Over the past decade, I’ve heard both industry veterans and experts (not always the same people) debate this topic. Most often I hear, “No, affiliate marketing doesn’t work for B2B (business-to-business).”
Those claiming affiliate marketing is a viable channel for promoting to business buyers have typically had a positive experience with an internet product or service (e.g. domain registrations or web hosting) doing well in an affiliate network.
So which is it? Yes or No?
The right answer is based on whether or not three conditions for supporting a referral partnership program exist. Successful affiliate relationships require:
- The willingness of the referring partner to accept a portion or all of their compensation on a performance basis.
- The ability to effectively promote the brand’s (a.k.a. the advertiser’s or merchant’s) products or services to an appropriate target audience.
- The existence of accurate, reliable, and flexible tracking technology.
When all three conditions are met, an affiliate marketing program is just as viable for B2B companies as it is for B2C (business-to-consumer) companies.
Where does the resistance come from?
Why do some people still insist that adding an affiliate program to the B2B marketing mix is folly? Because meeting the above criteria is particularly difficult for B2B.
Finding good media partners that attract enough business buyers to warrant an investment in an affiliate program is challenging. Outside of news sites and blogs, few of the other affiliate models that do well promoting B2C products and services (such as deal and loyalty sites) translate to B2B. Thus a B2B marketing director looking to generate leads must do more heavy lifting for affiliate recruitment than their B2C counterparts.
Another issue is many B2B products involve a longer, more complex sales cycle. Tracking a B2B sale from lead generation through sale conversion – which most B2B companies want from an affiliate program – requires greater flexibility and sophistication from tracking technology than most CPA or affiliate networks can provide. For B2B companies, tracking technology must interface with not only their website, but also with their CRM system(s) and possibly other systems.
Given the challenges, should B2B marketers still consider performance marketing?
With the right solution in place, performance marketing can indeed be a cost effective channel for increasing leads and sales. Referral partners can be a great complementary channel for other advertising efforts, such as search and email. As positive relationships are fostered with partners, those relationships flourish and B2B companies reap the reward of having strong advocates for their products.
At Impact Radius, we’ve designed a suite of products that meet all the prerequisites for launching a B2B referral program. We have built-in features that support long sales cycles, interface with salesforce.com, and simplify business-oriented promotions.
If you’re a B2B marketing professional and would like to learn more about how Impact Radius can help, contact us.