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BLOGTen Challenges When Building an Affiliate Program

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Business Development, SalesTagged as: , , ,

Wouldn’t it be great if your keenest clients actually “sold” for you? That your business would grow organically from this phalanx of boosters? That all you needed to do was sit back, and your top line would grow, with zero work from you? Yes, wouldn’t it be great.

Ten Challenges When Building an Affiliate Program

Unfortunately, launching an affiliate program is far easier said than done. And these programs rarely deliver on their promise; here are ten reasons why, and some clues on how to get them to deliver.

  • Clients are not actually the best affiliates, despite knowing you the best. The best affiliates are those who are influential to their communities: the bigger their community and the more influential they are, the more likely they — and you — will be successful. (Of course, the very best affiliates are those who are influential… AND are clients.)
  • Conflict of interest: If an affiliate believes that your company is directly competing with it, their motivation to join (or be active) in your affiliate program is nil. This is often the situation when a service-based company decides to create product. (One potential solution is to separate the new product initiative into an independent company.)
  • Little channel investment: An affiliate program (which is actually a channel strategy) requires significant feeding and attention. Without a budget and resources, it can’t take off, and ultimately will be a distraction to the business. You can’t run an affiliate program from the side of your desk: if you want it to thrive, it needs resources that are dedicated to its success.
  • Different affiliate partner types: There are actually many different types of affiliate programs, each with very different objectives for different audiences. For example, a SAAS business may have several affiliate programs: one for simple referrals, one for developers who want to extend the SAAS functionality, and another for agencies that want to incorporate the product into their service offerings.
  • Mismatched motivations: Affiliates typically care about one of two things: getting money for moving one of their leads into your ecosystem, or getting leads (from you) that will help build their business. A program that is aimed at one group will never motivate the other.
  • Miserly benefits: The less it pays, the less attention it will garnish; eventually it will fade to irrelevance. A close cousin to this is changing or declining benefits: a good affiliate plan that suddenly has reduced payouts will also have a reduction in referrals. If you must reduce benefits, consider grandfathering existing affiliates, or at least providing a longer notice period.
  • Communication is forgotten: Unless the affiliates are continually engaged with value-adding-to-them content and offers, their initial motivation to be an affiliate will wain.
  • Independence: In some sectors, accepting a payment or benefit in exchange for a referral is considered unethical, contrary to regulations, or even illegal. If this is the case, and an affiliate program still makes sense, provide an option for the payout to be sent to a registered charity.
  • Poor (or non-existent) affiliate management tech: Depending on the type of affiliate program you have, technology can make it easy to develop tracking links, track coupon codes, and provide an entire suite of reporting, both for the individual affiliates, and the organization itself. And make sure your affiliate tech is easy to use. If it’s hard to use… it simply won’t be.
  • No onboarding program: When an affiliate signs up, it’s important to position them for success. Depending on the scale, an onboarding program could have training, webinars, an online knowledge center, and personal calls.


If you have an affiliate or referral program, have you removed all of the obstacles to your success? And if you don’t have one yet, use this list to make sure that you are not actually shooting yourself in the foot before you even start.

Affiliate insight: What differentiates a successful affiliate from one that is mostly disengaged? Consider a periodic outreach program – either formal or informal – to understand their motivations, possibly re-engage them, and identify potential program changes.

Related post: Four Steps from Social Strategy to Successful Sales

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