How to Use PRMs to Manage Your Affiliate Network
Over the past several decades we have seen the rise of affiliate networks in parallel with the rise of software for partner relationship management or PRM, which can be a highly effective platform for managing such networks. Affiliate networks have existed for centuries, starting with early evangelists in almost every religion who spread the holy word from one part of the world to another. Over the last few decades we’ve seen the rise of commercial affiliates where, in exchange for promoting a company’s product or brand, the affiliates earn a commission. In this article, we will discuss how PRM software can help recruitment, onboarding, training, payment and management of an affiliate network.
The purpose of an affiliate network is not to sell a product through it, but rather promote a product or service to a targeted base of end-users or buyers. Most affiliate networks focus on a product or on a brand selling multiple products. A classic example is Amazon’s—yes, the #1 etailer in the world—affiliate network. If you sign up for Amazon’s affiliate network, which you can learn about on many free YouTube videos, you will see that Amazon very likely uses a home-grown PRM tool to enroll, onboard, train, enable and pay its affiliates.
Traditionally, consumer brands have relied heavily on affiliate networks, whereas industrial brands or products have tended to flow through organizations that are referred to as agents, resellers, value added resellers, wholesalers, distributors, and similar labels. The primary difference between an affiliate and a reseller is that the latter actually sells a product (physically or digitally) to its customer base, while the former focuses primarily on promotion, generating awareness of a brand or its associated products.
Partner relationship management or PRM software traditionally has focused on managing resellers, because management of resellers require a lot more capabilities to manage segmented or profile-based access, training, lead generation, enablement, payment, and so on. Simple affiliate management software, on the other hand, tends to have very limited capabilities because all the affiliate management software needs to do is to sign up affiliates, track referrals and pay partners. While it’s true that for a business like Amazon, affiliate marketing can be highly complex, the vast majority of affiliate networks do not require sophisticated PRM software capabilities.
As the world rapidly evolves, driven by various macro forces like climate change, geopolitics and financial crises, delivery channels also evolve rapidly across almost all verticals. As a result, we have now started to see hybrid channels in which vendors not only need to manage a multiple affiliates across many countries, but also manage their reseller base. In the past, a business selling through the channel tended to select automation either for affiliates or for resellers, but not both. However, with the rise of the hybrid partner network with affiliate, reseller and perhaps other types of channels, there has been rush towards procuring PRM software.
We at ZINFI, a leader in PRM software, have started to see this change over the past few years. More and more of our customers across multiple verticals are now asking for a PRM platform to manage their affiliate networks, but at the same time these customers are also using the same platform to manage their reseller base. The prior model was to have two sets of software: one for affiliate management and another for reseller management (or agent management, etc.). With a Unified Channel Management platform like ZINFI, however, today’s organizations can manage both activities seamlessly using a single tool.
In this hybrid scenario, PRM software must be able to provide granular profiling, so that vendors can easily configure access settings for different types of customers—for example, onboarding an affiliate partner through one set of steps while onboarding an agent or a reseller through another set of distinctly different steps. Training and other necessary enablement content can also be differentiated by customer profile types and configured for access accordingly. Partner performance can be tracked not only by profile type, but also analyzed over time to identify specific areas for improvement.
The unprecedented flexibility that PRM software provides today was unthinkable just a few years ago. Today, however, the cloud has arrived, and that has made it possible for platforms like ZINFI’s Unified Channel Management SaaS solution to address an increasingly broad range of business challenges, including effective management of affiliate and hybrid channel networks.