B2B affiliate marketing: a primer on how to use publishing partnerships to target enterprise buyers

It's B2B week here at Martech Record. Stream Wednesday's conversation about the rise of B2B in affiliate with Jack Phan (AirDeck), Ty Lingley (Ally.io) and Jessica Spira (Ziff Davis) here.

Today, Adam Westreich, B2B affiliate marketing consultant, offers a primer on how B2B is a little different, but how it can be extremely valuable to a brand trying to sell to enterprise companies.


Designing an affiliate program for a business targeting an enterprise audience requires several considerations that differ from the typical structure of a consumer program.

Dealing with Multiple decision makers

For instance, if you are selling a project management software, it might be the project manager who reads an article, clicks the affiliate link and starts a free trial. But it’ll be the CFO who approves the software, and Beth from accounting who ultimately approves the payment for it. Additionally, many B2B SaaS and service providers have a user flow that requires the user to speak with a sales person before getting a quote and purchasing the product (e-commerce flows, however, allow the consumer to complete the entire sale in one session).

These flows break apart the traditional affiliate model where a cookie is dropped after an affiliate click and a platform’s JS tag on the shopping cart closes the loop. Instead, the CRM needs to be the ultimate source of truth for a sale (generally marked as a ‘close win’) or any mid-funnel conversions (SQL, booked demo, etc), and affiliate attribution is based on a last-click sign up. Additionally attribution for that sign up is made at the company level, rather than the individual who signed up, as that individual may not be the decision maker or person who pays for the product. Once the lead has signed up through a form fill or entering a free trial, the CRM will dictate to the affiliate network where that company is during the sales cycle.

Integrating with your CRM

It is really important that your affiliate platform be able to easily integrate with your CRM. What we’re seeing now is that many platforms, including Everflow, Impact, and ParnterStack, have built CRM integrations in order to better serve B2B brands. One of the main difficulties in integrating with CRMs is that each advertiser will have set up how they use their CRM differently, and most affiliate platforms have very rigid container integrations which makes it hard to map stages, leads, deals, etc. When the CRM is acting as the source of attribution for each marketing channel, and opportunity stages are translating into commissionable events, having any breakage in your CRM / affiliate platform integration can lead to issues with your overall program. And when publishers can be very finicky and have hundreds of other advertisers to potentially promote, you don't want to run into any issue. I've seen several advertisers have to change their affiliate platform due to CRM integration issues, ultimately killing the momentum for their program and pushing back timelines and progress.

Rewarding Your Partners

When it comes to how you want to reward the publisher, there can be some differences as well. If you’re selling an enterprise product that takes a year to close, your publishers might lose their patience waiting to receive their commission, even if it is 10% on a $50k deal. My general rule of thumb:if the sales cycle is 30 days or less, you can get away with paying on a Close Win, especially if your payout is pretty competitive. If the cycle runs longer than 30 days, you’ll want to pay on a higher up event. Paying on a sign up or form fill can be risky and subject your program to fraud. I would look to see what stages in the sales flow exist between a Sign Up and CW to see what you have available. This is easy since the CRM is your source of truth and will already have many different Opportunity Stages for you to look at.

Some common mid-funnel events can be paying on a SQL (a sales rep determines that this is a real lead), or a booked demo (sales rep has made contact with the person and scheduled a time to chat). If the user flow doesn't have a sales rep and instead is based on a Free Trial or Freemium model, there can be options where you pay only if the user has logged into the software 3x. Finally there can be hybrid models where you are paying on both a lower funnel event and close win. This is a great model for publishers who may be high traffic, low conversion players as you want to incentivize them to drive sales but still need to keep them interested.

For SaaS products, one trend we’re seeing is running continual payouts for the lifetime of any customer they refer. This allows a publisher to continually be rewarded for their referral and has the opportunity for that commission value to increase over time —the referral purchases more seats as their company scales. The B2B affiliate world can allow publishers to get a steady paycheck for one referral for years; something we don't see in the B2C world. This makes sense as the B2B affiliate world stems from the Reseller channel where agreements like this are common. It also incentivizes the publisher to have a continuing relationship with the referral to increase their package with the advertiser.

