Customer success is our top priority here at Impact, so we pay close attention to the partnership tactics and strategies that drive growth for our customers and across the channel as a whole. We also see what is required for agencies, in-house partnership teams, and platform or network vendors to contribute to that growth most effectively.
Let’s just say, we have opinions on the matter. Here, you’ll discover what you need to know about:
- The range of tasks required to create and run a successful partnership program
- How the different models —network, technology platforms, etc. — tackle those tasks
- What tasks actually lead to growth and how can you support them properly
- How to truly define customer success — and how a tech company like Impact defines it
- The benefits of using a specialized technology in tandem with a strategic approach (whether in-house or agency — or both!)
- How agencies, in-house partnership teams, and technology platforms or network vendors can work together to drive results
The most successful partnership programs maximize their capacity for growth
Especially given the expansion of the partnership channel and its increasing contribution to corporate revenue, it’s essential for partnership programs to invest in the best possible tools, resources, and vendors to reach their business goals. That means making decisions about your program management model and technology. Should you rely on an affiliate or influencer network? Should you partner with an agency or build up your own team? Should you invest in technology and, if so, what do you look for?
Based on our unique perspective on the scope and scale of running a successful program and our view into the best-run programs around, here are some questions to ask as you assess your current program’s capacity for growth and envision your future in the partnership economy.
Seven questions to help pinpoint how to use technology and services for growth
1. Are you underestimating the administrative burden?
Managing a successful partnership program involves a long list of administrative and organizational tasks. These tasks are all vital to program success and should not be undervalued. But they can all be enormously time-consuming and repetitive, making them prime candidates for automation. What’s more, they represent only a small fraction of what’s required to maintain a thriving program.
The real work is in the creativity, strategic thinking, long-term planning, and relationship-building aspects of a program, which is where you really want your partnership team to be spending the majority of their time.
An assessment of your current program requires a realistic understanding of the labor involved, which on any given day might involve a combination of:
- Discovering and recruiting relevant partners who have the audience you seek
- Negotiating contract terms and onboarding partners to your program
- Developing and supplying materials your partners can use and adapt to promote your brand, including product samples, links, product feeds, banner ads, approved copy, etc.
- Tracking partner performance per your contract KPIs, i.e. posts, clicks, or conversions
- Paying your partner accurately and timely per your contract terms
- Maintaining competitive offers and positioning with partners in relation to competitors
- Managing and adapting terms over time to reflect and optimize partner value to your business
- Monitoring partner activity for fraud and compliance with brand guidelines and regulations
- Reporting program results by partner, groups of partners, and your channel as a whole to key stakeholders
2. Is the work you are putting in focused on areas that drive growth?
Would you consider trying to develop a growth channel (SEM, display, social) without due diligence? Of course not. But how can you know if your investments in growth strategies will pay off? A few key elements of partnerships can help assure growth:
- Partnerships offer authentic connection. They are not a fly-by-night proposition but because partnerships often offer direct relationships with consumers, they increase the likelihood for conversions . . . and thus growth.
- Again, the direct relationship between partner and consumer also increases customer loyalty. What is any relationship without the trust that loyalty commands?
- Partnerships offer an improved customer experience, especially in contrast to traditional marketing techniques like advertising. Ads are interruptive in nature — their goal is to usurp your attention by expanding, auto-playing, or popping up; or they may distract you with animation and push brand messaging that may only have miniscule relevance to what you’re reading or doing at the moment.
Contrast that with the partnership experience. Partnerships often show up as native outbound links or calls-to-action to highly relevant and informative content written by the site you’re on. That site’s publisher has probably invested lots of time building up a cache of trust and goodwill with you, their audience, by being authentic, informative, or entertaining, and would not squander that away with irrelevant calls-to-action. The affiliate links they embed within their content are there to help their audience continue with their buyer’s journey organically. Overall, it’s this trust, authenticity and organic fit into the consumer journey that makes partnerships a better customer experience overall compared to many other forms of marketing like advertising.
Focusing on the partnership channel also pays higher dividends versus expending too much energy on other channels. Given rising costs per click in paid search and social channels and lack of engagement with traditional display, partnerships offer brands a significantly higher return on investment as well as the singular opportunity to go beyond the performance plateau, increase market share, and/or offset risk and costs in the marketing mix. According to the Performance Marketing Association, the average ROAS of the channel is 12:1. This contrasts with the ROAS of other marketing channels, which averages to about 2.6:1 according to Nielsen’s research.
So how does a brand decide whether to work with a network or a tech platform? It has to do with what kind of work your team is doing, and the impact it has on your brand.
In the network model, the bulk of the work of the in-house team, agency, and the account management team simply keeps the programs running. On a tech platform, the administrative work of running the platform is automated. This allows a program to mature and expand. The work of the in-house team or agency is turned toward strategic development, program growth, and partner interaction and optimization. Plus a tech platform offers more advanced tools and reporting, which enables these teams to execute on these strategies in real-time.
How would you rather invest your time, money, and resources?
3. Is your agency team making the most of technology?
Fifty percent of Impact’s clients work with an agency partner. They do so in order to tap into a talented, experienced, and industry-connected resource that brings in a unique and expert perspective. Agency teams know what performs and are supported by a larger organization offering the resources to deliver exactly what a brand needs to grow.
