It is no secret that SaaS, or software as a service, is a highly competitive industry.
Many SaaS companies find that even breaking a profit is a challenging hurdle in a market saturated with competition. If they manage to survive the first year, the question then becomes how to scale their operations to reach a wider audience.
The affiliate marketing industry provides an answer to that question.
What is an affiliate marketing program?
Affiliate marketing works by delegating your company’s marketing efforts to a team of affiliates, or referral partners. In turn, they are compensated proportionally for the boost in website visitors by the commission from your referral program.
Incorporating this method into your ad campaigns is a great way to boost your SaaS companies’ reach and conversion rates. In fact, the affiliate marketing industry accounts for over 16% of total online orders. That’s an especially high number when you consider the orders likely come from outside of a ‘traditional’ customer base.
Having read that, you might be surprised to hear that SaaS affiliate programs remain an overlooked tool in the arsenal of some advertising teams.
Are you new to the world of affiliate marketing, or are you just looking to brush up on your knowledge? Well, this article will cover everything you need to know about SaaS affiliate programs, and how you can use them to rapidly scale your SaaS company.
Benefits of SaaS affiliate programs
Before we get into the nitty-gritty stuff, it is useful to understand what the benefits of affiliate marketing are:
It’s cheap to get started
Getting an affiliate marketing program off the ground isn’t too difficult. Most of the time, you will find that affiliates are eager to get started promoting your products.
Why? Well, the commission is likely to bring them a steady income stream. The learning curve is also rather small, as there is no need to get to grips with complicated marketing software. Rather, affiliate marketing work will be complimentary to what they’re already doing: blogging, email marketing, and so on.
This is especially useful given the nature of SaaS products, which tend to be low-cost services operating on a monthly payment model. Therefore, it’s unlikely that you’ll have significant upfront capital expenditure to blow on fancy marketing campaigns.
An affiliate program offers flexibility to both SaaS companies and affiliate marketers. Affiliate partners are highly motivated to help you since their success and ultimately the value of their own business is tied to the quality of the relationships they have with their partners.
The only risk is on your end; converting leads into paying customers once they make it to your landing pages.
Affiliates are spoilt for choice when it comes to online businesses to partner with. If a gig isn’t working out for them, there’s always another to move on to. As a side note, this is why it’s so crucial to hold onto your best achievers (more on that later).
An affiliate partnership brings several benefits to your campaign.
Chief among those is the experience that affiliates bring to the table. They will no doubt have worked in previous SaaS partnerships, and on different advertising models, meaning they know the ins and the outs of the trade.
They will be familiar with how to reach your desired audience; a crucial skill given the performance-driven aspect of the industry. This ensures that qualified leads will reach your website, even in particularly niche product areas.
The first step for creating a SaaS affiliate program
Build a roadmap
If you’re wondering how to sell online using affiliates to promote sales, then drawing up a roadmap is the obvious starting point for your SaaS affiliate program.
Open conversation with all relevant execs so that you reach a consensus and iron out any concerns before they become an issue further down the line. For example, do you have a landing page prepared for your new audiences? Make sure to design it perfectly to match your offers’ characteristics and your desired visitors’ needs.
This is also the stage where you will want to set your goals. Give a timeframe for reaching certain KPIs, such as a threshold of website visitors achieved. This will be useful for tracking your progress when it comes to evaluation.
Create a budget
The most successful SaaS affiliate programs will always include a budget in their roadmap.
A simple Excel forecasting model will help you plan for the big questions, like how many affiliate marketers you expect to onboard at various stages. This can be used in conjunction with other marketing software to set realistic budgeting expectations.
Remember that your job here is to create a system that will scale effortlessly. You should always plan ahead and be thinking about the opportune time to onboard more affiliates; normally when your business’s income reaches a certain threshold.
Tips for running your affiliate program
Access the best-converting audiences
In order to maximize your earnings, you’ll need to have access to the best-suiting audiences for your needs. Make sure that you cooperate with performance marketing agencies that offer a portfolio of safe placements on various and contextually relevant sites, software, and applications.
Widening the accessibility opportunities will not only provide you with multiple chances to win the audience’s trust and become visible but also find shoppers and users outside of the most popular search engines. This way affiliate marketing models can help you outshine your direct competitors without fighting for organic visits.
Invest in a solid management suite
The success of your SaaS affiliate marketing program ultimately depends on its management. Thankfully, there are many software programs that make managing a digital marketing operation easier.
The best SaaS affiliate programs will use software that has an ‘affiliate dashboard’. Here you will be able to compare the various KPIs of your team members e.g. affiliate sales, website visitors, or qualified leads generated.
With the help of affiliate tracking software, you will be able to see who your top players are, and when they are most active. This can be useful when it comes to rewarding or admonishing your partners. Feel free to integrate marketing automation processes into this, such as an email bot that congratulates them on reaching their monthly KPI targets.
No matter what, the core of your management solution should focus on transparency and accessibility. You should use marketing software that is familiar and respected within the industry, and be fast at responding to concerns.
