Rethinking in-house vs outsourced program management

As an internet retailer and consumer technology brand you make a lot of tough choices. When it comes to figuring out ways to grow eCommerce, you’ll make decisions ranging from minor to major on a daily basis. It’s all part of the job.

One of the tougher decisions you’ll face, though, is whether you want to run your affiliate program by yourself or hire an outsourced program management agency. One perception of running it in-house means you retain total control and can possibly save some money. Retaining an affiliate management agency means you’ve got experienced affiliate managers working for you that could end up bringing in loads more revenue than you ever could have done on your own.

It’s certainly not an easy decision. And it goes way deeper than mere startup dollars. Depending upon your needs and experience, using an affiliate management agency may be the most profitable move you ever make.

Not all Affiliate Management Agencies are created equal

Maybe you’ve actually tried an OPM or affiliate management agency in the past and hated it. You spent a lot of money and got very little in return. Communication was terrible and you ended up actually losing affiliates in the process. That doesn’t mean outsourcing won’t work for you. It just means that specific OPM or agency is the wrong fit.

When selecting an agency, there’s a lot of factors to consider when you’re trying to choose the¬†best Affiliate Management Agency¬†around. Experience and reputation are pretty crucial to your search. Find out how long an agency’s been around, as well as whether they’ve managed any programs similar to yours.

Other things to consider are how current an agency is with the latest industry trends. Do they attend trade shows regularly? Host webinars? Offer informative white papers? Affiliate Marketing changes like the wind, so you want to make sure you go with an agency that can keep up and grow with your business.

Strategy is another key value your agency should embrace. You’re hiring them for their expertise, so be sure they’re not just phoning your program in. A detailed strategy for your affiliate program can ensure that things are getting done effectively.

If you have worked with an OPM or agency in the past and weren’t happy with the results, what exactly were you unhappy with? Was it just a bad fit? Did the agency not listen to your requests? Ask around the industry to see who else has used them and if they had similar issues. Then ask for other recommendations and consider trying out a new agency.

Can’t we all just get along?

Even if you already have an internal team to manage your affiliate program, you can still benefit from using an agency. There is plenty of work to be done, so you can split chores up based on each other’s strengths.

Sometimes the person responsible for the affiliate program also happens to be running a number of other marketing programs such as social media, email, paid search, etc. They just won’t have a massive amount of time to truly dedicate to your affiliate program. If you just want a program and don’t necessarily care about growth at all, that can work. But if you really want to push your program and gain as much traffic, exposure and revenue as you can, then a dedicated manager is a must. That goes for whether it’s in-house or outsourced.

But there are other ways you can collaborate with an affiliate management agency. Agencies have a ton of experience across all channels. So besides a fresh new look at your program, they can offer suggestions and advice about your current affiliate strategy, whether it just needs a few tweaks or a complete overhaul. They can even do a thorough audit of your entire program, offering a laundry list of recommendations on how you can best optimize it. What you do with those suggestions is entirely up to you.

Great expectations

What sort of recommendations can you expect? Everything from minor cosmetic site changes to a major restructuring of your affiliate program itself. Your overall affiliate marketing strategy may not be hitting the right markets, so rethinking your strategy and realign your program could make a major difference.

Agencies are tied into all facets of the industry, so they might suggest you switch affiliate networks, launch an entirely new campaign, or even create and manage a “private” affiliate program for VIP affiliates. They also can scout out new territories for you. Perhaps they can suggest and even coordinate new opportunities within your existing program, and work closely with your in-house team to help your program grow across these new categories.

An agency also offers something your entire in-house staff simply can’t have: a fresh eye. When you’re that close to your own program, it can be quite difficult to spot areas of innovation. Often times you’re just too busy running reports and crunching numbers to really think differently. But a fresh outside perspective can offer valuable insights and best practices on improving your existing affiliate program. Plus, it can be much more cost effective by retaining an agency.

Whether you ultimately decide to go with an agency or keep things in-house is entirely up to you. You may want to test the waters and just use an agency for a few pieces of your affiliate marketing strategy. Or perhaps you’d rather put your in-house efforts somewhere else, so you’d prefer to have an agency run your entire affiliate program. With so much to offer, at the very least, agencies are certainly worth exploring.