How to Build a Thriving and Profitable Affiliate Program

How to Build a Thriving and Profitable Affiliate Program

Alexis Teichmiller, Affiliate Manager at ConvertKit, joins the Content Experience Show to discuss the power of partnering with your customers over traditional influencers.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Speaking From Experience

With the worldwide prevalence of social media, more and more businesses are embracing things like influencer marketing. It may sound like a difference of semantics, but the world of affiliate marketing is distinctly different and potentially even more powerful.

When it comes to running a successful affiliate marketing program, there’s no one better to talk to than Alexis Teichmiller of ConvertKit. She manages over 10,000 affiliates and can certainly attest to the profitability the program.

Rather than only seeking influencers to market their product from the outside, ConvertKit has connected with many of its most loyal customers to develop advocates who can promote ConvertKit’s services based on their own personal experience. By reaching out to your customers and rewarding them for becoming affiliates, you can work alongside people who intimately know the benefits and have a real emotional connection to your products.

In This Episode

  • How ConvertKit built a successful affiliate marketing program
  • How to balance branding with personal testimony with your affiliates
  • Why affiliates are different from influencers
  • How your business can start building an affiliate program

Quotes From This Episode

“I encourage our affiliates to use their own tone and insert their own story.” — @alexisteich

“One of our core values is teaching everything you know, and so that’s what we also encourage our affiliates to do.” — @alexisteich

You can't just put up an affiliate signup page and then just go, you have to give them the resources to actually sell your product for you. Click To Tweet

“Make sure that you are taking care of the top affiliates, but also give the smaller affiliates an opportunity to sell your product and get to that next level.” — @alexisteich

Resources

Content Experience Lightning Round

What is the coolest place you’ve traveled due to your remote lifestyle?

Banff, Alberta, Canada

What is your favorite beer that you enjoy drinking when you are on the road?

Blue Moon

You wrote your first book when you were 17. When should we expect the next book from you?

Sometime in the next 12 months!

See you next week!

What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing

Okay content is easy. Killer content is hard. This nifty eBook shows you the difference, based on our real-world work with dozens of brands. A must-read!

