AC Certified: Building The Perfect Affiliate Manager

Affiliate Classroom CertificationAffiliate Classroom Certified. Now this is what every affiliate and merchant dreams of; the perfect affiliate manager. A well trained organized affiliate manager that listens to affiliates and implements their innovative ideas on the one hand and on the other manages to keep the merchants’ margins and brand intact online. Can it be done?

According to Anik “Don’t Call Me Yanik” Singal, Founder and President of Affiliate Classroom, the path to enlightenment is through training and support. The Affiliate Classroom Certification Program is an attempt to bring some modicum of standardization to the Performance (Affiliate) Marketing arena.

Since hiring Rachel Honoway, who I had the pleasure of working closely with when she headed up Kowabunga, Affiliate Classroom has taken a more global look at the industry and apparently noticed what most veterans already knew. There is a lack of trained people in this business who can actually competently cover the position of Affiliate Manager.

If I were building my ideal AM, it would probably look something along the lines of this:

One Part Salesperson. (Not some wimpy “I’ll get back to you on that” milk toast, but a true let’s get this traffic moving motivator who knows how to motivate a publisher to send qualified traffic. That is not to say force a round peg into a square hole. Savvy enough to know what will be a good fit, and when to run to the merchant/advertiser to get marketing materials that are a tighter fit with a particular publisher’s site (or class of publisher sites). Mental toughness to know that “NO” only means they don’t “know” enough about how they can be making money from the particular offers.)

One Part Negotiator. (I mean some publishers would make even The Donald look like a patsy with the way they are able to leverage their traffic on a poor unsuspecting rookie AM. This potentially can be the difference between making targeted ROI and not, and also making the AM have to be smart enough to encourage the merchant to better monetize their post transactional activities so the front end margin isn’t the only measurement of a program’s success. That isn’t to say that an AM should just lay down in the face of overwhelming publisher pressure, but look for ways to enhance conversion, lessening the need to increase payout levels. In essence, they have to satisfy both their merchant’s margins and the publisher’s need for increasing their ECPM.)

One Part Private Investigator. (The best AM’s get that way because they do their homework and they know who they want to promote their offers. They do this through thorough research and getting behind what is driving the offer’s sales. Then reaching out to those publishers that will best maximize this with their traffic. Half the battle is prospecting for the “core” super-affiliates that will make the program 80% of affiliate commission revenues. Until the AM can assemble a loyal (as loyal as publishers can afford to be) core group and really service their needs for marketing resources, the program will not have a stable foundation of monthly revenue. The rule is always true: 20% of your affiliates will make you 80% or more of the revenue. I believe it is more skewed toward 10/90 but every program has its differences.)

One Part Marketing Manager: (Affiliate Managers need to understand each merchant’s unique market and the factors that affect sales. Merchant sales cycles are affected by many things. Seasonality is probably the largest factor (Christmas, Mother’s Day), followed closely by occasion based buying (weddings, birthdays). It branches off into various life situation solutions (buying a house, going back to school, need for short term credit). The AM needs to prompt their merchant with schedules for campaigns and creatives so they can be timely in their release of marketing materials to publishers. So many times sales opportunities are missed because an AM has no organized way of tracking their offer’s unique marketing opportunities. Their function is to keep their merchants campaigns fresh, distinctive, updated and converting. Not an easy task.)

One Part Communicator/Schmoozer: (Newsletters and Alerts may not seem like they get read a whole lot, but the truth is, the ones that read it are the ones who perform. An AM needs to have excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. It isn’t easy sometimes to write something interesting about the same program (like say the BidFuel eBay offers that have the same landing pages just different names) again and again, but there is an art to good copy and keeping it real. Great AM’s try to help their publishers succeed by giving them knowledge on the latest technology, software or techniques that they can use to increase their business. The poor ones simply send out the same tired copy and do nothing to increase a publisher’s knowledge base. The Schmoozer part is the actual out from behind the computer personality that generally likes people. If you don’t like people, don’t be an AM. I close more deals at the bar than any other place at a conference. It is usually where the action is and the smack is being talked about, but it is also a great place to bet introduced to the underground affiliates (e-mailers & seo guys mostly) that show up at events and keep a low profile. Those are usually the most productive and long term relationships.)

In all they have to be superhuman and possess all the traits that even a Lee Iacoca couldn’t live up to. But having all of this being laid out to a newbie (or even a crusty veteran like myself) makes it easier to get a sense that it isn’t an insurmountable task. That with some guidance and the proper tools and attitude, almost any offer can have success in the performance marketing arena.

