) Work out a recognizable relationships-focused style (vs. chasing fashion/trends), and be consistent in your approach.

In addition to all of the above-said make sure you also review the comments under this post (they add some interesting perspectives on the topic).

3 thoughts on “5 Keys to Building High-Impact Relationships in Affiliate Marketing”

  1. great post as always. Correct that mutual beneficial relationships are the only successful ones. I always tell my client “If it doesn’t make financial sense, the relationship is no longer important” that works on both sides of the table.

  2. Pingback: Marketing Day: August 17, 2012

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