Episode Transcript

 
Randy Frisch: Welcome to the Content Experience Show. I'm Randy Frisch. I've got Anna Hrach joining me. We always appreciate when people take time to listen to this podcast. To respect your time, Anna and I are gonna give you a brief overview of what to expect on this episode. We had a great time with the affiliate manager of ConvertKit, a woman named Alexis Teichmiller.
Honestly, Anna, I kind of forgot about affiliate marketing. Not in a bad way, I just, I don't live in that world where I'm able to leverage in the ways, but I forgot how lucrative and strategic of a go-to-market strategy this is.
Anna Hrach: Yeah, I think you're right. It's something that not a lot of people do. Well, I shouldn't say that. I should say it's not at the forefront of what everybody's really talking about now. When people are doing it, they're either doing it cheap and on the fly and it feels very salesy, but those who are doing it incredibly well, like you'll hear from Alexis today, it's really big. It's huge, it's phenomenally successful, too.
Randy Frisch: Absolutely. I think what's cool about this episode, even if affiliate marketing is not right for you, there's a lot of things that Alexis hits on that can be applied if you're doing other things. It could be referral marketing strategies that you're doing for your business or leveraging advocates, because a lot of the things that she talks about is, how do we enable these people? How do we embrace them? How do we encourage them to come up with their own messaging while ensuring that we stay on brand at the same time? Which is one of those things that I touch on, scares the shit out of me.
Anna Hrach: It's funny though, because even though it might scare the shit out of you, Alexis actually manages to handle 10,000 affiliates. So, that's huge. That is massive. I mean, that's basically like having 10,000 part-time employees. It's insane, the level in which she operates.
Randy Frisch: It is, but I think it's also Alexis, because I was super impressed with her. I feel like she's also managing 10,000 other things in addition to 10,000 affiliates in her life. And she's a really interesting person. I mean, stick around to the end just to get to know her and some of the things that kind of defines her and how she succeeded in her career. This is someone who I think we're gonna continue to watch excel as a content leader and marketing leader out there in the industry.
Anna Hrach: Absolutely. And for anybody who might be scratching their heads a little bit about maybe why we're talking about affiliate marketing, because it isn't something that is talked about a ton, or at least the forefront of what everybody's talking about, as I mentioned before ... One of the things I think that everybody's really gonna love, walking away from this is just the experience that Alexis and her team are able to create through affiliate marketing and really make it still feel very much like ConvertKit, even though 10,000 people are producing content on behalf of ConvertKit.
It is really, truly astonishing what she's able to accomplish and how it's still able to be very ConvertKit, yet very authentic and individual at the same time.
Randy Frisch: And Anna and I now know how we can go and earn 30 percent on every sale we make, by just pushing email marketing. Which, I mean, how often am I pushing that anyways? I gotta get on this. Anyways, let's roll this. I'm pretty sure you brought her in this time. Let's have a listen to this week's podcast.
Anna Hrach: Hey Alexis. Thank you so much for joining us today. It is so great to have you here.
Alexis T.: Thank you Anna and Randy. I'm really excited to be here, and just excited to jump in with you guys and talk all things, all the things.
Anna Hrach: I know. All of the things, literally all the things. Before we do talk all the things, would you mind just telling us a little bit about yourself?
Alexis T.: Of course, yeah. Hi Guys. My name's Alexis Teichmiller. First and foremost, I'm the Affiliate Manager at ConvertKit which is an email marketing service provider for online creators and bloggers. But as far as the who I am as a person, I'm a frequent flier, I'm an adventurer, I'm a small town girl from the cornfields of Illinois. I now live in Nashville, Tennessee, home of country music, and lived here a little over three years. I love travel. I have a podcast called The Laptop Lifestyle that really features and highlights a lot of online creators who are building communities or businesses from their laptop.
ConvertKit is a remote company, so I love talking all things remote, and how you can still be creative and build a community and a business online and still have that very connected community aspect, even though you're remote. I'm also a content creator for hospitality brands, so I'm working with hotels and tourism boards and create lifestyle photography for their websites and their social media accounts.
Anna Hrach: Nice. So, when we said all the things, we really weren't kidding. That's a lot of things that we can talk about. The first thing that we'd really love to talk about real quick is ConvertKit, and you are the Affiliate Manager. There's a lot of ideas out there about what exactly affiliate marketing. How does ConvertKit define it?
Alexis T.: Yeah, that's a great question. Our affiliate structure is anyone who is building an audience online and they want to share ConvertKit with their audience, they get a 30 percent commission for every single person that they refer to ConvertKit. Not only is it a 30 percent commission, they also get 30 percent recurring.  So, for as long as that referral is a customer of ConvertKit, they get recurring 30 percent commission.
Randy Frisch: Sign me up, I'm in.
Alexis T.: Right.
