How to Motivate Affiliates and Boost Affiliate Program’s Performance

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivators

Ever since the launch of your affiliate program, you’ve been investing constant time and effort into finding and recruiting quality affiliates. However, some time into it all, your reports show that 95% of your sales are generated by only 5% of your affiliates. This can only mean one thing: it is high time to activate the stagnant affiliates aboard your program, and to motivate all of your affiliates to promote you more.

We will cover everything you need to know and do in the following lines. Be warned, though: affiliate motivation is very different from and surely more challenging than employee motivation. The sooner you understand that, the higher your chances of seeing results are.

As our very own Geno Prussakov highlights in Affiliate Program Management: An Hour A Day, affiliates are independent professionals. They become your affiliates by their own choice and they can choose to stop promoting you anytime. You cannot bind them by performance requirements and you have no decision power over their marketing efforts (leaving compliance with your affiliate program agreement aside). You are marketing to marketers, in a completely unique context.

Moreover, although you are used to considering them as a group, affiliates are different from one another. They have different cultural and educational background, and different needs and interests. This makes motivating them even more challenging, as you need to adjust your strategies to their specifics. Let’s see what motivating affiliates takes and how you can do it effectively.

1st Step to Motivating Affiliates: Develop a Personal Relationship with Them, Get to Know Them, and Understand Them

Affiliate marketing relationshipsYour affiliates act from several motives. Their needs and interests, contrary to what many affiliate program managers seem to believe, go way beyond finances. The first step to motivating them is to find out what those motives are and act on them.

Some will be motivated by learning and growing opportunities. Others will act on incentives, competitions, and chances to stand out. Many affiliates look at commission and conversion rates, program specifics, available tools, and resources, etc.

All of them, however, will treasure a good relationship with the affiliate program manager, so your priority should be to encourage and help develop such relationships with your affiliates.

Encouraging and Building Personal Relationships with Your Affiliates

The first step to it is to have an effective affiliate communication strategy in place and remember the importance of personalization. Your affiliates are unique individuals, so a one-fits-all approach will not work.

You have to get to know them and adjust your communications to your findings. This way, you will slowly but surely encourage them to read and even look forward to your emails, open up to you, and reach out to you when they need help.

If you manage to build personal relationships with them, those relationships will act as motivators themselves. They will also make it easier for you to discover what drives your affiliates to promote other programs over your own and how you can change that.

Other ways to obtain the answers you need are:

  • Affiliate profiling (we’ve already covered affiliate categorization and profiling in our post on affiliate program management and affiliate leadership)
  • Competitive analysis (identify programs similar to yours that your affiliates promote and see how you fare against them and what aspects you can improve)
  • Acting on feedback (analyze your affiliates’ reaction to your motivation strategies and use your findings to improve).

As you get to it, remember that your affiliates need two types of motivators: extrinsic (tangible) and intrinsic (intangible).

2nd Step to Motivating Affiliates: Understand Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivations

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivatorsIf you really want your affiliates engaged and actively promoting your products and services, you need to provide them with both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation means using external factors, such as rewards and incentives to determine your affiliates to promote your products or services. Intrinsic motivation means appealing to your affiliates’ internal needs and desires.

Believe it or not, both types of motivation are just as important. Affiliate marketing is a complex task, so external factors are not enough to motivate affiliates in the long run. Moreover, if you focus on extrinsic motivators alone, you will need to offer more and more every time, and this is possible only up to a certain point.

Therefore, you should not neglect the power of intrinsic motivation. According to Business2Community, it can help you build a dream team. Convertize considers it the key to improving conversion rates. Our experience has shown that combining intrinsic and extrinsic motivation works wonderfully when it comes to affiliates.

We’ll get into the details of extrinsic and intrinsic affiliate motivation below.

