Don’t Compromise On Technology And Services In The Partnership Channel

By Alex Springer, VP, Sales and Solutions - EMEA

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In an industry with a lot of buzz words and a number of competing partnership and affiliate vendors, it can be hard to understand what is really on offer. And as a brand looking to enter the promising world of partnership marketing there is much to get to grips with if you are entering the fray from a standing start.

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For example, what does the nitty gritty of a successful programme look like, and how does each model tackle those tasks? Which of those tasks lead to real growth, and how are they supported? And, whether you’re in-house, working with an agency, or a combination of the two, what are the benefits of specialised technology in tandem with a strategic approach?

Get the admin right

A successful partnership programme is almost entirely beholden to an efficient administration process in the background. Whether it’s recruitment and onboarding, creating and sharing promotional materials, or handling all the financial elements of the relationship, getting off to an ordered, organised and comprehensive start will stand any marketing team in good stead throughout the partnership. They are then ready to turn their attention to the strategy, planning, long-term goal setting and optimisation required for a partnership channel to go from ‘ticking over’ to becoming a meaningful contributor to overall business success.

Affiliate network or Partnership Platform?

There are two widely accepted primary models when it comes to the partnership process: network or Saas/tech platform. One common misconception is that working with a network means you offload the process lock stock, compared to a Saas platform which, conversely, forces you to take on all programme activity in-house or use an agency. Thankfully, things aren’t that black and white.

That said, if your business is not willing to invest in hiring or developing in-house or agency resources, I cannot in good conscience recommend a tech platform, such as our own. But then I challenge you to point me to a brand with a network affiliate or influencer programme that doesn’t have at least a few in-house channel managers. The truth is, if you want your partnership programme to work you need to invest time and resources into it, regardless of the platform you choose.

Invest in the experts

No element of your digital marketing should be developed without investing in personnel expertise, and partnership programmes are no different. And the investment will pay off: partnerships have the ability to offer a more authentic connection, an improved customer experience, increased customer loyalty, and a higher return on investment.

Given rising costs per click in paid search and social channels and lack of engagement with traditional display, partnerships offer brands a significantly higher ROI as well as the chance to get beyond the performance plateau, increase market share, and offset risk and costs in the marketing mix.

So, what is the real trade-off a brand makes when choosing to work with a network or a tech platform?

Essentially, on a tech platform, the administrative work of running the platform is automated, allowing a programme to mature and expand. The work of the in-house team or agency is turned towards strategic development, programme growth and partner interaction and optimisation – and the more advanced tools and reporting enable these teams to execute on these strategies in real-time.

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Automation frees up time for growth

The key to effective customer success lies in automation, something we have perfected at Impact. By working with clients during onboarding and the first few months of engagement clients can get the most out of the technology, using it to solve problems at the root instead of letting the problem go on for years with human intervention required each week.

The goal is to be there every day supporting our clients – but it is a priority (and point of pride) that they don’t have to do so in the same way twice. Repetitive tasks are what the technology is for; why waste the time of experienced, strategic people? Growth doesn’t come from our technology – growth comes from people who innovate equipped with a technology capable of allowing them to execute on their strategies.

In-house or network expertise?

Whether working with an agency or cultivating the talent in-house – and we see a very even split in direction between our clients – the goal stays the same: allowing the strategic initiatives to take centre stage. If a client works with an agency, we work with them to pass on the knowledge that our customer service team in the form of our agency certification programme, a badge that tells a brand that the money invested in this particular agency will all go to high-value, strategic work, and not to automate-able administrative tasks.

How can you judge if you’ve made the right choice?

Technology-first platforms have committed their resources, roadmap, and teams to this unbundled model and focused investments and acquisitions on expanding the addressable partner types, increasing the productivity and reach of our end users, innovating tools that change the way brands interact with their customers, and creating an ever-evolving customisable reporting suite.

The network model continues to be commercially viable – so much so that we have seen tech-first platforms pivot to it, adding service layers to handle administrative tasks and cover areas that the technology does not. Maintaining an automation and productivity tool that covers the entire partner lifecycle is difficult – developing that tool while driving innovation requires a large amount of very talented product and engineering resources and scaling it is not a challenge taken on lightly.

But re-bundling strategic services and technology introduces the same challenges networks have always had – trying to do both rarely results in exceptional results from either.

If you want to undertake a good test of your technology ask yourself, with your current network or platform, how many of the essential partnership programme tasks does your tech handle, and how many people are involved?

Whether your programme is just getting started, has been ticking over in the background for years, or is mature but plateaued with the partners you have today, there is opportunity here, and it is time to think about equipping the team with the expertise and technology to drive the programme to its full potential.

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