Anna Hrach: Yeah, sorry everybody at Uberflip, Randy's now gonna go be an affiliate manager.
Alexis T.: Exactly. Yeah, there's a lot of incredible power and a lot of profitability in affiliate marketing. I think some of the best affiliate marketers are people who actually use the tool that they're recommending, because they can really speak to it from a very honest perspective versus it being, "Hey, use this thing that I've never used before and I'm gonna make money from it."
People can sniff that out pretty easily. Whenever we were building our affiliate program, we really focused on who were some of our top customers who are really building a large email list and had that community who needed our product. They have become our best affiliates and advocates because they actually use our product, versus it being an ad buyer or something along the lines of that. We still have affiliates who buy ads and that's totally fine, but we have had the most growth with affiliates who actually use our tool.
Randy Frisch: I've got a couple of questions for you. I'll start with one just to help those who are listening, because there's a lot of other terms out there that are similar to affiliate, like referral marketing, or even we hear a lot about advocate marketing these days. When you zero in on the idea of affiliate marketing, who do you think it works best for? I mean, as an example, when I go to market we're selling a very expensive item, higher ticket price, little bit more complex. ConvertKit, I've watched the demo video on your homepage. Really easy solution to use, really easy value prop to get across.
Would you say that an affiliate program works best with a small, medium business offering?
Alexis T.: Actually, I think it primarily depends on your business model. If you are an independent consultant and you are consulting people on different solutions, I think you can still be a really good affiliate marketer with a high ticket priced item. I think it just depends on who your target is. Now, if you're targeting beginners who are just wanting to start an online business, you're gonna be a great fit for ConvertKit's affiliate marketing program because we cater to online business creators and bloggers, and the majority of them are just getting started.
Now, we do cater to larger, much larger customers than that, but that's kind of who our audience has carved out. If you have a higher ticket priced item, I think it goes back to, do you have that one-to-one affiliate? That's a big misconception, too, is to be an affiliate marketer you have to have a really big social following or a really big email list, when really, some of our biggest affiliates, they're just consultants.
They know people that have really big email lists and they only have 15 referrals, but each one of those 15 people have tens, hundreds of thousands of email subscribers, so their commissions are higher. I think it goes back to, who are you targeting as the affiliate marketer? I think you can honestly be really successful with both.
Randy Frisch: That's interesting. As you touch on that, it kind of drives me to another question, which, you touched on who's in your database, who can you reach out to? I think a lot in the company I run here at Uberflip and a lot of people listening probably think, "Okay, my biggest fear is always dilution of messaging." Right? Even amongst our own sales team, the people we can control, I always think to myself, "Are they gonna nail the line the way marketing drafted that line the first time? Or, if they're gonna tweak it, will they do it in a controlled way?" How do you manage that at scale with affiliates? How do you sleep?
Alexis T.: That's a really good question. I don't. I'm kidding. A lot of ZzzQuil. No. As far as managing the messaging, we send out a lot of swipe copy and scripted email copy, scripted social media copy and social graphics, because we want to help them with all the resources. Now from there I actually encourage them to use their own tone and insert their own story, because what I've noticed is whenever they're sending canned messaging to their audiences, we get really low conversion. Whereas if they insert, "Hey, this is what I switched from, MailChimp to ConvertKit," or, "This is why I recommend ConvertKit over Infusionsoft," they are inserting their own actual testimonial into that and it becomes significantly stronger.
They provide screenshots of their own ConvertKit account. They do screen casts of how they built their own funnel inside of ConvertKit. I actually encourage them to use their own messaging. Now the core messaging, we send out, "These are the main attributes, the main features. Let's not get confused on what the offer is." But as far as how it's transformed your business, we leave that up to the affiliate because it's significantly stronger coming from them, than us trying to fabricate that.
Randy Frisch: I feel like, Anna, you and I are for sure going to have a million content management questions to ask. You go first.
Anna Hrach: Oh totally, yeah. I was just about to jump in. Well, also the one point I wanted to make, too, before jumping in there is, I love that you do that and how you're sending them the core messages and it's still so on-brand, but you give them the leeway to make it their own, to make it authentic because that's what comes through. It's not like just somebody out there, you know, robotic canned corporate messages, right, which is fantastic.
Alexis T.: Right. Which, this is really important, is people like ConvertKit because we are not corporate, because we do not have corporate messaging, because we have this really fun personality to our brand. We want to make sure that the affiliate feels empowered to insert their own personality as their marketing our product for us.
