Recruiting affiliate partners in 2023 – in conversation with Silverbean

Publication date
Imogen Beech
Reading time
8 minute read

What is affiliate recruitment? What are the main pain points? How do you differentiate yourself when reaching out to potential partners?

In March our CEO and Founder, Alex Phillips, featured in the first episode of Silverbean’s new podcast, ‘Get with the program.’ He chatted with Nicholas Yates, Head of Global Affiliate Partnerships at Silverbean, to answer all your questions about using partner recruitment to supercharge your affiliate program

Watch the conversation below, or read on for our main takeaways.

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What is partner recruitment?

Partner recruitment is all about finding partners that are suited to the ecosystem you’re building. Alex and Nicholas both agree that the term ‘partner recruitment’ generally encompasses everything from identifying relevant partners to onboarding them. Anything beyond that would come under partner management.

It’s also worth noting that partner recruitment doesn’t just have to be about recruiting affiliates. You might choose to recruit other kinds of partners too, from product partners to content partners (our guide to the 15 types of strategic partnerships has a full breakdown).

What are the main pains of partner recruitment?

When it comes to affiliate recruitment, the pains start straight away. Alex points out that even deciding to recruit partners in the first place can be a minefield – from deciding whether to start an affiliate or partner program to choosing whether to hire a partnership manager or agency such as Silverbean

Once you overcome that barrier, finding relevant partners that are likely to help you meet your goals is a real challenge. 

Around 70% of all partnerships fail to meet their aligned goals. Starting off on the right foot by onboarding the best partners for your brand is key to ensuring your partnerships don’t fall into that trap. But the data to help you determine which partners to reach out to is limited and scattered all over the place.

For one, affiliate networks don’t actually give you the data to help you determine whether a partner is relevant – such as reach, demographic, niche and geography. 

They also only capture a fraction of the partnerships in the global ecosystem. And the gap analysis they provide often only flags the low-hanging fruit. Once you’ve saturated these opportunities, it can be much harder to find those longtail partners that could allow you to grow your partner program and take it to the next level.

Nicholas points out that currently, affiliate managers often use a two-step process to discover relevant partners:

  1. Use a network or SaaS platform to discover potential partners – usually by carrying out a competitor or keyword search.
  2. Use platforms like Similarweb or Moz to get an understanding of how those potential partners get their traffic – and verify that they’re a good fit.

A third, more efficient way would be to use tools (like Breezy) that can help you identify which partners are right for your brand – as opposed to working backwards and simply verifying that a partner is right after you’ve already found them.

What difficulties do account managers face when outreaching to new partners?

One major difficulty is around obtaining the right contact information. After all, if you’re contacting the wrong person, you’ve fallen at the first hurdle!

Nicholas mentions that the contact details provided by affiliate networks are often for the wrong person or out of date. So, it’s not always easy to do the outreach in the first place.

Alex elaborates that most agencies and brands running highly successful partnership programs seem to be doing a lot of the contact discovery for outreach themselves. So, although some of the information provided by networks will of course be correct, contact discovery is largely carried out manually, like a lot of the other processes involved in affiliate discovery. Only once you’ve found the right contact details can you even begin to think about how to stand out amongst all the other brands that are pushing for your contact’s attention.

Does an affiliate manager need to be good at sales?

An affiliate manager is typically thought of as someone who nurtures relationships and drives performance. But if you look at the job of an affiliate manager compared to another role like a traditional business development manager, there’s a lot of overlap. They’re both doing outreach to partners, in order to open the door and build a relationship.

With that in mind, Nicholas and Alex agree that an affiliate manager recruiting new partners needs many of the same skills as someone working in a more traditional sales role. 

Alex points out that a good affiliate has built up a trusting audience. They therefore have to believe in what they’re promoting, in order to maintain that trust they’ve worked so hard to cultivate. As an affiliate manager, you have to sell the brand’s product to an affiliate, in order to convince them that they can stand behind it.

Once you’ve convinced them of the value of the brand’s product, you then have to sell the affiliate program itself in the same way. At this point, it’s about showing the affiliate that the monetary incentive is worth their while as, of course, a partnership has to be mutually beneficial.

What is the framework for a highly functional, long-lasting partnership?

The major key to any good partnership is making sure that everyone understands the benefits that the partnership will bring to both parties. In short, you need to show your partner that you care about what they’re getting out of the relationship, as well as looking after your own interests.

Unfortunately, at the moment, publishers don’t often know what brands’ objectives are – and vice versa. Improving transparency could be a major way to increase the success rate of partnerships.

Alex adds that this would also make negotiating new partnerships easier – if you understand how a partner likes to work and they understand how you like to work, it will be much easier to suggest meeting somewhere in the middle where your preferences don’t quite align.

As well as discussing your goals and strategic partnership KPIs, it’s crucial to discuss upfront the nitty-gritty details about how your partnership will function.

For example, what’s the timeline for execution? How many of your team are involved? Who are the key stakeholders for each task? What happens if you haven’t reached your goals in three months?

These are conversations that aren’t happening in the majority of negotiations but that would be invaluable when it comes to setting a partnership up for success.

