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The Do’s & Don’ts of Affiliate Management

AKA: “How I Doubled Affiliate Revenue in Just 2 Months”


How I Doubled Affiliate Revenue in Just 2 Months

In the company where I am the vigilante COO, our Affiliate Management department had long been a source of occasional elation and regular grief. For someone who prides himself on his ability to see potential, even if it’s just a small flame, and orchestrate it into the most glorious and blazing fire, my affiliates management department was seriously irritating.

Affiliate management was something I’d long before determined was “too confusing” for me, or “I didn’t have time for it” and continually tried to hire an agency to do what was really incumbent upon either myself, or one of the owners to take control of.

This is probably the first of my Do’s and Don’ts of Affiliate Management…

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Do Make Affiliate Management A Priority

Hear Me though…

Not just a priority though that you pass onto someone else. In my consultancy business, I deal mostly with bootstrapping, guns-blazing, no-guts-no-glory entrepreneurs who are carving spots in the world for themselves, as opposed to your large megacorporations.

I prefer to deal with the owners themselves, rather than some board of directors. I want to get into the trenches with aspiring entrepreneurs and business builders. It’s there where all the excitement is.

So, when I say make affiliate management a priority, I mean you. You make it a priority. Yourself! Take control of it! Be the affiliate manager that you ultimately want to have! Even if you know absolutely nothing about the dark arts of affiliate management or you’re daunted by the overwhelming Affiliate Management SaaS that you’ve chosen.

Trust me, it can be learned. Whatever the hurdle is, it can be surmounted. The point is, if you’re not making it a priority yourself, no one else is going to. Or, they certainly won’t care about it the way you will.

Affiliates can sense it when you don’t care about them, or when you’re sloughing them off onto some lower-level person who will ultimately get caught up in the red tape and policies of your company. They’ll run for the hills, or simply stop promoting you. That means you don’t make the affiliate revenue you were counting on, and everyone winds up losing.  You don’t make any money. Your affiliate doesn’t make any money. And the customers who would have come via that affiliate don’t get the benefit of your products. It’s incumbent upon you to take ownership of this yourself.

If you ever find yourself saying the words, “I shouldn’t have to do this…” you should immediately take stock, because your company is going to head quickly into the toilet, or is already circling the bowl.

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Don’t Incorporate Rigid Policies

I understand that sometimes, policies can assist things. However, mostly they assist with buck passing and with not wanting to front up and answer for your side of a relationship. 

When I was doubling the revenue of our affiliates in a two month time period, I brought my special pair of red tape scissors for the occasion, and I started cutting.

Many of the policies had to do with which of the affiliates on the team get free products, how many freebies do they get, etc. Now, I understand… sometimes these policies are a good boundary, and I encourage the use of them. However, in order to effectively use such policies, you need to do the opposite of what you’d hoped your policies would achieve.

Policies are put in place so that people, whether yourself or underlings, can use their brains less. You know it’s true. Ever tried to return something and have a robotic employee parrot back to you, “It’s against store policy”? Have you ever considered that paroting robot to be overly bright? Of course not.

Policies are made so that dimwitted individuals can make strategic (and frequently customer-harming) business decisions.

If you want to incorporate some boundaries into the giving of samples, do it strategically, and be prepared to step into the ring and still decide matters on a case by case basis. As with most things, you will have 20% of your affiliates bringing in 80% of your revenue. The rules get thrown out for them, and rightfully they should.

Your 20%’er outliers must have the red carpet rolled out for them.

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Do Roll Out The Red Carpet For New Affiliate Partners & Existing Affiliates

Good affiliates bring a lot to the table and they know it. If you’re not pursuing them like a lover, you will lose them, or never get them in the first place. If you’ve magically found your way into a good relationship (as my company had with several affiliates) once you realize what you’ve got, you need to ensure they feel loved-up constantly.

Because… and hear me on this… They. Will. Leave.

That is a sad day, my friends.

In my recon work for rebuilding The Affiliate Team from scratch, I got several replies from former affiliates and the message was clear:

“I stopped promoting you because I felt unappreciated.”

Now, that was the message they were delivering, but those aren’t the words they used. Instead, they said things like this:

  • “I was always being pushed from person to person.”
  • “I felt like there was no support.”
  • “I could never get anyone to reply to my emails.”
  • “I felt like I was always chasing you for payment.”