Anna Hrach: Back to what Randy was just saying, how do you actually manage that? Is there a workflow tool you use? Is it Excel spreadsheets just crazy in the background? How do you actually manage to get all of these messages out and disseminated, and communicate with your affiliate marketers?
Alexis T.: I actually use Google Drive. I have Google Drive and then I have different folders for different promotions that we're running. There's general folders full of general social media copy, email, swipe copy, and for each promotion I have a separate folder that's very, very specific. You know, "Here's where you find your affiliate link, here's what the registration page looks like, here's what you send and on what date." I even will put placeholders for them to insert their own story. Like, "And here's a line where you can share why you switched to ConvertKit, or how your email list has grown."
I give them writing prompts, but as far as how I manage the content, it all lives inside of Google Drive. They can't edit any of it of course, but they can access it at any time. It's significantly easier doing it that way than any other manual way, because then I can go in and make quick changes to a Google Doc versus, if I send something out via email I can't go back and edit a line inside of that email. I want to be able to edit it on the fly.
Anna Hrach: Nice. Yeah, I love Google Drive, especially for managing content that's constantly being updated because you just have that permanent link and people can go to it. I love that approach.
Randy Frisch: So we've gotta take a quick break here on the podcast, hear from some of our sponsors who are fun to hear from, always, and then we are gonna continue to have some more fun with Alexis, because I've got a million more questions on this stuff. We'll be right back here on ConEx.
We're back here with Alexis, talking all about affiliate marketing. We were starting to get into this idea of how do we manage the message, which ultimately is content, which ultimately is that experience out there? One of the things that I'm trying to figure out is, you talked about the fact you don't really have a lot of corporate messaging. It's interesting. I mentioned being on ConvertKit's homepage. It's a very simple messaging of what you do and, as you said, you're leveraging these affiliates to tell the stories of what you do.
I'm wondering both ... Tell me some of the great stories of where someone did an amazing set of messaging and maybe you even pulled it into your own content strategy and, on the flip side, any horror stories where someone's out there and it is keeping you up at night because it's the wrong message.
Alexis T.: I haven't, honestly -- and fingers crossed, knocking on wood right now -- but I haven't had any horror stories quite yet, of anyone really diluting our message or doing a disservice to our brand. But as far as a lot of successful stories, I would say I've seen people write amazing testimonials. I've seen people create entire email courses, like free email courses, on how to grow your email list and how they did it with ConvertKit. Then they just insert their affiliate link inside of that email course so it feels very organic.
One of our core values is teaching everything you know, and so that's what we also encourage our affiliates to do. People like Pat Flynn, he has done an incredible job promoting our product, and he's done so with either webinars with us, like partnership webinars, and he's also done really amazing YouTube videos that showcase how he has used email to grow his business. And so see how he has used email to grow his business, not necessarily how he used ConvertKit to grow his business?
We encourage people to focus on the, not necessarily always ConvertKit, but email marketing, and then we are a byproduct of that message. It's like, "Oh, well Pat used email marketing, what does he use?" And then the very next line he sees, "I use ConvertKit." It feels a lot more organic and so we encourage our affiliates also to talk a lot about email marketing, email marketing strategy, email list growth, email funnels. Whenever they're using that language, it feels more connected to their audience.
Whereas the audience goes, "Oh, you know, I need a funnel to sell a product," or, "I need to grow my email list." It's easier for them to understand. Whereas if they're like, "Hey, you need to use ConvertKit funnels. You need to use ConvertKit," someone might not know what that means or they might not have an emotional tie with the word, ConvertKit, but they do with something like an email list or a funnel. Some of our best affiliates have built entire products around growing an email list, building funnels, and so we are a byproduct of that, as an affiliate.
Anna Hrach: Nice. Well, I'm happy to hear that you haven't had any horror stories. I'll knock on wood over here for you, too. Based on the fact that you have all this in place and you clearly are getting a lot of success from this, what would your top three tips be for marketers who are just starting to look at this as an option for part of their marketing strategy?
Alexis T.: I just wanted to clarify, as an affiliate marketer or as a company who's wanting to build an affiliate marketing program? Which one? Because I can give you all the ...
Anna Hrach: Yeah, as a company who's wanting to build an affiliate marketing program, what would your top three tips be for someone who is looking at this as a potential way to add on to their marketing strategy or their content marketing strategy?
