Affiliate marketing has become a go-to strategy for expanding a brand's reach. After all, it's a win-win scenario -- the vendor earns increased profits and visibility, and its affiliates make money on every sale they drive. Everybody stands to benefit.

However, vendors often focus so intently on the "What's in it for me?" side of the equation that they forget to nurture their affiliate relationships. That's a missed opportunity -- when you partner with the right affiliates, you grow your audience significantly. You may even find openings into new markets as people who fall outside your standard demographics may become loyal customers after learning about your products through an affiliate.

Finding and Keeping Your Dream Affiliates

Not all affiliates are created equal, and it can be difficult to build a reliable and trustworthy affiliate team. Your affiliate program should make money, not cost you thousands in time, resources, and energy. To maximize your success, you also want to work with influencers and brands that complement your own.

But how do you find relevant and qualified affiliates? Digital software companies like JVZoo serve as matchmakers between vendors and affiliates. In JVZoo's case, its platform recommends products for affiliates to promote based on their industries and goals and offers vendors stats on affiliates so they can make more informed decisions about who to work with.  Its JVZoo Academy also offers strategies and best practices from top earners. Having a similar framework for managing your affiliate program can be a game changer for driving higher results.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to affiliate relationship management, which is why JVZoo emphasizes communication. If you want your affiliates to sell effectively, you need to update them on your offerings, provide helpful resources for selling your products, and ask how you can improve the program experience. Such steps create a sense of good faith and provide important feedback on how you can boost performance.

Let's look at a few ways you can strengthen your affiliate program ASAP:

1. Standardize and increase communication.

Decide how you'll engage with your affiliates. Consider using a messaging platform such as Slack or Fleep to allow affiliates instant access to your team. If a promotion link isn't working or they have a question about an offer, they should be able to reach you right away. However, you'll need to assign a team member to monitor these channels at all times to ensure responsiveness.

Whatever method you choose, it should be reliable and consistent across your affiliate relationships. A streamlined system is much easier to manage, and it assures your partners that you're there to support them.

2. Set reasonable commission prices.

Naturally, you want to maximize the return on any marketing initiative -- affiliate programs included. But your partners need to maximize their ROI as well, and low commissions aren't worth the trouble of blogging about or otherwise promoting your products.

Affiliates only earn when their followers buy from you, so incentivize them to put effort into your campaigns. Commissions of 50 percent or more tend to encourage the most engagement from affiliates.

3. Provide affiliates with unique materials for promoting your products.

Affiliates will create promotional materials that align with their brands and audiences. But you can give them a hand by providing useful product information they can use in their content. If they don't understand your offer or see why people should choose your products over your competitors', they'll have a tough time making a compelling case for your brand.

Update your partners about product milestones, such as awards, high usage rates, or remarkable case studies. People respond to accolades and testimonials, so make sure you're equipping your affiliates with the right information.

4. Market your affiliate program.

List your company on an affiliate marketplace, and detail your program's benefits. Let potential partners know what commission rate you pay and what your average affiliate earns per month. But resist the urge to embellish your platform's merits. Affiliates will drop your products if they discover you've misrepresented the opportunity.

5. Run a variety of affiliate marketing campaigns.

The best affiliate campaigns involve avid users of your product or service who would promote it even if they weren't earning commission. Someone who's already touting your brand's virtues is the holy grail of affiliate partners. A recommendation from a social media influencer carries almost as much weight as that of a friend, so there's nothing more valuable than an organic, genuine affiliate relationship.

In the absence of such brand advocacy, you can run an unattached affiliate campaign, in which a partner places his affiliate links in an ad to attract clicks and generate commissions. You can also take a hybrid approach, which involves affiliates driving followers to products that are relevant to their industries but that they haven't necessarily tried themselves. These two strategies can be useful ways to expand your reach when your brand is young and hasn't yet fostered many organic partnerships.

Affiliate marketing appeals to vendors and partners alike because both stand to benefit. But all relationships require mutual effort and good faith if they're going to remain strong. By doing your part to support your affiliates, you stand to increase your earnings and visibility and attract even more partners to your brand.

Published on: Sep 1, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.