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Partnerships are all about building relationships. After all, dealing with partners is not like display or an ad exchange, where you can just push out an offer and call it a day. It is, instead, far more human to human: You have to get someone to sign up, place your links, put your creative on their site, and send traffic through — and then you need to pay them based on their bottom-line value. That can be labor-intensive and time-consuming.

However, if you are looking to scale your partner program, you have to actually, well, scale. That means either recruiting more partners or gaining more revenue from the partners you have. There’s only so much you can do manually to build those relationships before you experience diminishing returns, which has often left the industry wondering where to turn.

This particular challenge — of scaling partner programs — has been true over the history of affiliate marketing over the past two decades: In the early days, the whole process was slow, manual and little-understood. Then, affiliate networks entered the fray and offered to handle the publisher recruitment themselves, and marketers thought they could simply gather 100,000 partners and be sitting pretty. But, that era was also filled with wasted spend, thanks to non-targeted recruitment, low-value partners and weak measurement.  

After that, many chopped their programs to just focus on a few. That led to other problems, including a lack of innovation and new ideas, as well as a risky, narrow emphasis on coupon and deal sites.

Luckily, there is now a next-level opportunity for brands looking to pump up their partner programs. These are two big ways that the right technology platform can help build partner relationships…at scale.

Two Big Ways to Build Partnerships at Scale

1) Recruitment filtering for a better funnel.
As with most funnels, you need many potential partners at the top, then you’ll want to filter down the list depending on your goal — for example, if you have specific types of partners you are targeting. A manual process to find partners can only go so far in terms of building a list and narrowing it down. An automated system, however, takes needless human work out of the equation by filtering based on specific criteria to do upfront vetting. Then, you can onboard a group of partners and perhaps take a closer look at their value before deciding whether to keep them in the program.

Now, brands can increase outreach and take a more active approach than they did with affiliate networks, while not increasing the burden like the earlier, manual processes did. In addition, an automated recruitment process can be left running constantly — so brands can always be on the lookout for interesting partnerships and surface results that show promise.

2) Better value determination.
Determining value has historically been a big challenge when it comes to scaling partner programs. In the past, you could look at core metrics like conversion and revenue volume, but you couldn’t necessarily tell whether those conversions were incremental or what your customer lifetime value looked like.

Today’s technology allows you to go deeper and make better decisions as this market matures: You can see the entire consumer journey and aggregate it into high-level insights that pay off. You’ll discover which partners do (and don’t) drive customers with a high lifetime value. Also, the value equation is about trying to understand fraud: automation can help you understand what role partners are playing and to what degree their traffic should be trusted.

Why you shouldn’t wait to boost your partner power

If you’re not thinking of how to mature your partnership prowess at scale through automation, you should understand the risks of waiting. For one thing, if your platform doesn’t give you a good way to understand which partners are driving true value beyond sheer volume, you could end up either overpaying or not paying in the right places. And if you frequently pay partners who didn’t really provide value, your channel could lose efficiency, to the point that leadership might devalue it and not spend as much to scale up.

You could also be missing out on some great potential partners. And if you’re not working with those new partners, your competitors could be. If you don’t develop a more proactive, automated approach, you may be inadvertently giving your competitors a big advantage.

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