Alexis T.: There's a few, so I'll give you my top three. One is to not necessarily only focus on influencers, but focus on your top customers. I think the word influencer and things like that can be very shiny, but if the influencer has no emotional connection to your product they're not necessarily going to be the best salesperson for you. Go look at your top customers, look at your loyal customers, and figure out ways that you can build a strategy to partner with them on using their influence with their communities to promote your product. If you're just getting started, go focus on your top customers.
The second would be making sure that you are, whenever you find those top affiliates or those top customers, that you are treating them like absolute gold. Something that we do, well something that I do, is I go get on planes and I go see our top 50 affiliates. I fly to their homes, meet their families, and actually sit down and make content strategies with them on, "Okay, for the next 12 months, how are we going to integrate ConvertKit into your content? So either into your courses, how are we going to build amazing custom webinars? Are you going to launch a new product? How can we be involved?"
So really getting integrated into the affiliate's content versus just doing one-off promotions or one-off canned webinars. We want to be ingrained in people's content so that it's something that's so organic, and that their audience is so used to hearing about us, that it seems like a natural choice to choose ConvertKit.
The third would be don't forget about your smaller affiliates. For the larger affiliates who I go get on planes for, I can't ignore my other 9,000 smaller affiliates. Making sure that every month you're giving these affiliates something to promote. What are you creating? What promotions are you creating? What custom webinars or custom experiences that highlight your product? But you're actually giving them all the resources, the swipe copy, the custom registration or landing pages. What resources are you actually giving them to promote your product?
You can't just put up an affiliate signup page, hook it in with an affiliate program, and then just go. You have to give them the resources to actually sell your product for you, and that goes back to selling. That's something that we're actually implementing right now is, just because someone signed up to be an affiliate does not necessarily mean they know how to sell. A lot of our beginner affiliates are our beginner customers at ConvertKit.
They see that we have an affiliate program. They want to sign up because they want to make passive income, which is amazing, but they might not have their own product yet, which means they probably don't know how to sell ours. Now we're kind of going back to the basics and teaching sales tactics to our smaller affiliates, teaching them how to actually sell something online. So then it does appear to be, and actually genuinely be more organic and authentic, versus it being just like their random canned corporate messaging.
Anna Hrach: Amazing. All of that was absolute pure gold. The one thing that I want to just double down on, and everything that you just talked about in your three tips, is that this is not an insignificant effort. This is not simply writing a blog post and pushing it out and hoping that affiliates are reading it and picking it up.
I think that one of the things we probably haven't done a good enough job up until now of establishing, is that this is a massive, major undertaking. It is a serious component of strategy. I think your top three tips illustrate that so well. You're getting on a plane and you're flying out to those affiliates. You're teaching them basic strategy, and advanced strategy in some cases. You're helping them understand what to talk about, when to talk about it, and how to talk about it.
I just wanted to underscore the fact that all those tips you gave are solid gold, but I think for anybody really considering this as part of their strategy, it's not just building a brand book and then throwing out a coupon code. It's a very serious, major undertaking, which I'm sure you probably get frustrated with sometimes, that people make it seem like, "Oh, just give them a coupon code."
Alexis T.: Oh, I mean, honestly I feel so grateful to work with my team at ConvertKit and my CEO, Nathan, and my bosses. Our affiliate program is very lucrative and so we account for a very, very large percent of our monthly recurring revenue comes from the affiliate program. Because of that, there's no issue with buy-in, from at least any of my teammates, because they see how powerful our affiliate program is. We have over 10,000 affiliates. I get the honor of managing that whole program, and it comes with a lot of moving parts.
Making sure that you are taking care of the top affiliates, but also giving the smaller affiliates an opportunity to sell your product and get to that next level. Yeah, it's definitely an investment. Don't undermine how much work it's going to take because it definitely is quite the undertaking, but it's so worth it.
Anna Hrach: So when done well, massive payoff. When done cheap and on the fly, that's pretty much what you're going to get.
Alexis T.: Right.
Anna Hrach: Nice. Alexis, thank you so much for dropping all this amazing information on us about affiliate marketing and how-tos and what you're doing at ConvertKit. What we'd love to do is have you stick around for just a few more minutes. We kind of got to know a little bit about the personal side of you in the beginning, in your intro. We want to get know a little bit more about that side of you with some personal questions. Hang in there with us for just a few more minutes and we're going to talk a little bit more about the personal side of Alexis.
