Season 02 / Episode 032

Build it and they won’t come – Affiliate Marketingis hard

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One of the most common mistakes a brand can make with their affiliate channel is to create it and then expect it to start producing sales, grow over time, and achieve their goals without a ton of time, attention, expertise, and experimentation. Today our host, Jamie Birch, talks about why this isn’t the case and outlines 4 steps to take now to increase revenue and find greater success in the channel.



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[00:00:49] Jamie Birch: Everyone, this is Jamie with the Profitable Performance Marketing Podcast. I am your host of the show and also CEO and Founder of Today is a solo podcast. It is just me, and I want to talk about a question I recently got from a brand. More of a statement that they just said, “We set up our affiliate program. Isn’t that it? Shouldn’t it just work after we get it set up?”

It really brought to light a common misconception I called the Field of Dreams misconception. That if you build it, they will come, and everything will be fine. So if you have no idea what I’m talking about, Field of Dreams, really great movie, baseball, go check it out. A lot of the movies about if you build the baseball field, they will come and play. But anyway, watch that.

But there is this general misconception that you set up the affiliate program in the affiliate network, and the right partners are going to find you. They’re going to organically respond to your baseline commission offer, grab the things that they need to promote you, and just go out and start driving sales. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Now, you are probably listening to this right at the beginning of Q4, as we’re getting ready to go into this important shopping season. If you’re trying to figure out what’s your strategy for this year, what do you need to do so that you reach your goals by the end of the year. You get out of the red into the black as quickly as possible and really double down. Take advantage of the channel. So you’re trying to figure that out.

If you need help, we would love to help you. You can email us at, and we will spend some time with you. I’ll spend some time with you. You can also just go to, and you can set up time with me, and I will help you with your strategy for the year. We also have a product that we audit your program and provide you with the strategy. So if you’d like to talk about that, please let us know. There’s a one-time fee involved in that. But the other stuff totally free for you.

Anyway, so I set up my program, and it’s just supposed to work, right? Well, that is probably the most common misconception of those who haven’t worked in affiliate marketing that they have with affiliate marketing. Really, the reason that it’s a myth and it doesn’t exist, and that’s not how it works, is the way and the core of what affiliate marketing is, affiliate marketing has been, is, and will always be about relationships. This is partnership marketing. So you don’t create a partnership by establishing a marketplace and then hoping everyone comes to it. I’m also going to give you a few steps that you can take to wrap things up quickly.

But because they take partnerships, a typical affiliate relationship starts like this. The two parties find each other one way or another. Maybe the affiliate publisher was in the network and found you, as they were searching for new partners to work with. Maybe you reached out to them and sent them an offer. You extended an offer to them. So that happens.

Now, the affiliate has that invitation, or they have joined your program. From there, you have to approve their partnership in there. They have to approve yours. Now, there’s an actual mechanism where you have to approve their application within most of the platforms and the networks. On their end, they have to first have that intent of like, “That’s a great idea. That’s a great partnership. I’d like to work with this individual.”

Then they have to do something with that. So then we get into this almost like their own customer path to purchase, their sales cycle going from intent to optimize. We call it the affiliate management funnel, the affiliate marketing funnel. At the top, that publisher and your brand, they just know about each other. The next step is having that former relationship.

Then the next step is you have to convince that affiliate to do something with your program, to go grab a link, to post a link, to post a banner, to include you in some of their marketing. Now, the timeframe between joining and that happening, that can be anywhere from the next day to several months down the road. If you think about publishers working with hundreds or thousands of brands, sometimes that can take a long time, just because they got a lot going on, and they joined your program, and now it’s going to take a little bit to get back to actually doing something with your program.

So if you’re thinking, think of this as a sales cycle. If you’re an affiliate manager, think of this as a sales cycle. Every step along the way, your publisher, your targeted publisher, they have to make another decision to work with you, and you have to make that easy for them. Make it easy to understand, easy to make that decision. But you also have to give them all the information they need and rise above the noise.

So they joined your program. Now, they grabbed a link. Now, hopefully, they post that link. So once they post the link, then they’re going to let that run for a little while. They’re going to see how it goes. Affiliates are getting really, really mature and methodical and sophisticated. That’s the word I was looking for. They’re getting very sophisticated and knowing what each spot, each piece of real estate on their site, in their emails, whatever marketing they’re doing, they know what that can earn.

So if you want to break through that, you definitely can’t just set up a program, and hopefully they’ll do that. You have to work with them to identify those spots. Sometimes, like I was saying, they will just put you on their site, put you in their search engine, put you in a category page, maybe at the bottom of it, and they’re going to let you percolate for a while. They’re going to see what is your conversion rate? What’s your EPC? How much can I earn from this partnership? Before they do anything, they’re going to establish a baseline.

Now, all this time, it takes an active affiliate manager to keep and to incentivize, to encourage, to remind, to help that affiliate continue to make the decision to promote you, and to help them identify the right products, the right text links, the right banners, the right angle and positioning to promote your brand to the affiliate. So now, they’ve got you in their site, and they want to try new things, and they’re going to reach out to see how they can do that together with you.

So that takes a lot of hand holding. It takes a lot of back and forth and a lot of conversation. So now, you’re getting kind of the feeling. Now, we got some sales. Now, we may have some traffic. Maybe we don’t have sales, but we’ve got some traffic. Now, we go into is it converting? Is it converting highly enough? What kind of products is the audience and the consumers that that publisher is sending you, what are they doing on your site? Are they buying your typical product, or are they a very typical consumer? Is the affiliate earning enough to continue to move you up in their placement?

