Merchant Communication

by Melanie on December 2, 2009

This post marks the first in a series of a discussion of what makes a good affiliate program. Every week I receive emails from merchants and affiliates. Merchants want to know how to improve their program or make it more appealing to affiliates. Affiliates want to know how to find a better program and how to evaluate an affiliate program. Although everyone will have a different method of evaluating a merchant and use different criteria, these posts serve to share some of the basics and to open the lines of communication and understanding.

One of the most overlooked is providing good contact information and responding in a timely fashion. Quite often, as I look over the the information provided in a merchant description or summary, I notice the failure to provide contact information. Today, on behalf of an affiliate member of Affiliate Advocacy,  I needed to contact a merchant. As I looked through the merchant description within the network interface I had no means of contacting the manager nor was the contact information on the website. I had to apply to the program and wait for my application to be approved.

Program managers should provide contact information within their merchant description so it is available to perspective and active affiliates. This allows perspective affiliates to reach out. It also lets an affiliate know that the program manager is accessible. It is not a good idea to rely on a network’s internal mail. As an affiliate, I can never be sure you even receive the email. In addition, depending on the network, ability to email you may not be available to affiliates who have not joined your program.

Once an affiliate joins, merchants or program managers should provide an alternate contact method. Whether it is a phone number, back up email, IM or Twitter it is important for affiliates to have a secondary means of contact should there be a problem with email.

Program managers should be sure to reply to emails in a timely fashion. If an affiliate has a question and it goes unanswered for several days it is pretty much a guarantee that you will move down on the ‘to do” list.

Here’s a little tip. Some affiliates will reach out to a program manager with a question or comment as part of their evaluation process. If an email goes unanswered your program may not get promoted or will get less attention.

Assuming an affiliate provides you with a phone number understand that some affiliates do not want or cannot accept unplanned phone calls while others don’t mind. The only way to know is to ask first.

If you have been at this for a while you realize that affiliates all have different communication and support needs. You may never hear from some of us and others will speak or email you on a regular basis. Probably the majority will fall somewhere in between and will contact you as needed. The key to a successful relationship is to adapt your approach to the affiliates. Make yourself accessible and also offer a monthly newsletter. Also, don’t just wait for fourth quarter or December 1 to contact affiliates. Communication should be year round.

I am well aware that communication is a two way street. Affiliates should also provide multiple contact methods. Both affiliates and merchants should use contact information in an appropriate manner. That means use it for the purpose it was provided. More affiliates would be willing to share additional contact if they were confident it would not be abused. I am sure merchants feel the same.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Trisha Lyn Fawver December 3, 2009 at 7:01 am

It seems that one of the most obvious things to any affiliate manager should be communication, and always astounds me that this is still one of the biggest complaints affiliates seem to have!

Great job bringing this to more AM’s attention Melanie!

Melanie December 3, 2009 at 11:13 am

Thanks for stopping by Trisha, good to have OPM view. :)

I think that sometimes obstacles or hurdles with regards to communicating intefere. Lack of contact information and bounced emails are just part of it. At this time of year affiliates are getting hundreds of emails daily, extremely easy for emails to get overlooked. It’s also not simply a matter of emailing affiliates and being accessible.

An affiliate must also feel comfortable sending an email or calling a program manager. Over half of the affiliates I have spoken to say they do not ever ask a manager for a question or ask for help. These are affiliates who have a good amount of succcess. Huge amount of potential – for everyone.

I know program managers also have issues when it comes to lack of communication from affiliates, but that is the subject for another post!

Matt McWilliams December 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Melanie,

I just found this now. Amen on this post! Don’t know what I could possibly add.

Teresa Fernandez March 10, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Hi Melanie,

I am writing a paper for my masters and I am documenting information and cases of lack of communication and knowledge sharing in the affiliate marketing industry. I found your article very informative and would like to have your permission to use this information, If you do, can I also have your full name?

Any other article or case study on this matter will also be highly appreciated.

Thnks,
Teresa Fernandez.

Simon Camilleri April 26, 2010 at 2:20 am

Teresa,

The following two links should provide you with some additional information on the problem of lack of communication amongst merchants and affiliates. Good luck with your Masters.

http://www.loganthompson.me/random/10-annoying-things-about-the-affiliate-marketing-industry/

http://www.amnavigator.com/blog/2009/12/15/poor-affiliate-communication-aj-madison-case/

… and Melanie, great post reinforcing the importance of good, clear communication as the key to a successful affiliate program.

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