Leverage Affiliates for Higher Sales

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Affiliate marketing -- where e-retailers entice other Web site owners into linking to their stores by offering commissions on sales or leads -- is one of the most cost-effective ways to acquire customers. After all, a marketer can develop an affiliate program to match the company's customer acquisition goals whether it's per sale, click, registration or impression.

Many companies, however, still struggle with maximizing the performance of their affiliate programs. Here are 10 tips on how merchants can make the most out of affiliate marketing efforts.

• Your affiliate network is a sales force for your company, so treat it that way. Communicate with your affiliates via e-mail and phone. Try calling your top-performing affiliates and tell them how much you appreciate their work and you'll develop a very loyal and motivated group of sales people.

• Have a strong and competitive offer. Affiliates search out the offers that will make them the most money. Make sure your offer is as attractive as possible. At Winfreestuff.com, we offer 5 cents per contest entry, but the affiliate would earn $2 per referral if the customer enters all contests on our site. Therefore, "earn up to $2" is a very strong offer and that's what we promote.

• Allocate resources to your affiliate program and think carefully about your long-term goals. Once you sign up for an affiliate program, do not think that it will run itself. Have a person manage your affiliate network to make sure you are maximizing your program and all the tools available.

• Make performance goals for your internal affiliate staff. We have an affiliate manager who is responsible for our entire affiliate program, including sales goals.

• Promote your affiliate program on your home page. The affiliates that join from your Web site should be your best-performing affiliates.

• Teach your affiliates how to sell your product. Communicate with affiliates about special offers, promotions and giveaways that you're featuring. Also let affiliates know when you're offering free shipping or a gift with purchase. Give them reasons to display your banner or text link.

• Sponsor contests and promotions to encourage affiliates to promote your company. We often run tiered contests and giveaways. Some affiliates would contact us daily to see whether they are winning.

• Know your numbers. Monitor reports daily and investigate what your top performers are doing. Advise the rest of your network to do the same.

• Listen to your affiliates. They will give you the best advice on how to improve your program, whether it's a new pricing structure, creative or special offers.

• Develop a relationship with your account representative if you use an affiliate network such as LinkShare, BeFree or Commission Junction. Your account rep can be a great source for new ideas and additional benefits that are included through your affiliate network.

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