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When affiliate marketing began, at a time when internet marketing was relatively new, it was a no-brainer. Advertisers don’t need to pay for impressions or clicks, but only if there is a sale? Bring it on. Marketplaces quickly developed to bring supply and demand together to offer payment on a performance basis, and affiliate networks boomed.

Over time, however, the limits of affiliates became clear: Fraud and gamesmanship ran rampant, while partner payments for driving the last click became seen as an immature way of viewing the value chain. Today, there are far more data and insights available to help determine how a partner adds value. Technology has evolved to help track any of the points towards conversion, whether it is a call center, a store, a mobile app, social media or a website. Finally, there are many more ways for people to build an audience and gain influence around a wide variety of niche topics.

Consider how densely crowded the internet marketing space has become. In fact, 90% of all mobile ad dollars last year went to Facebook and Google. Costs on CPMs and CPCs shot up over 100%. It’s a packed “red” ocean out there, filled with sharks battling cutthroat competition, and everyone is trying to grab their share of this small space. Marketers now realize how difficult it is to grow in this jam-packed environment.

But beyond this competition-based strategy there is a vast blue ocean of partnerships to explore, if you are willing to go beyond the traditional boundaries of internet marketing and affiliate networks. This is a vast, scalable partnership channel opportunity that is there for any retailer or enterprise to take advantage of.

In the big, blue ocean, there are plenty of partner fish in the sea. There is the opportunity to take advantage of a wide range of partnerships that can help you grow your business, including mobile apps, social influencers, charities, sponsors, ambassadors and strategic business partners.

Of course, a massive blue ocean of potential partners can also be overwhelming. How can you find the right partners? How can you manage so many, throughout the entire partner lifecycle? We often see organizations make valiant efforts, but their partnership programs are typically very siloed — with a separate affiliate team that is cut off from business development, social and PR, and even mobile growth. There are also enormous inefficiencies in structuring partnerships, thanks to duplicated efforts and a lack of understanding around the complex partnership universe.

We strongly encourage organizations to think about building partnerships in the same way they build an entire sales or marketing organization. You need the people, processes and technology that can offer data and insights; efficient management; and a deep understanding and unified view of how all of your partnerships are working together to drive growth.

So how can you do all of that while swimming in the immense blue ocean of partnership opportunities? The answer is through partnership automation. Think about how Marketo brought automation to B2B marketers, or how programmatic technology helped advertisers scale their media buys. Traversing the blue ocean of partnerships requires the right scalable automation technology to allow a small efficient team to manage hundreds, or even thousands, of partners.

Think of it as swapping a small sailboat for the latest navy ship. It’s tough to sail the blue ocean while manually reefing the sails, handling the tiller and scanning the horizon, and there is no way you can scale your partner program with Excel spreadsheets and email messages to each and every partner. You need the right automation technology that allows you to take full control of all of your partnerships at every stage —  from discovery and recruitment to onboarding, optimization and payment.

The boundaries of partnerships have evolved and expanded rapidly, to the point that organizations that don’t take advantage of greater exploration will be left behind. There are untapped partnership resources out there and the latest technology is available to help you accelerate and scale your program. You’ll be able to stay out of shark-infested waters and head out into the deep blue sea towards greater partnership success.

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