Affiliates are not an extended Sales Force

I realized during the last few weeks that the comparison of affiliates with an extended sales force was wrong. I used the phrase myself for a long time, but was actually never really thinking about out.

I was making the same mistake as so many others, including large corporations, when you use Sales as a synonym for Marketing and vice versa. They are not!

Trish Lambert made an interesting post at her blog titled “Sales” and “Marketing” are NOT synonyms!

The vast majority of affiliates are absolutely not a Sales Force. Most affiliates are your extended MARKETING force. A small number might also be doing a bit selling for you and a marginal negligible number of affiliates could be considered your extended SALES force.

What the majority of successful affiliates are good at is marketing. Getting you (Advertiser) prospects YOU have to convert with your Sales expertise and as it is the case with your in-house marketing team is it also for your extended marketing force, they need some guidance regarding who and what you are targeting with your products and services and some easy to use sales tools and content such as a Sales Copy or a well designed creative. This will allow them to focus their marketing efforts as much as possible towards the potential demographics that you are able to convert once they get to your site and maybe even can do some pre-selling for you to some extend.

Affiliates that are good when it comes to sales are becoming eventually merchants themselves. Why should they bother about an x% commission per sale if they can sell stuff to people directly without having the merchant (who is rarely the manufacturer) as middle man and make the whole net-margin as profit? The margin is obviously higher than the x% commission paid to affiliates for the REFERRAL.

About Carsten Cumbrowski

Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and Blogger. To learn more about me and what I am doing, visit my website and check out the “about” section.

Twitter: ccumbrowski

18 Responses to Affiliates are not an extended Sales Force

  1. Beth Kirsch says:

    lol! Took you this long to realize this….you're smarter than that. :p

    I think the analogy has is rooted in the fact you movative affiliates with commissions and bonuses like a sales force.

    Also remember times have changed. When that analogy was first coined, affiliate marketing was different and it really was mom and pop websites.

  2. I wasn't thinking too much about it before to be honest. It was also not something I had to spend time thinking about in the past really.

    I did more think about it recently, because of the fact that merchants finally discovered search engines and the issues that arose from it.

    I noticed that it is still often used incorrectly and incorrect analogies are being made when affiliates are compared to something they are not. But this misconception seems to go beyond Affiliate Marketing as you can see when reading Trish's blog post.

    You might could say, a lot of affiliates are "pre-selling", but isn't that an analogy for marketing or better one marketing method, meaning pre-sale is marketing, but marketing is not always pre-selling?

  3. Right or wrong, I think this analogy will be around for a while. An analogy takes something unfamiliar and compares it to something very familiar so someone can make the connection between the two.

    As most people cannot picture an extended marketing force, it stands to reason that the sales force analogy will stick until something both accurate and (more importantly) easy comes along.

  4. Jennifer, this becomes only a problem, if somebody other than the affiliate manager takes this analogy by its word and assumptions are being made what affiliates should do and what they should not. For example leveraging Brand Names, which does not mean abuse it.

    Using wrong terms for something is only okay as long everybody involved knows what is actually meant by it. It is not, if people get involved who do not know.

  5. Scott Jangro says:

    Also, back in the early days, it was easier for the network sales guys to pitch affiliate marketing as a unit that's traditionally a profit center (sales) versus a cost center (marketing).

  6. Well, I think the early days should be over now, for the most part. Jennifer had a good point that Affiliates on the Internet fit kind of no classic "shoe". They are a marketing channel, that is also a profit center (or at least should be). Basically a Marketing Department that's not on the payroll at HR but still there and showing up as expense next to bribes, aehm gifts to customers and that sort of things.

  7. Adam Viener says:

    I think one of the reasons affiliates are sometimes compared to a sales force is that many times the company's sales force is paid on a strictly commission only basis. If the sales person doesn't make sales they don't get paid.

    In the compensation area, especially for ecommerce merchants, affiliates are the same way, if we don't generate sales we don't get paid.

    When you add in the CPA style programs we are only getting paid when we generate leads, so this may be seen as more of a marketing function.

    But, show me a single company that pays their marketing staff on a full performance basis! It just doesn't exist.

    So yes, for some programs the affiliate can act more like a marketer generating leads, or a sales person generating sales, but in most cases our compensations are strcilty like the commission only sales folks.


  8. Beth Kirsch says:

    To Jennifer's point, people outsource their marketing all the time to agencies, to mail houses, to a bunch of other organizations too.

    What is different here, is the P4P part as Adam pointed out.

    I really think the best way to think about affiliates is small direct marketing companies that work on a P4P basis.

    Adam, I think the reason that affiliates bare more risk, is the tracking that is permitted in online marketing which is not in offline, but pay per call is changing that. It will be interesting to see pay per call take off. These days you can see affiliate commericals in TV, the world is changing.


