3 Simple Steps for Building Out a Profitable Partner Program Pipeline

Becky Doles

3 Simple Steps for Building Out a Profitable Partner Program Pipeline
Photo by Adam Solomon on Unsplash

Congratulations! Your affiliate program has been running smoothly for a while now. Your partners and sales were increasing each month, but now they seem to have hit a plateau. Your funnel looks good, but it could always be better. What do you do now?

It’s time to take a closer look at your base of partners to optimize your mix and maximize your results. Here’s how. 

Step 1: Analyze Your Partner Mix

Publishers, influencers, affiliate marketers, networks — they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your business goals and target market, some of these partners will naturally perform better than others. If you followed the steps in our Ultimate Guide to Partner Marketing to set up your program, your current partner list should reflect the most strategic and effective partner types for your brand. Now it’s time to optimize them.

To do this, you need to take a look at your program partners and answer the following questions:

  1. Who are my superstar partners?
  2. Who is rising through the ranks?
  3. Who’s missing?

1. Who are my superstar partners?

If you’re using a solution like the TUNE Partner Marketing Platform, this information should be simple and easy to find. For example, in TUNE, you would simply go to the Reports tab and select the Partners Report.

However you gather it, this data should highlight which types of partners are the most successful promoting your brand, and, alternatively, which types are the least successful. 

One thing you may notice at work here is the Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule. It states that roughly 80% of outcomes are driven by 20% of inputs. In your case, you may see that 20% of your partners are actually bringing in 80% of your results. That 20% represents your top partners, and therefore the most valuable relationships to your program. Keep them happy, and they’ll keep bringing in customers and sales to make you happy.

2. Who is rising through the ranks?

These partners are the ones who have the potential to reach top partner status in your program, but need a little more motivation or help. Sometimes a small nudge in the right direction can be all it takes to push them to superstar status. 

TUNE Partners Report interface in the TUNE Partner Marketing Platform
The Partners Report in the TUNE Partner Marketing Platform is a powerful tool for tracking individual performance across a variety of KPIs.

Be proactive in nurturing these relationships — down the line, these partners will remember that you put in the extra effort for them, and they’ll be grateful to do the same for you.

3. Who’s missing?

If this isn’t clear to you, doing some outside research can help. By looking at other programs and affiliates, you’ll be able to find new types of partners you should be working with, as well as see which ones your competitors are already leveraging. This process is usually called gap analysis or coverage analysis, and it’s an important part of every program audit.

This research can be done several different ways:

  • Online search
  • Via performance marketing technology, usually through an in-platform partner marketplace (e.g., TUNE’s Connect ecosystem)
  • Via specialized software, such as Publisher Discovery
  • In a traditional affiliate network
  • By an agency or outsourced program management (OPM) service
TUNE Media Partners are part of the TUNE Connect Ecosystem
A look at TUNE’s in-platform partner ecosystem, Connect.

Get It Together Already

If you haven’t been tracking and reviewing the partner data above on a weekly basis, now is the time to start. Create a dashboard, build a spreadsheet, save a custom report in your platform — however you prefer to do it, keeping track of this data now will save you lots of headaches and manual tasks later.

Step 2: Create Your Recruitment List

If you answered all the questions above, congrats! You just outlined your new partner recruitment list. Now it’s time to bulk it up.

The easiest way to do this is to take your list of superstars and missing pieces and search for lookalike partners using the research methods listed above. As you find and add these partners to your list, make sure to save their contact information (or make a note if you can’t find it). Eventually, you’ll need to get in touch with any new partner you want to work with, whether that’s directly in an email, over the phone, or through a platform or network. 

In addition, now’s the time to take a look at your program and determine if there’s anything you can do to improve it:

  • Is your website mobile-friendly?
  • Are your offers descriptive, visually appealing, easy to browse and search, and competitive with market rates?
  • Are your policies accurate and up-to-date?

If nothing obvious sticks out to you, try to think like your potential partners:

  • What do you look for in a partner program?
  • If you were an affiliate, would you want to work with your brand? 

If there’s any optimization you need to do, make sure it’s taken care of before you begin recruiting new partners. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t waste it!

Step 3: Reach Out and Follow Up

Now that you have everything in place to attract and keep your next best partners, it’s time to go out and do it. 

There’s no guaranteed trick for this step, but there are a few recruiting guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Personalize every communication to the individual partner
  • Share the most important information and FAQs upfront
  • Highlight the unique selling points of your offers or program
  • Emphasize how a partnership will benefit the partner
  • Be friendly and professional, but don’t be afraid to show some personality

Finally, remember to follow up if you don’t hear back within a reasonable timeframe. How often and how many times you do will vary with each partner — just don’t overdo it.

Recruit, Manage Optimize, Repeat

The cycle of analysis, research, and recruitment may seem like a lot of work the first time you do it, but it gets easier every time — as long as you make it part of your normal operating rhythm. Going through this process on a weekly or monthly basis will ensure your partner pipeline is always full. It’ll also help you to stay on top of your partners’ performance and in the know about what’s going on with your competition and across the industry.

Just remember your ABCs: Always Be ‘Cruiting. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about the benefits and strategies of building a partner pipeline, watch our new webinar, “Taking Ownership of Publisher Growth.” Featuring experts from TUNE and Publisher Discovery, this webinar covers everything you need to build a steady pipeline of new partnerships for your affiliate program. Watch the full webinar recording here.

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.

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