Randy Frisch: All right Alexis, so we've got a little bit more time together, here. There's a lot of interesting stuff about you, off the bat. We didn't even get to all the blogging that you do on behalf of travel and things like that, but I feel like we can wrap all of that into getting to know you. Because there's something cool on ConvertKit, which I saw. When you go to the homepage, or any page in the footer, it's got this, "Made with love in all the cities that people work remotely from," which I absolutely love. It's such a fun way of showing where you're based, because you're everywhere.
I guess that lends itself really well to you, but tell us a little bit about why you like this remote work lifestyle. Why is that aligned to the type of person you are?
Anna Hrach: I think a really big portion of it is that I'm very entrepreneurial. I'm very entrepreneurial thinking. I love solving problems. I love freedom. I love the opportunity to control my choices. I knew as soon as I was in college or, honestly, by the time I was 17, that I did not want a corporate, 9-5, traditional job. I wanted, and thrive, in unconventional and uncomfortable places and so I knew that I wanted something that was kind of off the beaten path. That's what ConvertKit has been to me.
A little bit of background, really quickly. Whenever I was 17 I wrote my first book and I sold that. That was my first real business. And then in college I launched a women's clothing boutique. I ran that for three years. I started out, I was doing trunk shows and then it kind of grew into an e-commerce business. Then I closed that down, but when I closed it I started a blog, because I was blogging and talking about fashion. That's how my blog was born. And then from the blogging space, that's how I actually got into this email marketing space.
I actually was the social media manager for a New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. That was my first job out of college. From there, I was building campaigns inside of Infusionsoft and working remotely for him. I knew, immediately, this was going to be my jam. I love authors, speakers, entrepreneurs, online business owners. And then I met Nathan, randomly, at a conference. He was like, "Are you ... What do you think about ConvertKit?"
I did a lot of research and we ended up interviewing, and that's how I got my job at ConvertKit. I've always had this really interesting path of entrepreneurship and really being unconventional with a lot of my life choices because I wanted to do something that really pushed me to grow, and pushed me to think outside of the box, which is every single day at ConvertKit.
Working remotely is challenging because you don't have that face-to-face communication or accountability, or that easy culture, as I like to call it. But what is so beautiful about ConvertKit is that we still have this amazing culture of philanthropy and generosity and care and creativity, and we have found a way to do it really well via remote life.
My brand is The Laptop Lifestyle. I love planes. I love travel. I've found a job and a company that really allows me to thrive in that, in that I have the opportunity to still pursue my side hustles while also giving my day job, and my main hustle, my own 100 percent focus. That was a big reason why I love my job is because Nathan does support side hustles. If I worked for a place that didn't allow me to have a podcast, just because I wanted to -- it was a passion project, you know -- I would feel stifled.
Whereas at ConvertKit it helps that we're creators. Our goal is to help creators earn a living. I myself am a creator, and so it helps that mission. It's ingrained in me as a creator. So, yeah.
Randy Frisch: We only have like 30 seconds left, here. But based on all that, I'm going to hit you with three to four lightning round questions, where you can literally only answer one or two words. Okay? We're going to start off with coolest place you've traveled due to this remote lifestyle.
Anna Hrach: Banff, Alberta, Canada.
Randy Frisch: Nice. Canada. You've already won me over. That's awesome. We'll keep going here. Best beer that you enjoy drinking when you are on the road?
Anna Hrach: Oh, I love Blue Moon. I am obsessed with Blue Moon.
Randy Frisch: Nice, nice. With the orange in it? You like the orange in it?
Anna Hrach: Oh, yeah. Sometimes, if a place doesn't even have Blue Moon, I'll ask for the lightest beer they have and I'll ask them to put an orange in it and just pretend I'm drinking Blue Moon.
Randy Frisch: Amazing. Now, my last one, I think you said you wrote your first book when you were 17. I feel like you're due for another one, after all of that stuff you just filled us in on. When should we expect the next book from you? Number of months away?
Anna Hrach: Oh, snap. I would say in the next 12 months I probably will have another book out. Yeah. It'll be centered around The Laptop Lifestyle, so it should be hopefully easy to write.
Randy Frisch: That's amazing. Well, thanks so much for joining us, Alexis, and sharing with us the strategy at ConvertKit, some of your passions on the side. I think that these stories inspire a lot of us as marketers who tune in, as to how we can create niches for ourself, enjoy what we're doing. That's a big part of being in this content world, is being able to tell great stories and live them day-to-day. Thank you for the inspiration.
For everyone who's been tuning in to this, if you've enjoyed Alexis' story check out some of the other ones on the podcast, at various ways that you can download the podcast, on Stitch or on iTunes, on Spotify, on Google Play. We're everywhere that you can find a podcast. When you can leave a review, please let us know what you're looking for to make that better. In the meantime, on behalf of Anna Hrach at Convince and Convert, I'm Randy Frisch at Uberflip. Thank you so much for tuning in.
 
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