Affiliate programs come in all shapes and sizes, but the basic concept is simple: Independent parties will help you sell your parts, and you’ll give them a percentage of the sale for their trouble (see graphic below).
Conceptually, it seems like a win-win. In practice, affiliate programs can be hit or miss. Here’s my assessment of affiliate programs, based on my experience both as a marketing professional and a successful affiliate.
First, Let’s Talk About Me
I’ve been a successful affiliate marketer since 2007. Currently, the automotive web properties I own generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in part and accessory revenue each year, of which I get a small (but respectable) percentage. Additionally, in years past I have been an affiliate for automotive and financial lead generation campaigns, CPA programs in a wide variety of industries, and all the way back in 2006 I even worked as a manager at the company that is currently Affiliate.com.
Not to toot my own horn, but I know enough about the affiliate marketing industry to have confidence in my opinions. This is not to say I’m an expert on the industry (I’m not), but hopefully my disclosure of my experience here will help you qualify what I have to say.
Pro: Auto Parts and Accessories Are Often Sold By Word of Mouth, So Affiliates Can Really Help
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that there are dozens of companies producing the same types of parts and accessories. If you want to buy a lift kit, for example, you can go with ReadyLift, Truxxx (now Traxda), ToyTec, Low Range Off Road, Pro Comp, Skyjacker, OME…the list goes on and on. Any consumer with a cursory knowledge of lift kits will probably find it difficult to differentiate between these options, which is where an affiliate comes in.
If, for example, you have an affiliate who owns and operates a popular automotive forum, their recommendation to consider a certain brand (or a couple of brands) can carry a lot of weight. Same goes for bloggers that people trust, Facebook page managers, etc.
In a business where the difference between two products often comes down to the color of the box (at least in the eyes of the average consumer), affiliates can help steer customers in your direction.
Pro: Affiliate Marketing Can Be Very Profitable If Done Correctly
Imagine hiring an online marketing assistant who will:
- Search for opportunities to promote your products
- Share links to your website and encourage potential customers to buy products from you
- Create websites or apps dedicated to promoting your products
- Come up with creative ways to market your product that you’ve never even considered
Now imagine that you only have to pay this new assistant if they produce sales. Assuming they don’t do something terrible (more on that below), the ROI is awesome.
Con: Affiliate Management Is Hard
Some popular ecommerce platforms offer very basic “affiliate programs” that consist of nothing more than a few banners with unique link codes. While this type of program can be effective, most of the really great affiliates in the industry expect a lot more:
- Great affiliates want the ability to deep link to specific product pages, as that tends to convert better
- Great affiliates want 24/7 access to an updated product data feed, so that they can build sophisticated tools and/or scale their efforts
- Great affiliates want dedicated program managers they can call or email with questions and concerns
- Great affiliates want you to create new banners for them, generate unique coupon codes for their use, etc.
Basically, the best affiliates in the industry expect a top-notch program, and that means you need to be on your game. If you just offer potential affiliates some banners and a unique link code, you probably won’t get much in return.
Con: Affiliates Can Damage Your Brand
Justin Clark – an established affiliate marketer and network manager – wrote an excellent article about “The Ugly Underbelly of Affiliate Marketing,” and I encourage any company thinking about launching an affiliate program to read his article carefully.
To summarize: Bad affiliates will lie, cheat, and steal to get their commission. Bad affiliates will make promises about your product to your customers that you can’t possible live up to. Bad affiliates will impersonate your company for their own financial gain. Bad affiliates will generate spam and engage in illegal activities just to get a sale. Etc.
Basically, if you have an affiliate program, you must have safeguards. Someone has to monitor what affiliates are doing.
Should Auto Parts Retailers Have An Affiliate Program?
In my opinion, every parts retailer should have some sort of affiliate program…and 95% of these programs should be invite-only.
There are a number of ethical, competent website owners, app developers, etc. who can help you grow your business in an affiliate relationship. By making your affiliate program invite-only, you can reach out to potential affiliates one at a time, learn about their business, and then propose a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Additionally, by keeping things invite-only, it’s easy to monitor each affiliate’s activity, provide each affiliate with the tools and resources they want, and work with each affiliate to improve your products, your website, etc.
Of course, if you’re a large auto parts retailer like Amazon.com or AutoAnything.com, an invite-only program doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If this is your situation, you can afford to invest in creating a quality affiliate program, hire professionals to help you manage it, and open it to the public.
Otherwise, keep it simple. It takes work to reach out to potential affiliates, but the rewards can be awesome.