Newsflash: Anyone who has gone into the business of making themselves an “influencer” – and yes, Affiliates fall into that category… are people who are likely driven by ego more than the rest of us. 

That’s not a critique. That’s a helpful bit of information. 

I am not driven by ego [much]. Instead, I’m driven by results. I would rather you treat me like trash and make me LOTS of money than for you to tell me constantly what a genius I am and bring me nothing but pennies.

As an employer, I don’t care what you think of me. I care that you bring me [and my clients] results.

But, this is not so with affiliates and influencers. Frequently, they would rather be told what a good job they did rather than receive their check on time. (But, please, for your own sake, do not change your policies to be the sending of a congratulatory email so that you can pay a week late.)

My point is that you’re dealing with a group of people who want to feel appreciated for what they bring to your company. None of them have to work with you, or anyone for that matter. That they choose to is actually somewhat a chore because they didn’t get into the Influence Game so that they could go and shill themselves out for companies like yours. 

Subsequently, you need to ensure that if they’re working with you, they feel deeply appreciated, and pursued like someone pursues a potential lover.

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Don’t Jerk Them Around on Their Payments or Commissions

As already stated, very few influencers and affiliates enter into these relationships so that they can feel like corporate shills. They do it because it helps them to keep the lights on, and many of them have strict ethical and moral standards that do not allow them to promote any products they don’t believe in.

Anyone who doesn’t have these standards for themselves probably isn’t very good at what they do, or they come with a huge list built on the back of a long time spent being genuine, and now they’ve flipped to a numbers-driven, quantity-over-quality approach to get while the gettin’s good.

The last thing these folks want or need to deal with is you shifting them to a lower commission tier so you can make more money, or delaying their payments. 

Many aspiring entrepreneurs establish early relationships with affiliates “writing checks that their butts can’t cash” so to speak. They offer massive commissions because they likely have no idea what the true cost of running their business is, or the real-life COGS of their products. Subsequently, they get a rude shock when they find out that every sale these early affiliates make is actually costing them money.

If you’re in a situation where you need to shift an affiliate down because you’ve finally done the “boring work” that no early entrepreneur wishes to do, which is find out how much it costs to do business, then my best advice is to be very up front and remember the relationship.

You’re about to ask someone to do the same amount of work and make less money. You’re effectively asking a long-standing employee to take a pay cut and that’s likely not going to go down well. 

Therefore, be humble, and give them the option to decline.

If you’re in a position where you now know your COGS and the cost of doing business, my suggestion is to create new lower percentage tiers to bring new blood in and water down the old blood. By this point, you can probably afford to go slightly in the hole with each sale from early, high-priced affiliates and make it up in your LTV.

It’s far better to keep your reputation as a good affiliate partner than to make a few extra bucks per sale on affiliates who, by their nature, tell people their opinion on things and who frequently collab with other affiliates you may wish to work with in the future.

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Do Chase Them: The Fortune Is In The Follow-Up

You might think yourself rude. You might be struggling to cope with your ego at not wanting to reach out for a third time to someone who is very clearly leaving you on Seen in the Instagram DMs. But, let it go. Drop your ego at the door, and just remember: How often do you get busy? How frequently could you do with a top-notch assistant jumping into your office or your face and reminding you about something that’s important to you, but not necessarily urgent?

Right. Me too. So, you’re not being rude, but know when the cut-off is. There’s a way to jump to the top of someone’s inbox or DM list without coming across as anything but helpful. It’s the helpful, squeaky wheels that get the grease.

So, invest in a good quality CRM and ensure you’ve got follow-up tasks in place after every interaction with an affiliate.

In Affiliate Marketer <> Affiliate Manager relationships, you are the hunter, they are the prey. Chase them, and chase them, and chase them some more.

I’ve made five figures appear out of thin air because I followed up one more time than I thought was polite to do so. Same goes for getting responses from influencers with 250k-1M followers.

It’s worth it.

The do’s & don’ts of affiliate management

Summary: Affiliate Managers Are Like Lovers

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of everything I did. Much of what I did however played to my strengths, which is pursuing a lover. (My wife.) I’ve had 16 years of practice chasing her, making her feel special, and ensuring she knew she was in the best partnership she could possibly be in. With my actions, I’ve reminded her everyday that she made an incredible deal back on December 4th, 2005.

Hence, the relationship continues to pay dividends.

I just translated all those skills into Affiliate Management.

Need a hand? I consult. Get in touch.

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