Why is affiliate marketing interesting to B2B brands?

One of the reasons that B2B brands are starting to adopt affiliate as a marketing strategy is because the lead quality can be much higher than the traditional models available to them. Many demand gen leads are using strategies like Content Syndication or Lead Buying to bring in leads for their sales reps to chase.

Lead Buying is where a user goes to an industry specific website to read about a type of product (ex. Accounting Software) and then fills out a brief form. Content Syndication is where an advertiser writes an article that is intended to not be a direct sale of their own brand (ex. “Trends we’ve identified in the QSR industry for 2022”). This article is hidden behind a gateway where the user will need to fill out a form with their contact info in order to access it.

While these two strategies can certainly bring a lot of volume to an advertiser, ultimately they can also lead to poor lead quality. The company's sales team may be wondering what marketing is even doing all day.

This is very different from the affiliate flow, where the user converts on the advertiser’s own website. This may lead to lower volumes, but quality can be much higher.

Here are some of the general categories of high performing publishers that I see in the B2B space:

  • B2B Editorial Sites / Newsletters

  • Industry specific publications with long-form editorial content. These tend to have high conversion rates and generally low traffic. These can include deep overviews about a specific product or cover a general topic in the industry with a call out to one or two advertisers in the article. Some of the most advanced players can drive PPC or Paid Social traffic to these pages to drive scale.

  • Product Comparison Sites

  • Your standard Top 10 comparison websites. Listicle content with short blurbs about each brand and their pros & cons. Rankings are generally determined by who has the highest eCPC.

  • Startups Resource Sites

  • Websites and communities catered toward startups (typically pre-seed through series B). These sites can range from showcasing discounted rates for founders, to providing resources for networking/accelerators.

  • SaaS product review platforms

  • Large product review platforms that get traffic primarily through SEO. The sites generally consist of individual product reviews with user-generated comments, as well as category pages. Most of these work off CPC payouts and require a lot of set up on the advertisers end. I’ve heard mixed reviews of these platforms and many of them offer more lead gen strategies rather than link outs to your site.

  • LinkedIn Influencers/YouTubers/Consultants/Resellers

  • Small but highly influential traffic sources that can sometimes do one to one sales with prospects. This can include youtubers and influencers who may be leaders in their respective fields. Consultants and resellers specifically will have continuing relationships with the referral and may be able to upsell them on the product over time.

  • Brand-To-Brand

  • The other B2B: brands promoting other brands. Advertising content is usually located in a resource section, blog posts, or even a thank you page after the customer is done purchasing a product.

  • Email

  • Agencies that can sometimes have access to millions of business email addresses. These players can range from brokers, all the way to full agencies with their own creative departments. Agencies are can-spam compliant, and can suppress users using third parties like Optizmo.

  • Door-To-Door Sales Reps

  • Hiring boots on the ground sales reps paying them on a commission basis. While not useful for every business, this is a great way to drive sales for brands targeting brick and mortar businesses. These reps can either drive lead form sign ups or even close deals on the spot using tablets.

  • Direct Mail

  • One sheeters being sent out to a targeted list based on publicly available information. Can be tracked via affiliate vendors using custom landers and tracked coupon codes

What will work specifically for your brand will depend on your brand equity, industry/target audience and how your business follows up with leads. The biggest killers in conversion that I see for enterprise B2B programs: failure to reach out to leads immediately and not having enough touchpoints to work these leads. High-performing companies generally reach out to leads immediately and will contact a lead 14 times across email and phone calls. If your flow is to bring the user into a free trial, don't expect the user to log back into it without constant communication.

Adam Westreich is an experienced marketer with a deep background in affiliate / partnership marketing. He has been running successful affiliate marketing campaigns since 2011 and has experience on all sides of the industry including agency, network, publisher and brand. Since 2020 Adam has been focused almost entirely on B2B affiliate programs working with brands like Yelp, Nextdoor and Auvik.

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