Listen to this blog as a podcast


How To Avoid These 7 Common Mistakes When Setting Up Your Affiliate Programme

One of the major strengths of our internet age is that it is possible to set up the technical aspects of an affiliate marketing programme without speaking to a single human being.  However, this is also a huge weakness and packed with simple errors which I see all to often.

That is, unless you’ve somehow stumbled on a genie hidden in a lamp!

It is not the technology that creates the success; it is the strategy, the tactical implementation of the plan and the people that will determine your level of success.

Strip it all down to its raw parts and you have something remarkably simple, but you have to remember that it’s the customers, the real people, that make or break a business, and when planning your affiliate programme you have to remember you have TWO customers to keep happy in every transaction – the end customer AND the affiliate partner.

Let’s now take a look at the level of resource you will need make available to ensure everything gets off to a great start and you can build on your success.

But just before we do let’s go back in time a little.  Remember how you felt about your first ever online sale?

How long did it take to arrive?

How long did it take until you had a steady stream of sales on a weekly basis and then on a daily basis?

It didn’t happen overnight did it…!  And, I’ll hazard a guess that you had to work hard with persistence to actually turn your goals into reality.

Well… finding the right affiliate partners is a similar process.  However, the benefit here is that these particular “customers” are entrepreneurs who are looking to make a profit from a portfolio of merchants and so you have to compete favourably against other potential merchants on all aspects of your programme and present yourself as the best partner you can be.

As an illustration, I recently spoke to a merchant who told me that his affiliate marketing programme was generating such low returns that “it didn’t really work”. When I investigated further, I found some simple mistakes BUT ones that can crop up time and time again when we’re conducting Affiliate Programme Audits.

Let’s get started…

Interested? Great, You’re Approved!

Perhaps the single biggest mistake is when affiliate programmes allow affiliates to sign up and be automatically approved with no human intervention at all.

After all, the more affiliates you have, the more sales you make, right?

VERY wrong!

This is a very common misconception. Think of each and every affiliate partner as a member of your sales team. Would you hire a new sales person without a job interview, without checking references, without testing out their sales skills, without seeing how they are going to represent your company in the marketplace?

NO WAY your screaming… right?

When explained this way it seems obvious I know, but for some reason I see way too many businesses fall into this trap.  It’s almost like because it’s an “online”, “remote” type of relationship that it’s somehow OK to not really know your affiliate partners at all.

Let me firmly dispel this belief right now.

Affiliate Partnerships is a relationship game. Get to know your affiliates and only recruit the best. The best will perform for you…they will go to bat for you…they will generate you quality leads and sales.

Ask yourself; where’s the relationship? Where’s the mutually beneficial partnership? Where’s the monthly phone call to see how it’s going for them and how you can improve what you do in order to help maximise their profits (which, of course, comes from more sales of your products)?


The second most common mistake which is pretty much guaranteed to kill your affiliate programme is relaxing or stopping the communications and incentives.

As the merchant it’s your responsibility to maintain the activity, energy, communications and excitement around your programme.

To help, here are some simple ideas that are quick and easy to set up and maintain:-

  1. Send a quick monthly video update / video newsletter.
  2. Regularly launch new coupons, new deals and special promotions.
  3. If you selling physical products ensure your data-feed is always up to date so price changes and stock levels are accurate on your affiliate partner sites.
  4. Help education and train them – this is often a great way to revitalise dormant partners’ as sometimes they just need a little help understanding how best to promote you.

In short, ensure there is always a clear direction and focus for your affiliate partners.

Invest in Management

The third most common mistake, particularly in larger companies, is not to set up a dedicated Affiliate Partner Manager, whose role is to find partners, interview them, nurture them, manage the regular communications with them (newsletters and promotions etc.) and help them sell your products!

This is a vital position if your looking at building a series 6 and 7 figure Affiliate Partner marketing channel.

Ensure this position is occupied by an ‘A’ Team player.

Ensure they have realistic and measurable targets – number of affiliates interviewed, selected, expected sales, sales against target, training given etc.

It’s important to set your expectations accordingly here though. A brand new programme will take longer to gather traction. Remember this is a relationship game and therefore managing your programme ‘in-house’ to start with is a great way to be profitable from day 1.

Once you’ve gathered some traction and you can see the growth curve starting to take shape I highly recommend recruiting a first class Affiliate Partner Manager… it’ll pay you handsomely and can be geared to constant growth in the sales too.

