Better affiliate onboarding

I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of affiliates.

On one hand I’m not a fan of people only promoting my products because I’m offering them money to do so. On the other hand, if I believe in the products that I provide what do I care who sent them to me. Once referred it’s the quality of my products and the service provided that will do all the talking, not some affiliates ad.

Where I’ve landed is that affiliates are a part of the business. They can also be a very effective tool in promoting your business. They can also cost you more than they earn if you aren’t careful. I’ve learned this the hard way.

When I started an affiliate program for Ninja Forms I didn’t screen applicants all that well. I also did a poor job of setting expectations. This meant that while we did end up with some great affiliates, we also got some that did nothing at all or worse, cost us.

There are a number of ways affiliates can cost you money. They could hurt your reputation by being spammy. They could just post your links to coupon sites that you could have just posted yourself. They can also cost you administratively.

One example of administrative cost for me is that we need certain tax documents before we can start paying affiliates. Some would start the sign-up process but never submit the documents. I realize that this may not be an issues for everyone but I need the areas I work in to be clean, orderly, and clutter free. These partial sign-ups meant that I had hundreds of pending affiliates that probably would never even complete the process. This frustrates a person like me.

Knowing that I wanted to have an affiliate program but also wanted the right kind of affiliates, I needed to improve the affiliate onboarding process.

4 ways I’m trying to improve affiliate onboarding

Before I get into these let me explain something important about my goal. It is not to increase the number of affiliates that we have for Ninja Forms. I’m trying to obtain a certain type of affiliate. For me an affiliate is a special role and relationship. I would rather have a very small number of extremely high quality affiliates than have hundreds of thousands of low quality ones.

1. Set the desired tone

I want affiliates to know what kind of relationship they are establishing from our perspective. That we are partners. We are providing great products and services. They are providing their good name.

We want to work with them to be as successful as possible. If we both do our part we can both be successful. We want affiliates to make as much money as possible. If they make money that means we are making money.

2. Define expectations from the beginning

What got me into trouble before was not doing this very thing. Setting expectations like what their responsibilities are and what, when, and how much we will pay them for successful referrals helps us both understand the terms before we ever get started.

3. Get all the data needed up-front

This actually serves a couple of purposes. First, it removes friction. If we get every piece of data we need at the beginning the quicker we can make a decision on whether this is a correct match and the sooner the affiliate can start earning.

The second thing this does is it let’s you know who is serious. If I’m just trying to get a quick affiliate thing going I’m probably less likely to go through the process of completed and submitting requested tax documents, which as I stated above is something we require. Only people who are likely serious about this relation will bother to submit all the required data. This is key since we’re are more concerned with the quality over the quantity of the affiliates.

4. Follow-up with next steps

Our onboarding process is completely manual and that is by design. We are establishing intentional partnerships and that process suffers from an automated process in my opinion.

When an application is submitted we review the data and make a decision. If they are rejected for some reason we email them and tell them why. If they are accepted we will create a user and affiliate account on their behalf. We will also send them email explaining their next steps.

This manual process allows us to personalize the affiliate experience and hopefully establish a more direct relationship.

These are the things I’m currently working on but if you would like to see it in action here is our affiliate sign-up page for Ninja Forms.

What are you doing to onboard the right affiliates for your business? Am I missing something? What would you improve with what I’m doing already?