This is what Anik and his team at Affiliate Classroom have tried to do with the AC Certified Program. I have worked with Anik since his first product launch a few years ago and even supplied him with an hour or two of original material for the Affiliate Manager Bootcamp training videos. Some of which is contained in the latest course.

The Certification training and testing gives any AM a head start in making good choices with the offers that they are entrusted with promoting. It isn’t going to miraculously change an unmotivated slacker into the next Joel Comm, but it will instill the confidence new and veteran managers need to be successful. I also like the way that Anik is moving in channels that will make this a de facto standard in the industry and that will help legitimize the otherwise “Wild West” stigma that performance marketing has been saddled with.

Networks displaying the AC Certified logo will be showing both merchants and publishers that they are not just about volume of offers and flipping from one vertical to the next adding no real value for their cut of the pie. The AC Certification will stand for a dedication to a standard that hopefully will be adopted much like the ISO9000 stands for the highest quality training and service delivery in industrial verticals. Those networks or merchants not sending their AM’s for certification will be conspicuous by their non participation and support of creating a higher standard for our own industry. Or those would be AM candidates that have not taken it upon themselves to get the training on their own will lose out on the best paying positions because they have not had the baseline knowledge transfer that a certified professional does.

In my work with Project Blackbook, I have also strived to apply a higher standard of measurement to transparency in our niche of the online marketing space. To report on how deep and wide the reach and footprint is of performance marketing in today’s US and International markets. Creating these types of industry wide initiatives that can move the entire space forward is really what I see our industry needing if we are to take advantage of the massive shift in ad dollars from TV, Radio and Print that is coming in the next 3 years. Keeping the “Wild West” image is only eroding what confidence we have been able to garner with truly large ad budget brands. The AC Certification is a step in that direction to eliminate the lack of trust the advertising community has in general with the performance niche.

The Affiliate Classroom Career Center is an initiative that will hook up certified AM’s with programs that need to have the best trained people on board. As I understand it, from now until the end of April, all postings will be free of charge to introduce the Career Center to Merchants and Networks. After April, the cost will be $300 per month per posting. All AM resumes will be posted for free. To get your free listing, simply click here.

Below is the Press Release for the launch of the Career Center from Rachel.

College Park, MD – March 11-, 2008 – The Affiliate Classroom, a leading publisher of educational tools for the interactive advertising industry, is offering employers the chance to post their open Affiliate Manager positions in the company’s AC Certified Career Center at no charge on March 14th, 2008.

As previously announced, Affiliate Classroom launched an innovative training and certification program for professional Affiliate Managers called “AC Certified.” Through the AC Certified program, new and veteran affiliate managers can receive an education in managing affiliate programs, earn their Affiliate Manager Certification and pursue an affiliate management career.

The company will be launching the Career Center portion of the program on April 1st, 2008. Employers who are seeking Affiliate Management staff can begin posting open positions on Friday, March 14th.

All job listings added on March 14th will be shown throughout the month of April free of charge. Employers can continue to add jobs to the Career Center after the 14th at a rate of $300/month for each job.

“In these trying economic times, it’s encouraging to see that Affiliate Marketing continues to grow and that retailers, advertisers, networks and agencies are continuing to hire for well-compensated Affiliate Manager Positions,” says the company’s VP of Marketing, Rachel Honoway. “While other jobs are being cut back, companies are struggling to fill open Affiliate Management positions. We see AC Certified and its Career Center bridging this gap and highlighting the strength that this industry shows in its ability develop and succeed despite an economic downturn.”

According to The AffStat 2008 Report (www.AffStat.com), which compiles results of an annual affiliate marketing benchmarks survey produced by Shawn Collins, 2/3 of Affiliate Managers earn between $40,000 and $120,000 per year in salary or a combination of salary and commission. The $50,000 to $60,000 range saw the largest number of respondents, accounting for 22% of the total while 16% of the respondents reported annual earnings over $100,000.

More information about the AC Certified Career Center can be found here.

About Affiliate Classroom, Inc.

Established in October of 2004 as a private company, Affiliate Classroom is a leading publisher of educational tools for interactive marketers. The growing product suite includes courses, books, live seminars, digital magazines and online forums for affiliates, merchants and advertisers participating in the affiliate marketing industry, as well as materials for PPC (pay per click) search marketing.

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