A final benefit of these management tools is that you can use the collected data to draw analytical insight. One use of this data is with model risk management tools that predict when you are likely to run into scalability problems, giving you a head start on sourcing new affiliates.
Provide necessary info & marketing materials
While your affiliate partners are experts in their industry, that does not mean you should leave them clueless about your company. The more detailed the briefings, the better and more coherent the results.
You may also want to share various marketing resources explaining what your company is all about, as well as the latest offers. For example, if you are currently offering free trial sign-ups or a new subscription sale, you should make this abundantly clear to your affiliates. Their success will depend on communicating this to their audiences. It will also benefit your business if these deals are promoted in their email marketing campaigns, as the conversion rates will be higher.
The best and most prolific affiliate marketers that you’ll meet on your way should be high-end professionals. This is the kind of marketing partner who will appreciate insights and consistent communication.
You will probably find your SaaS affiliate marketing program has its standout partners – those who really go the extra mile to promote your business. You might want to offer a bonus scheme to these key players to show them how much you value their hard work. Alternatively, it might be a nice gesture to offer discounts on your online store, such as a reduction in your service’s monthly subscription fee, or even a free service or product. A classic example here is SEMrush with its lucrative affiliate program.
As soon as some new affiliate scores a few sales, the SEMrush affiliate manager contacts them with an offer to ramp up their promotion of SEMrush and in return get a SEMrush paid plan for a whole year.
Make your best partners brand ambassadors
For those affiliate partners who have shown they work hard and produce results, you may even consider elevating them to a higher role in your company. To start with, you could offer them the position of dedicated partner coach. This would involve them training other affiliate partners on best practices (such as catching marketing trends) and supporting their development.
If their work style and value sets are synonymous with that of your business, you could promote that star worker to become a brand ambassador. This would ideally be someone who truly cares about your company’s vision and wants to spread brand awareness across multiple channels. Their responsibilities would be more comprehensive than your typical affiliate partners. For example, they may be salaried, be expected to attend business conferences, and engage in B2B communication.
Processes for finding suitable affiliate partners
Creating an in-house SaaS affiliate program
Many businesses choose to run their own affiliate programs in-house. This means that you are responsible for managing the affiliate partner outreach and onboarding process. This might seem like a daunting task, but once you know where to look, locating the right people isn’t difficult.
Most SaaS affiliate marketing programs will appoint a dedicated affiliate manager to operate this process. Start by reaching out to your industry connections, such as other small businesses you have worked with before. You may find that they have useful knowledge to share.
The next step is to speak to your customer base directly through email or marketing CRM software. Your existing customers likely already know a decent bit about your company and products and might see this as opportune additional earnings. Simply ask them whether they are interested in working as an affiliate marketer for your business and see their responses. To sweeten the deal, you might offer them a monthly discount on your SaaS product.
Another great source for finding affiliate partners is social media. Start by directing your social media management team to scour your socials for top followers. Customer signs such as mentioning your @ and leaving positive reviews are good indicators that they would make a suitable affiliate partner. Make sure that you have an affiliate agreement template at the ready should they say yes!
One downside of going for the in-house route is that it takes some time to get your affiliate network up and running. If you’re looking to scale your SaaS company overnight, you might be better off consulting with a dedicated affiliate agency.
Using an affiliate agency
Partnering up with a performance agency will be beneficial for SaaS of every size as you’ll be put in touch with the most effective marketers to rapidly scale up your operation. Additionally, all the processes will be handled, as well as maximum safety provided with the help of such as legal compliance teams, 24/7 link fraud monitoring, and communication with the affiliate partners.
Affiliate marketing, however, should not be the only weapon in your marketing armory. You should also consider direct advertising, community-building, and content marketing.
Reaching out to influencers
Look to incorporate influencer marketing into their affiliate program. This is especially useful when you want to build credibility with a niche audience. For example, a tech influencer will reach a wide audience in industries that overlap with SaaS. These influencers likely already know how to navigate through affiliate marketing and up your campaigns drastically using their social media audiences.
To conclude, SaaS affiliate programs are a lucrative means of boosting the volume of the audience exposed to your offer and visiting your site. By now you should have a good idea of what the top SaaS affiliate programs do to ensure success. In short, that means having a clear roadmap, management suite, and routes for progression as you scale your operation.
Remember that your affiliate program will only be successful if your end product and landing page have a high conversion rate. Your affiliate partners are concerned with generating leads and awareness; your job is to sell your product at the end of the day.
Consider that SaaS affiliate marketing is near-worthless if your website is hard to navigate and your SEO has been poorly managed. Thus, invest the necessary time and effort into getting your products up to scratch before you start marketing.
About the author
Pohan Lin – Senior Web Marketing and Localizations Manager #1:
Pohan Lin is the Senior Web Marketing and Localizations Manager at Databricks, a global Data and AI provider connecting the features of pandas DataFrame Python, data warehouses, and data lakes to create lakehouse architecture, with over 18 years of experience in web marketing, online SaaS business, and e-commerce growth. Pohan is passionate about innovation and is dedicated to communicating the significant impact data has in marketing. Pohan Lin also published articles for domains such as SME News and PingPlotter.