An outline of how to ask -- and get -- more investment in the channel
If you’ve been in affiliate for more than a minute, you’ve probably heard at least a dozen people lament that most companies underinvest in affiliate relative to its sales potential. Whether it’s because senior leadership doesn’t understand the channel, or is skeptical about whether it drives incremental revenue, or has false perceptions about the quality and credibility of potential partners who work on a CPA or pay-for-performance basis, many companies skimp on channel investment.
That sucks. But lamenting about an underfunded affiliate program and doing something about it are two very different things. If you want to be a part of the solution -- and garner more budget and influence at the same time, have a look at this toolkit on how to sell affiliate during the next budget season successfully.
Start with a Winning Sales Model
You’ve got to sell the budget holders to get incremental affiliate budget. To do that, you need to have a strategy for guiding decision-makers through their “customer” journeys. Successful sellers swear by sales processes that focus on three questions:
Why do this? (Category Value Proposition)
Why do this now? (Urgency)
Why do this with us? (Vendor Value Prop)
Think back to the best sales pitches you’ve experienced. They probably answered these questions. Sellers usually fail because they don’t provide a compelling rationale for all three of these questions.
Those three questions can also be a great communication model for advocating incremental affiliate budget investment in the affiliate channel. Think about it in the context of these three questions:
Why invest more in affiliate?
Why invest more in affiliate now?
Why is my team the right one to unlock this value?
Building a Story Around the Three Core Questions
After years of making presentation after presentation, many of us have come to think in PowerPoint and map out our marketing presentations in the context of the classic sales funnel. Why not structure your pitch presentation informed by the three questions. To make it easier to develop your affiliate program pitch, we’ve created the following content outline you can consider and adapt as you see fit. The outline was based on the experience of multiple affiliate leaders who successfully elevated affiliate channel investment over time, both in total dollars and in the percentage of total marketing budget.
Clarify what affiliate marketing is (IF NECESSARY)
Just because we know what we do, doesn’t mean that the exec team understands it fully or correctly. You might be pretty shocked by the misconceptions. Then again, you might be all too familiar with the “understanding gap” of your exec team. Make an arms-length assessment of whether a channel review is appropriate and act accordingly. If you do think a review makes sense, here is a thought-starter content flow:
Review the classic partnership model in case anyone lacks a basic understanding of how performance partnerships work
Emphasize the fool-proof and accountable nature of pay-for-performance marketing strategy
Outline how costs are predictable and controllable -- they'll be sure to value that in a world of rising search, social media, and other digital marketing costs. Every leader loves a predictable budgeting method
Explain how the world of potential partners has grown dramatically to dispel lingering concerns that partners are not worthy of association with your brand. You’ll likely see a lot of “lean-forward” interest in premium content partners, tech partners, influencers
Summarize the role affiliate currently plays in the total revenue of the business
Many senior leaders are surprised at how large and fast-growing the affiliate channel is for their businesses. Savvy CMOs and CFOs may already know the channel’s power but likely still underestimate its role in brand success. Dispel those underestimations with cold, hard facts. Show them the following:
Percentage of total brand/company sales from affiliate and year over year trend
Percentage of digital brand/company sales from affiliate and year over year trend
Return on ad spend: total sales from affiliate/costs of commissions and fees
The resilience of the channel in tough economic times (recessions, COVID)
How new ways of commissioning can align programs to any business objective (revenue, customer acquisition, boosting buying rate, maxing LTV, upping AOV, etc.)
Outline the immediate reasons why more affiliate investment makes sense
People are generally more comfortable making an additional investment if they understand precisely what they are buying. They also want to understand the extent to which marketing results are accountable and measurable -- that the investment will drive sufficient incremental sales to make it the "best next" investment. Your affiliate network or performance marketing tech platform. Focus on:
How your affiliate marketing program is (or will be) ready for “cookie-geddon.” Explain how the modern affiliate link and banner are completely measurable with server-t0-server and other affiliate network tracking methodologies.
Ability for affiliate marketers to directly measure business impact.
Brand awareness benefits of this marketing channel
Proven effectiveness of affiliate marketing spending for 20+ years. 6-14% AGR since 2003.
Diversifies marketing investment, Not reliant on the big three tech companies
Major opportunities to grow scale immediately. Consider: any missing large affiliate publishers that fit the brand, additional programs and investment with your top partner(s), opportunities with un-utilized/underutilized content marketing partners, influencer marketing, and tech providers
Show examples of competitor marketing efforts that you’d like to adopt/optimize with more marketing spend on affiliate
Data portability: explain how advertiser affiliate data is now extensive and easily ported from your network or tech platform to BI and attribution platforms. That brings valuable insight to the value proposition you are dishing up
Provide a specific ask for additional budget and show how you’d spend it
Now that you have sold them on the idea of affiliate marketing investment, get down to specifics. Tell them how much you want and what incremental sales you’re confident you'll get with it. If you can, you might even want to show the incremental net income! Provide a spreadsheet of spending by program element, marketing campaign, expected sales, and ROAS. Be sure and answer the following:
What existing programs can be further scaled? Are there opportunities, for example, with your current cash-back, coupon sites, and other traditional classes in the affiliate marketing channel?
What new partner programs would you adopt with existing top partners?
What new publisher partners would you add?
What tech partners would you test and implement if they are effective
Showcase the team track record for excellence
You may love pointing out your marketing accomplishments. Or you may hate blowing your own horn. But whatever your preference, decision-makers need to know why they should entrust your affiliate manager team with additional investment. Focus on what you and the team have accomplished. So they believe. Give credit to others, so you don’t look like a grandstander. But make sure they get how great you are.
Reprise your affiliate partner sales and ROAS achievements
Outline any new hires or training you have invested in and how it will drive better results
Identify how you have improved volume, profitability over the past year
Summarize the Ask and the Get
Now, it’s time for your windup. Remember that senior execs tend to be more forest people than trees people. Affiliate leaders have to excel at both, of course, but not everyone has the same ability to keep track of details that you do. Give them the broad brush story and reiterate the incremental budgeting ask and the incremental value you will drive with it. And then outline a timeline to understand when decisions must be made and why. It’s always easiest for decision-makers to kick a major decision down the calendar a bit. Try and help them resist that temptation with a realistic but aggressive timeline:
Summarize the total ask, expected revenue, ROAS
Provide a topline of ways that investment will be used
Present a timeline for consideration, approval, and implementation
There are no guarantees in life, but having a strategy and action plan to get the budget you deserve will go a long way toward getting the incremental money you deserve. After all, what leader wouldn’t appreciate the value proposition of this fantastic marketing channel if they fully understand its benefits? Now, get out there and get it done!
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