Extrinsic Affiliate Motivation

The motivators in this category are material, tangible. They are the ones that help your affiliates sell more and earn more. Let’s review some common examples and why they matter to your affiliates:

Program background

Make sure your program appeals to affiliates by looking at it from an affiliate’s perspective. Keep in mind the following aspects:

  • An easy to navigate, highly converting, and affiliate-friendly merchant website is a guarantee to your affiliates that their efforts to promote you will pay out (unlike slow-loading websites with poor content and high traffic leak potential).
  • A wide variety of products or services will guarantee your affiliates freedom of choice.
  • Excellent merchant reputation among customers means that your affiliates won’t need to worry about compromising their own reputation by promoting you.
  • A clear affiliate program agreement gives affiliates confidence and peace of mind, by lowering risks for affiliate fraud.


Consider offering your affiliates tiered commissions, and activation and performance bonuses. Also, don’t hesitate to appeal to their competitiveness by organizing contests. Finally, keep the holiday spirit alive with custom offers and bonuses.

This way, you can motivate affiliates to exceed their own limits and work harder to promote your products and services. You will also spice up your program and make it more attractive to potential affiliates.

In our experience, affiliates respond extremely well to contests having “money-can’t-buy” types of prizes, like VIP tickets to various events, trips, and cruises, etc.


No one knows your products and services better than you. Don’t hesitate to share that knowledge with your affiliates. Teach them all about your products and services, including how to market them and your brand to their own audience.


Besides know-how, in order to properly market your products and services, your affiliates will need tools. These could include creatives like:

They could also include tools for your affiliates to produce their own creatives, like graphics that they can turn into banners, blogger plugins, deep link building tools, etc.

Affiliate support

Many of your affiliates will not need support. However, they will all appreciate having someone to turn to if they do. Therefore, in your affiliate communications, do not hesitate to remind them of your willingness to help. Encourage them to turn to you whenever they have questions or run into troubles, and give them your contact details just in case.

The above extrinsic motivators should start paying results immediately. As they do, it is important that you do not adopt a set-and-forget approach. Instead, monitor your affiliate’s response to them and update them accordingly.

If your affiliates do not act on incentives, perhaps your incentives are not good enough or the thresholds you’ve set are unrealistic. In his book, Geno establishes five golden rules of extrinsic affiliate motivation. Don’t hesitate to follow them yourself!

The 5 Golden Rules of Extrinsic Affiliate Motivation

  1. Establish clear goals and act on them

Is an increase in sales the only thing you want? If you only have a couple of affiliates, your goal could be to recruit more. If you have already recruited affiliates but many of them never started or stopped promoting your products or services, you could focus on their activation/reactivation. Another goal could be to improve your placement on certain affiliates’ sites.

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can design your incentive campaigns accordingly. You can offer tiered commissions to boost sales, referral commissions for affiliates who invite more affiliates into your program, activation/reactivation bonuses, etc.  If you have several goals, design a separate incentives campaign for each.

  1. Keep things simple

Make your incentive campaign rules as simple and easy-to-follow as possible, easy to summarize in a couple of lines. Your affiliates won’t read past the first lines, so clearly explain what you are offering and how they can get it.

  1. Make your incentives as inclusive as possible

Your campaigns should target as many as your affiliates as possible. When designing them, make sure most, if not all of your affiliates can participate. Thus, instead of asking them to double their sales, set tiered commissions. Instead of providing a single prize in a contest, provide several, according to results (first x sales, the highest number of transactions referred, the highest sales amounts, etc.).

  1. Announce your incentive campaigns in advance

It is important to give your affiliates time to prepare their own campaigns in response to yours. Announce your campaign details at least one week in advance, and don’t hesitate to send reminders and updates regularly.

  1. Clearly explain any restrictions

When you target a specific affiliate category, make sure you clearly explain it in your campaign description. Also, only send the details to your target affiliates. It would be disappointing for an affiliate to invest time and effort into a campaign only to later find out that they do not qualify.


