Should the Marketing or Partnerships team manage the Affiliate campaigns?

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I get this first question a lot:

Should Affiliates be defined as Partners?

I provide my answer to this question on calls, podcasts, and in LinkedIn comments like the one below.

I think it's very important for CEO's and CMO's to discuss this before they launch their "Partner Program" because, if they don't, and whomever is tasked to build the partner program include Affiliates as partners, it will lead down a completely different road than had marketing maintained ownership of Affiliate marketing.

On LinkedIn the other day, Ben Wright asked:

"What is your definition of a partnership in B2B SaaS?"

My response was:

"Affiliates" were never "partners" and it was very important to keep them separate for the sake of attribution and overall strategy - being that affiliate and influencer marketing are under branding and performance digital umbrella's.

Further, both affiliates and influencers are being paid to do something. They are 1099'd in many cases, and are only doing it for the money.

"Partnerships" are two people or org's working together to grow.

An affiliate or influencer is only trying to grow their bank account. Not their company.

So I disagree.

Another good way to phrase it is:

Affiliate, influencer, experiential, brand ambassadors… are all marketing levers under contract, and incentivized by fee’s only.

They become “partners” when they are working with you to grow their business.

An affiliate can become a partner, but not all affiliates are partners.

Will Taylor added his:

When I describe it to non-business people...:

"When one business joins forces with another business to deliver extended value to the customer they both serve, while not competing."

Sunir Shah shared his wisdom as well:

First, remember we only work with a partner because the customer needs that partner to advance through our customer life cycle.

Innately with a partnership there is the concept of a relationship as well, unlike an automated paid or programmatic channel like Google Ads. However, you may feel that is unnecessarily narrow, so I'll put this distinction in parentheses.

A partner is any other company, organization or entity we (have established a relationship with to) work with to sell to and serve the customer.


Now, let's discuss whether or not Affiliates and Affiliate campaigns should be managed by the Marketing team or Partnerships team...

LinkedIn poll on this subject...

You can probably sense a bit of frustration in my response... Because I am of the opinion that Affiliates are not Partners.

As a former growth marketer, my agency and marketing team always ran the affiliate campaigns. And for good reason... Like any good PPC, content or influencer campaign, you need someone with a lot of experience with testing, optimization, creatives, copywriting... in order for it to be successful. So I am always surprised when I hear that small #partnerships / #channel teams are running the affiliate marketing budget and creating those campaigns for their #tech company.

Leigh March (logically) proposed "Partner Marketing Managers" should own the Affiliates:

A person u see the title of partnership marketing should do it."

Here's my response:

See I would argue that person ("Partner Marketing") needs to stay focused on marketing with their partners (webinars, blogs, events...).

These issues would continue to arise if a Partner Marketing Manager was the owner of affiliate's:

  1. The marketing team will still be needed to get those campaigns off the ground (content, designs, timing with their campaigns)...
  2. That means conflicts would arise because the success of the affiliate campaigns does not benefit the marketing team so they are less inclined to prioritize the partner teams needs.
  3. The success of affiliate campaigns would be reduced because the partner team does not have / use the same resources and deep knowledge of marketing, ABM, analytics that the marketing team has, and the affiliate campaigns would not be in sync with the marketing campaigns.
  4. ... probably many more issues.

An Affiliate needs no "management." They run off tracked links and ads dashboards. They don't email or Slack "referrals." They simply place links and promote the content.

Affiliates are enabled to succeed (more clicks and conversions) by:

  1. In-demand products. Which is your product team's responsibility.
  2. High commissions. Which is automated and tracked through an affiliate platform.
  3. And great done-for-them marketing collateral like ads, videos, pamphlets, high-res photos... Which is all created by your marketing team.

The definition is in the name - "Affiliate Marketing". It's marketing 101., and requires skilled marketers, all working together, in sync with live marketing campaigns and the overall marketing strategy to execute effectively.

And, it appears I'm not alone:

I hope this was helpful.

- Alex