  9. Sales is always an internal department and informed about internal details of the company strategy, because they play an important role in defining the strategy itself (assuming the company is driven by sales). Sales also has often the option to negotiate with the customer and give discounts based on promises made by the customer which might even make it part of the contract or deal. Sales also closes the business (finishes the checkout process).

    Affiliates don't get involved into the customers business, can't negotiate deals (I don't count affiliate exclusive coupons) and certainly loose control over the process once the customer is off to the merchant site, that might or might not converts the visitor to a customer.

    Marketing works together with sales to make sure that the customer does not get dropped out of the conversion funnel. If Marketing and Sales are not aligned, a lot of drop-out will happen.

    Affiliates are in the same position. They must be aligned with the sales process on the Merchant Site. The better aligned, the better the conversion.

    Direct Marketing might be the best comparison, the lag of ways to do correct tracking of the success of offline marketing campaigns is something that is slowly developing, something that Affiliate Marketing had already in place over 10 years ago.

  10. Beth Kirsch says:

    I wrote about a year ago…

    Affiliate marketing really consists of small direct marketing companies that can leverage revenue from the affiliate networks, AdSense, or other pay for performance deals (Chitika, YPN etc) than they can with straight AdSense ads. These direct marketing companies are nimble, quick and fill in the holes in an advertiser's marketing and provide significant value when managed correctly. Also, these companies make more from affiliate marketing then they do from AdSense.

    And that really is what affiliate marketing is today IMHO. The reason there are few offline comparisions is because it's easy to track online and it's hard offline.

    The other reason that it's marketing, is it takes marketing communications to manage the affiliate force.

  11. In short, Affiliates are filling in, because the Advertiser can't be everywhere.

    They convince people to visit the Advertisers Site instead of some place else. The Sale, Conversion of the Visitor is then up to the Merchant.

    It has to be aligned to some extend to make sure that there is at least the chance to convert the traffic, because the best sales man in the world can not make a cat bark.

    Shoot I am stealing phrases from a post I almost finished for next week 🙂

  12. I agree with the analogy. Affiliates do sell to a very limited degree, but the final sale is made at the merchant site. If the advertiser cannot close the targeted visitor the affiliate sends to the site, then there is no sale. I have seen cases of great affiliate leads, and terrible merchant (advertiser) website conversion, and that is the real defination of the sales we are talking about here. Affiliates truly are a marketing force, but I can assure you that this slight defination change will not catch on everywhere for awhile. We are evolving in our understand of affiliate marketing. Hey, there it is again, "marketing"!

  13. Chuck Hamrick says:

    After more than a decade in manufacturing I see many parallels to calling affiliates a sales force. Yes, affiliates can not influance the sale once it gets to the merchant site and they specifically excludes them from being true sales people. They do however need the same motivation as commissioned sales reps. Once companies lose sight of them as such they begin to treat them as employees which they are not. A true marketer gets paid to bring traffic and generally is on contract. Affiliates are a special breed and its the affiliate managers job to protect that when upper management start treating them like employees. I have seen many companies pushback on the affiliate channel but not one eliminate it.

  14. Beth Kirsch says:

    Lets not forget lead gen where affiliates host the forum. In this case, affiliates get a powerful sale side for their marketing side.

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    The issue is still primarily discussed (if discussed) behind closed doors. I decided for this reason to talk about it again, because I believe that it should be discussed openly. My last post was maybe also not clear enough. The…

  16. Lets also not forget the the small AdWords Ad length matching Sales Copy provided by some Advertisers to their Affiliates, or the List of Keywords to bid on.

    The Forum Example is a good example of the Internal Marketing Department supporting the external Affiliate Marketing "Department". Another good example would be the use of Affiliates to do Marketing that would not be appropriate or believable, if done directly by the Advertiser and not a seemingly 3rd party.

    But affiliate support or use is not exclusive for the marketing department. The Sales department can and should support the channel as well.

    Such as, the more appropriate Sales Tools/Means are being provided to Affiliates, the better..Also providing Sales Copy, where it fits into the Marketing Schema of the Affiliate will help.

    This will certainly help the conversion, but not necessarily increase traffic. That is always true, Affiliate Marketing or not.

  17. Peter Koning says:

    Thanks for this post Carsten. I have leaned towards the commissioned-sales rep. analogy but agree there is more marketing going on with affiliates. This is because they can track their results. Lately I've been reading about affiliates who are using their own affiliate tracking systems to measure ROI of their traffic sources.

  18. Hi Peter, Every larger and serious Affiliate does their own tracking in addition to what is provided by the Networks or IN-House Solutions.
    CJ's "SID" and its counter-part in other solutions was created before there were incentive sites. The purpose of the parameter was to provide the option to affiliates to pass their own tracking parameter along the click and get it back with the commission transaction (if supported by the merchant). Using Web Analytics was already normal years ago, often supplemented by own tracking solutions with focus on the specific data that are more interesting for the affiliate. Eg. I could care less about Google Analytics conversion funnel. The conversion happens at the merchants site, not the affiliates. Other metrics are much more relevant and.