So they’re evaluating this too. Again, there’s sophistication involved here. They are looking at what you’re earning, where you are located. Is it worthy to put it up somewhere else? If it’s not, then you’re going to go back and forth and negotiate maybe a bigger commission rate, maybe a paid placement fee, maybe free product, maybe an exclusive discount or an offer for their audience. Maybe it’s inclusion in an email or a different marketing method that they have, and you’re going to go back and forth. So you’re getting kind of the idea of like none of that happens just because. It doesn’t just exist and is born without a lot of attention and building a relationship.

Now, the first time you meet with an affiliate, you will not have years or a decade or more of trust and experience and shared campaigns together. So you’re going to have to establish that. Now, I’ve worked with affiliate, some of them for 20 years. So I can call them and say, “Hey, I want to put this on your radar. What do you think about this? I can do that in an email very quickly, and we can condense that into a very short time period.”

Because I’ve worked with them, I know that this is about relationships. Myself and my team, we focus on building those, and there’s a lot of trust. We’ve worked on multiple programs over two decades together, and they know I’m not going to bring them something that doesn’t fit. But if you haven’t worked with them yet, you have to establish that, and that definitely takes time.

So if you are thinking, “I have an affiliate program. It should just perform in Q4,” that’s one of the main reasons that the set it and forget it, it doesn’t work. There’s a lot of effort that goes into building those relationships, discovering how you two together can reach the right audience that they have to generate sales, and then the tweaking of the campaigns and the messaging and the offers to make sure that everyone is getting benefit out of that partnership. It can be really, really hard.

So you’re saying, “Jamie, okay. Well, I built it. It’s out there. That was what I was sold on. Someone told me to just put an affiliate program together, sign with a network or a platform, and all this great stuff will just happen. That’s not happening. I hear you. Now, what do I do?” So pretty basic, I would want you to go do a competitive analysis. Let’s first make sure that your baseline offer that the public can see, all the publishers can see, let’s make sure it’s competitive.

Maybe all your competitors are offering 20% commissions, and you’re offering 1%. Well, I don’t care how strong your relationship building is. They can earn a lot more somewhere else. So first, go out. Identify your peer group. This is a little tip. It’s not just who you think your peer group is. So you may want to be or you may want everyone to consider your peer group X, Y, and Z. But the affiliates are also looking at what are their consumers shopping. So you may have to broaden your competitor set. So make sure your baseline commission offer is competitive and compelling.

Then what I want you to do, if you’ve already had a program running, any affiliate that’s generating a click, send them an email today. Send them an email. Ask them, “Hey, we would love to work with you more closely. Do you have time to jump on a call?” The purpose of this call is to get to know them, to build a relationship. You want to have a series of questions. What other merchants? What other brands like mine do you work with that you’re successful with? What are they doing for you that we could be doing? What is working? What do you need most from a partnership like mine?

You can see these questions aren’t, “I need more revenue? What can you do for me?” You want to start out when you’re building that relationship, and there’s probably a million books on this. You want to ask about them. Find out about them. That’s going to go a long way to helping your relationship with them. So competitive analysis, email those partners.

Then what I highly recommend is you go out, and you identify a couple other affiliate managers. Get some peers. Start talking to them. They’ll introduce you to affiliates and help you build your network. So those are the three things. Do a competitive analysis. Email every affiliate that’s generated a click.

Let me go through one more. Now, go through your list of affiliates that you approved and identify 5 to 10 that you think those websites are great. They look fantastic. Then reach out to them. Set up a time to talk with them. Here’s the deal. Not a lot of people – It’s weird now that we’re in a way more remote working world than we’ve ever been. People still don’t want to get on the phone. They still don’t want to get on a Zoom call. But when you ask for that, you stand out.

So you want to stand out from everyone else. It’s very hard to establish and build a relationship over email. But on Zoom, video, or on a phone call, that can totally be done. So whatever apprehension you may have with talking with people, definitely try to get over that. The only way you can is to start having those conversations. So have a list of questions available for these conversations that you have right off the bat. What are mistakes that brands make when working with you?

You can listen to some of our podcasts. We have a bunch of affiliates. Use those questions that I asked of them. What works for you? What are mistakes that brands make when working with you? What do you need to be successful? What verticals do you work really well in? Ask them those questions. It’s going to show that you’re interested in what they need to be successful, and that’s going to open them up to hearing what you need to be successful.

So there you go. This is a couple of reasons why set it and forget it, build it, and they will come, it’s not really how affiliate marketing is successful and a couple things for you to do now to help build those relationships. Again, thank you for joining us. If you found this podcast episode helpful, then please share it on all the socials. Send it to a friend. Maybe your affiliate manager needs to hear this. Send it on to them.

If you need help with your program, going into Q4 anytime of the year, maybe you’re looking ahead to next year trying to figure out what to do, we would love to help you with that, and there’s a couple of ways we can do that, mainly three. One, you can email us at We would love to spend some time with you, learn more about what’s going on, and help you build the right strategy for Q4 and 2023.

You can go to and set up time with me, 15 minutes, half hour, even an hour. I set aside a certain amount of time every week to just help those in our community with whatever problems and issues and goals that they have. I’d love to do that with you as well.

Then we offer an audit and roadmap product, where we audit your program top to bottom and give you a strategy tailor made for you, your goals and your brand that you can then execute. So if you want to hit that and you want to learn more about that, just email us at and say audit in the subject line. Myself and my staff will get back to you as quickly as we possibly can.

Again, thank you for joining. Hey, if you love this podcast, give us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Again, thank you from the Profitable Performance Marketing Podcast for listening. I hope you have a wonderful day.


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