How do I plan for Q4 success in my affiliate program?

We have been asked multiple times over the last week about planning for Q4 and what you should be doing to make it successful.  You’ll see in the words that follow, planning before November is one of the first things.  But it does bring up a good subject that I thought would be a great opportunity for two of our most experienced affiliate managers to drop some knowledge and enter the discussion for themselves.  So I gave them  5 questions, locked them in a room, and told them I’d let them out when they have their best answers for me.

I’m glad I did, and wasn’t surprised when it only took about 15 minutes for them to write down what follows.  Maryellen and Jon have been with JEBCommerce longer than all but one employee and have led some of our most successful retail programs.

They say that eventually the students surpass the teacher, and this is definitely the case with these two.  So allow me to let them answer some of the most important questions regarding Q4 planning and retail programs.

What are the three biggest things you need to have ready for a successful Q4?




  • As much time as possible. I mean it! It’s NEVER too early to plan for Q4. Some affiliate partners book their top spots by June.
  • A promotional calendar complete with start dates, end dates, coupon code, restrictions, landing page url (if applicable), creative – in other words, EVERYTHING your partners will need to promote your offers.
  • Budget and increases in rev share. Most partners aren’t willing to give top placement in Q4 in exchange for a vanity code or exclusive offer. They are aware of the value of their real estate and take best advantage of it in Q4. Budget is ideal, but some affiliate partners might be willing to provide placement in exchange for increases in rev share. Not always, and those placements might be remnant (if they have it available), but if you’re hoping for homepage or prime categories, be ready to hand over the Benjamins.


  • Promotions (Merchandising Calendar) – Gotta have products to promote and push with affiliates during Q4
  • Budget / Strong commission rate – It’s very hard to secure prime real estate on affiliate sites if you don’t have budget or a VIP rate to offer/entice
  • historical data.  If you have historical data, on top promotions, products that have worked/not worked in previous times, then you will be well prepared to communicate those products/offers to affiliates, and chances are, they will perform better during the holidays if it worked before.
What are the three biggest mistakes affiliate managers typically make when planning Q4?




  • Not giving themselves enough time
  • Not understanding their clients’ goals
  • Not understanding their affiliates’ goals


  • Not thinking ahead or anticipating situations.  Understand if a promotion doesn’t work well, the client may at the drop of a hat, change everything.  If you have a paid adv running  and not performing well, think ahead, and talk to your clients internal team to market the best product in place of the current promotion.  Anticipate peak selling weeks, and secure additional exposure to go along with promotions.  Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Eastern Mountain Sports – UYG.
  • Preparation – You need to do your homework, and understand goals and projections for Q4.  If they have a huge goal to hit, prepare.  What placements would work well during Q4, what products work well.  Allow yourself self lead time right before the mayhem of Q4.  An ideal affiliate manager needs to be thinking about Q4 in July if not earlier.  If you have a program and know its a big program, you need to be doing your best to build relationships throughout the year, so when Q4 hits, and you time it right, they will be optimize and educated on your program you manage.
  • Understanding affiliates – Q4 is a big time of year for affiliates.  And affiliates work with hundreds of other merchants and are busy if not more busier than you.  You need to allow them enough lead time on promotions, links, newsletters, paid placements, etc.  Best practice –  If you have a promotion that goes live on Wednesday have the newsletter go out the Friday or Thursday before.  Affiliates will appreciate that, because you are honoring their time, and working with them to be efficient as possible.
What did you wish you knew when you started managing affiliate programs that you know now?




This is a really difficult question to answer. The nature of our industry is forever evolving and affiliates are very creative in finding new ways to drive traffic. I guess it would be to have a thorough fraud policy and policing strategy. Knowing that Q4 is crazy busy for Affiliate Managers, less reputable affiliate partners will take advantage of your “busy-ness” and get TOO creative, perhaps violating terms and conditions to make a quick buck. Affiliate managers need to be on the ball, have their wits about them, and ready to take action FAST if they suspect a certain affiliate isn’t playing by the rules.


  • Gotta have Patience and time – It takes time to build relationships with affiliates, and optimize them to promote your clients.  It doesn’t take a day, a week.  On some cases, yes it does, but most of the time, it takes awhile.  Everything you are doing today, will reflect on the affiliate program in the coming weeks.
  • Patience in promotions / exclusive coupons / placements – Majority of the time, the placements are not just going to drive significant amount of sales volume over night.  You will have to test, test and test more to pinpoint the best placement for your Client.  It can either be email, newsletter inclusion, category or homepage.
  • But you have to be patient to get in the groove of things, get acclimated to your clients products/business model, and most importantly build on those relationships who will be promoting your client.
What has been the most surprising thing about the holiday season?




Just how much revenue the affiliate channel can drive. Holiday 2010 affiliates drove 32% of ALL online revenue for one JEB client. Amazing!


  • When October hits, the sales start driving substantially.  I guess its not surprising but more of an eye opener, when you clients double in sales from September to October.  The amount of sales volume in Oct, Nov, and Dec, is mind boggling as compared to prior months.
  • It can get rather crazy and at times stressful, because things change at a drop of a hat and you have to adapt to the clients needs.  You must be prepared for all scenario’s, and work diligently to strive for a successful Holiday Season, and not stress too much but do the best you can when situations arise.
If you could only do one thing to make Q4 successful for your clients, what would that be?




Know their affiliate partners. And I don’t mean just know who they are. I mean be involved throughout the year (NOT just during Q4) with their strategy and business plan. If you test with them throughout the year, finding a things here and there that don’t work, but are patient in trying to find something that is a win-win for the client and affiliate, you’ll be surprise what favors they will do in Q4 (when you need it most).


Strong relationships!  If you have worked, and built rapport with your affiliates in the program, then they will be more incline to do whatever they can to help you in Q4.  There are many instances where a few of my partners have remnant inventory and will bonus my clients out because of our strong relationships.  They work with several other merchants, but why bonus us out?  Because throughout the year, we have maintained a well establish and strong relationship with them.  Every now and again, they will throw you a bone, if you keep your partnerships strong.
I can’t help but think of Axle Rose when I read Jon’s answers  – “All you need is a just a little patience…..”.  I do miss G&R.  Thank you both Maryellen and Jon for some great answers.  Planning is vital to success and I hope that this post helps you this season and helps drive home the important things for next year.
What do you think?  Anything else you’d add?


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