2. Don’t Use Threats!

Threats will never motivate affiliates. They are not your employees and they do not care if you ban them from your program or take any other measures against them. Instead of trying to force affiliates to promote you, find out why they don’t do it and use your findings to come up with new ways to motivate them!

1. Don’t Mix up Your Promos!affiliate motivation advice

You should have separate promos for your customers and your affiliates. While it is good to discuss both types of promos in your affiliate newsletters, make it clear to whom each promo refers and do not forget whom your target audience is.

Intrinsic Affiliate Motivation

So you’ve devised a good plan to effectively motivate your affiliates. Will it work? It may, for some small affiliates, who are only getting started and depend on commissions to earn their living. However, in the long run, it will stop paying the desired results.

As explained above, your affiliates seek not only financial gains but also learning, growth, and advancement opportunities. Those who are successful at what they do will never join your program just to earn your activation bonus or reach a certain commission tier.

They will do it because they have a strategy in mind and your products or services fit their strategy. They will continue if you can engage them, challenge them to exceed their own limits, and offer them future growth opportunities. This is what intrinsic motivation is all about. How do you motivate your affiliates?

Help your affiliates learn and grow

Your affiliates cannot promote your products or services if they do not know how to do it. Teach them everything they need to know or assign someone for the job.

For example, in the’s Partner Program, we have a coach introducing affiliates to the conversion optimization platform and the affiliate program and helping with promotion. He reaches out to affiliates regularly, reviewing their performance and providing advice on how they can improve their marketing efforts and increase sales (see the example below).

Unbounce affiliate motivation email

Give your affiliates an opportunity to connect

Your affiliates need a sense of belonging, opportunities to socialize, share, and learn from one another. You can cater to this need by developing a community around your affiliate marketing program and helping your affiliates interact and provide and receive support.

It could be a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn Group where they can ask questions, get solutions, and share their thoughts, performances, or frustrations. Make sure you’re a part of the group, as it will surely help you get to know your affiliates and improve your affiliate-motivation strategy.

Help them solve their problems

Each affiliate is different. Some are very good at what they do and all they need is the occasional congratulations, public recognition, and notifications of new contests and challenges. Others are struggling to find their way to fame and fortune and will need guidance in the right direction.trouble affiliate motivation

You should be willing to work with “problem” affiliates one on one, to identify their needs and help them solve them. Your approach should be customized to the specifics of each affiliate if you really want results. You should focus on discovering and cultivating each affiliate’s motivational energy and channel it in the right direction.

If your affiliates invest time and effort into promoting your products or services without results, they will eventually give up. However, if you work with them and help them drive results, they will continue and, better yet, develop a sense of loyalty, gratitude, and belonging. These will keep them active in your program for a long time. With your support, some of your problem affiliates could turn into super affiliates.

Consider cultural differences

The fact that you only sell your products and services in the U.S. does not mean all your affiliates will be Americans. You should take the time to find out more about their culture and adjust your motivation efforts accordingly.

So far, we know that affiliates, no matter their cultural background, would continue to work even if their financial situation wouldn’t require it. We also know that they hold very few things more important than work: their family, personal goals, independence, and hobbies.

The rest is for you to find out. Just keep in mind that specific holiday greetings, a word of encouragement or congratulations in your affiliates’ native language, and other small details can help you build long-lasting and productive relationships.

3rd Step to Motivating Affiliates: Combine Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation and Build Your Own Successful Approach

Affiliate motivationAs mentioned above, the best results come from combining intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. However, it is up to you to discover what specific motivators work best with your affiliates. You can start from the above recommendations and monitor your affiliates’ responses.

Time and your affiliate performance reports will help you develop a successful approach. Just remember that your end goal is to help form intrinsically motivated affiliates. If you rely on extrinsic affiliate motivation alone, the time will come when your affiliates will expect more than you can offer.

How do you motivate affiliates? Don’t hesitate to share your own findings and tips on affiliate motivation in a comment below! If you need help motivating your affiliates, AM Navigator can provide it. We’d love to hear from you, so get in touch!

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