I get a fair number of affiliate marketing consulting inquiries as a result of my blog, but I have to turn away over 90% of them because I know I’m not the best person for the job. Sometimes they just don’t need to be spending any money on a consultant yet because they are not far enough in their process, and I tell them that. Most of the time, however, it is because they need a specialist on the opposite side of affiliate marketing from me. They need an Affiliate Manager or an Outsourced Program Manager (OPM).
What Does An OPM Know That I Don’t?
Essentially everyone in the industry has the same basic knowledge of affiliate marketing. We should all be able to explain to you things like: what networks are, the key players, flat rate versus percentage commission, cookie length, coupon sites, cash back sites, content sites, CPM/CPL/CPA/CPS, text links and banner ads, widgets, auto-updating banners, deep linking, conversion rates, reversals, etc. Those are the basics that affiliates and affiliate managers should all understand.
But when it comes down to very specific knowledge about program management, OPMs know things that I am not qualified to answer. For example:
- How much does it cost to launch a program with X network?
- Should you launch a program on more than one network?
- Who are the top affiliates in various niches?
- How long will it be before you can expect sales?
- Who will make the banners you need for your program?
- How do you upload your datafeed to the network? What format should it be?
- How do you get your program featured with a certain network?
- What kind of attribution levels should your program use?
Of course I have opinions on things like which network does certain things better than another or whether a merchant should work with coupon sites. In all fairness, though, those things are going to be very dependent upon the specific merchant.
How Should You Pick an Affiliate Manager or OPM?
If you want to hire someone in-house to manage your affiliate program and have direct control over them at all times, you need an affiliate manager. They may have other social media or ecommerce responsibilities as well, but you want them to have enough time to dedicate to understanding affiliate marketing and managing the program that they can do a good job with it and not just “set it and forget it.”
Otherwise, if any of the following fits you, you want to hire an OPM:
- You don’t want or can’t afford a full-time employee.
- You have an in-house employee with other responsibilities who needs someone with more experience to act as a consultant on the program.
- You want someone to launch the program quickly and need them to leverage their existing affiliate relationships to do that.
- You are a small company and want to manage the program yourself but don’t know enough about affiliate marketing to do it effectively.
Whether you want an Affiliate Manager or an OPM, here are some questions to ask to find the right one:
- Do they fit your budget? (I’ve heard these can range from $500 a month to $10K or more)
- How long is the contract? (less than 6 months won’t likely give them a chance to really launch it)
- Do they only work with one network? (not every network is best for every merchant)
- Are they managing any conflicting programs such as a competitor to you?
- Do they have experience in your niche?
- How do they find the affiliates that they recruit?
- Do they attend conferences and will they represent you there?
- How much experience do the people who manage the program day-t0-day have? (not just the owner of the company)
- What is the ratio of the number of employees to the number of programs managed?
- What exactly is included in the monthly rate including reporting, recruiting, approvals, loading creatives to the networks, newsletters, etc?
- Are their top affiliates coupon/deal sites or content sites or a mixture of both?
- To what extent will they allow trademark bidding on your name and how does that fit with your current strategies?
- Are they a member of the Performance Marketing Association?
As you can see, it’s not sufficient just to be good at affiliate marketing to be an affiliate manager. Even knowing a LOT about affiliate programs doesn’t give someone all of the tools and experience that they need to manage a program. It’s a different mindset completely and requires someone who does it on a daily basis to really do it effectively.
Which OPMs Do I Recommend?
I get asked for OPM recommendations on a daily basis and I always struggle with it. After 10 years in the business, I have worked with a LOT of different OPMs (including my mom!). I don’t recommend based on who pays me for referrals (although some do) or who I “like” better (because my mom would always have to win, right?). Instead, I ask questions about the merchant, try to ascertain a little about their personalities and their budget, and check out their site.
Based on those things, I ask myself who I think would do the best job with that particular merchant. Do they already have a similar merchant or have they had a similar merchant in the past? Do they work with sites that I think have the same target demographic as this merchant? As an affiliate, do I feel like they do a good job of keeping me informed about programs, being fair with cookies and commissions, and helping me be successful?
For that reason, I don’t tend to recommend the same people every time. I have a little list in my head and I work my way down it until something works or the merchant decides that program management isn’t actually right for them right now anyway. So I’m not going to publish any kind of list because it wouldn’t really do anyone any good (and would probably just get people mad at me if I forget to put them on it).
If you have a site and are looking for affiliate management and have read everything in this post and still want a recommendation, please reach out to me! Tell me a little about your company and your site and I will check it out and give you 3 or 4 OPMs that I think might be a good fit for you. If you are an OPM, feel free to drop your link in the comments so other people can check out your site and so I don’t forget to think about you the next time I make a recommendation!