Pay on time EVERYTIME

ALWAYS pay commissions on-time

This is a very obvious one I know, but you’d be amazed how many businesses owners fail at this step.

The minute you do this it might as well be curtains – harsh but true.  You’ll loose your Affiliate Partners trust and they’ll rapidly jump ship and join a competitors programme instead.

Let’s just think about the last line for a minute.

“They’ll jump ship and join a competitors programme instead.” So… someone who was supporting your business now is a rival and directing customers to a competitor.  It’s this very fact that means your programme can, quite literally, collapse very quickly if you don’t keep your side of the bargain.

Understanding the Affiliate’s Customers

In my experience here’s the fifth most common mistake.  Once a business has a new customer from an affiliate they try and sell to them direct and cut the affiliate out of the loop.

If you want to scale your Affiliate Marketing Channel in a sustainable way this is a BIG NO NO!

In the vast majority of cases, businesses success is more often determined by the quantity of REPEAT customers a business can gather – selling more products to the same customer as well as reaching out and constantly growing a new customer base.

But don’t try and own the end customer yourself.

Of course, if they want to buy from your direct then your not going to say no…right?

BUT here’s my golden rule. Try to structure your programme so that a commission is still earned by the affiliate who introduced them to you originally.  It might only be a smaller percentage, perhaps only 10%, but can you guess what impact this will have on the affiliate partner themselves?

You got it…they’re going to love you for it and in return they will promote your more and more and more!

Of course there comes a time when the customer will have bought from your frequently enough that they, themselves, opt to become yours customer directly.

But in the early days of this business / customer relationship remember that the ‘influential party’ is really YOUR affiliate and not YOU.

Structuring programmes in this way fuels their long term growth and ensures they are very sustainable with motivated and well rewarded affiliate partners who are very willing to promote you.

Over time the ‘transfer of trust’ will move over from your affiliate directly to you as you continually serve them well.  However, be prepared for this to be a gradual process and please don’t try to force it at the start.

Robust Software

Now… common sense isn’t always common practice.

To grow a sustainable Affiliate Marketing Channel you MUST use a system that allows you to accurately track the leads and sales forwarded to you from your affiliate partners.

Choosing the right software package for your business does depend on two key aspects within your business.

The deciding factors are:-

  1. Which eCommerce Platform do you use to process your online orders?
  2. Which Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software do you use?

There are several software options I recommend from my own experiences.  For now, the two that work well in 80% of situations are:-

  • InfusionSoft – eCommerce, CRM and Affiliate Management all in one!
  • SamCart – eCommerce and Affiliate Management with cool integrations with lots of CRM platforms

With that nailed we move onto perhaps my biggest bug bear with poorly designed programmes.

Attractive AND Logical Cookie Periods

Cookie length is the time in which your tracking code remains live and assigns transactions within this period to the referring affiliate partner.

You may have come across the saying “you can’t kid and kidder”.  Well the same applies her too, “you can’t kid an affiliate with a stupid cookie length.”

What do I mean… well, if it takes you an average of 20 days to nurture a cold lead into a buying customer don’t think you can kid an affiliate by setting your cookie period to 15 days.

It’s obvious when I share it like that right?

All this will achieve is a flurry of leads from affiliate partners at the start and then, as they realise you’ve tricked them when commissions are low, they will jump ship to a competitor programme and take their audience with them.  Remember what I said above about when this happens!!

Make sure you understand how long it ACTUALLY takes your business, your sales funnel, to convert and lead into and paying customer and base your cookie period on this timescale as a absolute minimum.  When I’m consulting and setting up programmes myself I actually increase this cookie length by 50 to 100%… this is what fuels a long-term successful affiliate programme.

Believe it or not, you actually have to be prepared to pay-out some commissions!  But remember, only AFTER the sales been made and the money is in your bank account.


Work your way through the points and assess you programme against each point giving yourself a mark out of 10 for each step.

How do you score?

56 and above – you’re doing nicely – WELL DONE.

BELOW…??  There’s always room for improvement so focus on the low scoring areas first and get creative around ways you can move up one point at a time.

The best merchant-affiliate relationships are close relationships. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership of trust, respect and a realisation that it’s a win-win opportunity for ALL parties.

Above all, it takes time to establish and the continual execution of a coherent sales and marketing plan that nurtures and builds on the relationship to ensure the long-term success of both the merchant and affiliate partner.

As always, please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions in the box below.

To your success, all the best

Phillip Gibbs Signature

Pin It on Pinterest