The range of agency options allows a brand to employ the right resource at the right time and in the right markets. This freedom enables quicker strategic moves, whether working with a dedicated, full-service OPM or a broader digital agency. By unbundling strategic services from the technology, a brand can be sure they are working with teams that only have one goal in mind — customer growth and success.
In the case where a brand chooses to work with an agency, Impact’s customer success model shifts slightly and supports both the brand and its agency partner. Dedicated agency customer success teams work alongside the brand’s customer success team and the goal stays the same — allowing the strategic initiatives to take center stage.
Knowledge doesn’t have to stay with the agency or with the technology provider either. Impact’s agency certification program isn’t about training an agency to press the buttons and pull the levers — it is about passing on the knowledge that our client success team has about system and industry best practices. It isn’t just a nod to technological competency — it is a badge that tells a brand that the money invested in this particular agency will all go to high-value, strategic work and not to tasks that can and should be automated.
4. Is using a network the way to go or do you need a full technology platform?
The network model remains another option for businesses that want to generate revenue from partnerships. But if you want to work with partners outside of traditional affiliates or influencers, you won’t find support from a network, because it simply isn’t part of their one-to-many-partners service model. In contrast, the support and services offered by agencies and by the companies behind tech platforms like Impact work across any partnership type, initiative, or strategy you come up with. (It’s also worth considering the other limitations to the network model that are fueling a shift to SaaS platforms.)
5. Is your current approach getting it done?
A simple test of your current partnership program management approach (team, platform, agency, network, or a combo thereof) is to go back to our list of administrative tasks and ask yourself how many of those tasks are done by technology and how many are done by people?
When technology automates administrative tasks and your team (in-house or otherwise) is using that technology to its full potential, the time humans spend on the channel becomes much more productive They can focus on challenges that can only be solved through applied experience, innovative thinking, and working with partners to understand the customer and perfect the customer experience — and that’s where growth really happens.
6. So, what support do I get on a platform?
You want to go it alone, but should you? When you have a client success team supporting you, you can offload tedious tasks as well as gain new insight into your programs — a second (and third and fourth. . . ) pair of eyes can be a game-changer.
Impact’s customer success teams work daily with clients — but not on delivering reporting, uploading reversals files, or chasing down partners who haven’t changed their links in two years. They work with clients to automate these tasks. Their time with clients is intended to help them to get the most out of the technology they have invested in, using it to solve problems at the root instead of letting the problem go on for years with human intervention required each week. A few examples include:
- Advanced traffic control tools allow a brand to automatically manage customer experience in the case of a noncompliant partner, including restricting payouts on sales resulting from expired creative.
- Custom, automated reporting delivered to advertiser and partner alike allow partners to understand their own audience better and work toward the goals set by both.
- Implementation of a brand’s customer acquisition strategy through dynamic commissioning structures, scheduled and performance triggered partner communications, and automatic control of creative materials and product feeds
- Enrichment of data with information after the point of sale/transaction, such as LTV, new vs existing customer, and so on.
Customer success on a technology platform does not mean tech support or troubleshooting login issues (although a good tech platform does have a rockstar tech support function for this!). It means consistently working with clients to use the new, updated features of their platform to grow the program. It means internalizing a client’s own strategy and helping them execute, following industry and platform best practices. Clients who have made the switch are vocal about how well this works — just check out this video for the proof.
7. Are you seizing the full partnership opportunity?
The partnerships channel presents an incredible opportunity, and equipping your team with the expertise and technology to drive growth pays off.
Given rising costs per click in paid search and social channels and lack of engagement with traditional display, partnerships offer brands a significantly higher ROI and a new path to increase market share and offset risk in their overall marketing mix. Partnerships create more authentic connections, improve the customer experience, and increase customer loyalty.
Where do we go from here?
From what we’ve explored above, unbundling technology and services is the way to go — and that’s where Impact and other technology-first platforms put their investment. At Impact specifically, we have:
- Expanded the addressable partner types to enable increased productivity and reach
- Designed new tools that change the way brands interact with their customers
- Created an ever-evolving customizable reporting suite
- Deepened relationships with agency partners to ensure our clients always have the best options for their unique needs
The network model continues to be commercially viable — so much so that we have seen tech-first platforms pivot to it, adding additional service layers to handle administrative tasks and cover areas that the technology does not. Maintaining an automation and productivity tool that covers the entire partnership life cycle is difficult. Developing that tool while driving innovation in an industry requires a large amount of very talented product and engineering resources and scaling it is not a challenge taken on lightly. (On that note: Impact is continuing to grow! Take a look at new opportunities to join us) But re-bundling strategic services and technology introduces the same challenges networks have always had: trying to do both rarely results in exceptional results from either.
So what’s a good test of your technology? Go back to the bulleted list of requirements to run a partnership program at the beginning of this article and ask yourself:
With your current network or platform, how many of those tasks does the technology handle, and how many are done by people?
Then ask yourself these seven questions to ensure you have the right mix of services and technology to reach your goals. The most productive partnership programs, however, they are staffed, incorporate partnership automation to drive growth.
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