How to successfully identify new affiliate partners for your brand

If you’re looking to diversify the affiliates in your program, the process of identifying new partners will look something like this:

  1. Look at who is ranking for keywords that your customers are likely to be searching for. Anyone who’s not a competitor (or your own brand) could be a potential partner.
  2. Look at who is linking to your competitors and similar brands. This would indicate that they’re probably in some kind of relationship with one another, so the door could also be open for you.
  3. Look specifically at who has an affiliate relationship with your competitors. This is something that hasn’t really been offered by industry tools traditionally (until Breezy, of course!), but it means they’re more likely to be open to working on an affiliate basis.

These three things are about relevancy and are really good indicators of potential value. You’ll then need to combine them with additional detail, such as traffic and reach.

How to approach different partners for ultimate recruitment success

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential partners, you’ll need to figure out a strategy to engage them. You’ll need to plan a few different approaches to reflect the different groups of affiliates you’re planning to contact.

For instance, if you’re talking to a traditional affiliate, you won’t need to explain the term ‘affiliate’ to them. But if you’re approaching a YouTuber or a content creator that’s never worked as an affiliate before, you’ll have to educate them and explain how it works. In this way, running separate recruitment campaigns will be crucial.

The same will apply if you’re approaching businesses to work with you in different ways – such as on a co-selling or referral basis.

Alex explains that the average salesperson sends two emails to a lead. But over 50% of sales responses come after the fifth and sixth emails! As there’s certainly an element of sales in the role of an affiliate manager, you’ll need to bear this in mind when you’re building out your campaign.

Ultimately, when you have the insight that shows which partners are most relevant to you, you need to use this data to hook them during outreach and build a proper sales strategy for your affiliate program.

How to differentiate yourself when outreaching to potential partners for your channel

The primary way that you can differentiate your brand during outreach is by putting yourself in an affiliate’s shoes. Go back to that framework for a successful partnership that we discussed earlier, and ask yourself:

  • What are the benefits?
  • What are the measurables?
  • What is the culture?
  • What is the timeframe?

Naturally, it will all ultimately come down to explaining that journey to ROI. This can be challenging, as you’ll usually need to start by introducing and selling your brand. But at some point, you’ll need to transition into explaining how they could benefit from teaming up with you and, ideally, how much they could expect to earn.

Is recruitment underrated or overrated?

Affiliate managers who are looking to achieve revenue success and growth generally have two options available to them: recruit new partners or optimise existing partnerships. 

In terms of which approach is most effective, Nicholas points out that the sweet spot may actually be a combination of the two.

Alex adds that in his view, recruitment is definitely underrated. Although brands often say that they focus a lot on recruitment, in reality, they get wrapped up in the day-to-day management of existing relationships. This isn’t helped by the fact that recruitment is so challenging and limited by tech. Ultimately, it just doesn’t get the focus and time it needs to achieve great ROI.

That said, of course, you also need to keep optimising your existing partnerships in order to keep them working over time. Ideally, partners embarking on a new relationship should do so with the goal that the collaboration with be long-term, as opposed to just a quick win. In this way, both parties should work together to learn how to improve and grow their partnership over the years.

Optimisation vs recruitment

Although affiliate managers often find themselves choosing between optimisation and recruitment, Alex explains that the two can also share some overlap. For instance, the same process that you use to recruit new partners can also be used to find missed opportunities with your existing partners.

Brands usually group their partners into categories to streamline certain processes, but this can be limiting. As an example, you might add a partner to your pool of UK affiliates, without realising that they also have a big audience in Germany. 

By looking at traffic data as you would when trying to identify new partners, you could spot untapped opportunities. This can be the impetus you need to effectively ‘recruit’ existing partners to different partner programs or find new ways of working with them.

Nicholas adds that most affiliate managers will spend about 60% of their time looking at an affiliate network. However, account managers that leverage third-party data to learn where a partner’s traffic comes from will have a much more complete understanding of the variety of ways they could work together.

This can also be aided by bringing together stakeholders from different teams within your business. That way, rather than simply looking at a potential partner as an affiliate, you might be able to better spot all the different benefits they could bring your brand – for instance, from an SEO and backlinking perspective.

In summary

To summarise, recruitment is the foundation of your partner programs. Recruit the wrong partners, and there’s a large chance of your partnerships failing to meet your goals. But leverage data to find the perfect partners for your brand and you’ll be setting yourself up for partnership success in the long run.

A few thoughts to take away:

  • When it comes to outreach, affiliate managers need to have many of the same skills as more traditional sales roles.
  • Put yourself in your partner’s shoes when you’re doing outreach – you need to consider what your partner can stand to get out of the relationship, as well as yourself.
  • Be consistent! If you only send one or two emails, you won’t get the results you’re capable of.

For more insights into partner and affiliate marketing, keep an eye out for the rest of Silverbean’s podcast

And of course, if you’re looking to supercharge your partner discovery, make sure to book a demo for Breezy. We’ll show you how our data can make all the difference in finding the right partners to help you grow your brand.

Speak to us to level up your partner discovery.

Book a demo

Imogen Beech

Imogen is a copywriter and content writer with over two years’ experience writing about the exciting world of strategic partnerships, as well as running her own business. She loves learning about new topics as she writes, and has enjoyed penning articles on industries ranging from mortgages to events, theatre to home improvements and everything in between.

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