How to manage affiliates?  In other words, what are the best practices and strategies to maintain a highly successful affiliate program, after you’ve found your first affiliates? The cornerstone of solid affiliate management is building strong relationships with affiliates, because affiliates are your partners in growth.

This guide covers everything your online business needs to manage affiliates, build strong affiliate relationships, and improve your program’s performance.  Our tips are suitable for all businesses, including e-commerce retailers, B2B businesses, SaaS companies, startups, and every type in between.

Here’s a preview of our top 10 affiliate management tips: 

  1. Choose software, not a network
  2. Set clear expectations
  3. Train affiliates well
  4. Send regular updates
  5. Provide the necessary tools and resources
  6. Regularly communicate
  7. Offer a competitive commission structure
  8. Regularly review and optimize your affiliate program
  9. Review your affiliates individually
  10. Foster a sense of community 
  11. (Bonus!) Treat affiliates as partners

These tips are meant for after you find the right affiliates, complete affiliate outreach, and recruit affiliates. If you still need to complete those steps, read our dedicated guides linked above to help you select the best types of affiliates. 

What is affiliate management?

Affiliate management involves all the steps your business takes to develop and maintain long-term relationships with your affiliates – content creators who promote your products on their own channels and link to your company website. It also involves tracking affiliate sales, and efficiently rewarding affiliates with commissions every time they make a sale.

As such, affiliate management requires the ability to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships through active communication, engagement, motivation, and incentivization. Beyond the more apparent business development aspects, affiliate management also involves administrative tasks such as creating a structure for your affiliate program and setting the wheels in motion. 

Benefits of successful affiliate management

When done well, affiliate marketing provides benefits a business can’t ignore. After all, affiliates place a trackable link to your website on their marketing channels, meaning your business will reach hundreds or thousands of relevant new eyes at once. Thus, an affiliate marketing program elevates brand awareness and allows you to tap into your affiliate partners for broader reach.

In addition, through an affiliate marketing program, you have the ability to track word-of-mouth results, drive traffic, increase targeted leads and generate more sales. And affiliate marketing is performance-based. Since you’ll only pay affiliates when someone purchases your products through their affiliate link, there is less upfront cost compared to other digital marketing methods.

Challenges in affiliate management

There are several common challenges businesses face when managing affiliates, though. Some of the difficulties with affiliate marketing are keeping partners engaged, and maintaining brand consistency.

Having an effective affiliate management strategy mitigates the big challenges businesses face. The following best practices and strategies cover how to manage affiliates successfully. We’ll dive into them in more detail later in the article.  

how to successfully manage affiliates

How does affiliate management work?

In affiliate management, you function much like a liaison between your company and your affiliates. Your key responsibility is to keep your affiliate marketing channel or channels running smoothly, and generate incremental revenue for your business over the long term. 

The end-to-end process of affiliate management can include any or all of the following steps:

Finding and recruiting affiliates

Finding the right affiliates who align with your brand vision and goals, share a niche or target audience, and can deliver results, requires effort. Your revenue benefit is only as strong as your affiliates, so you must be sure that you’ve recruited reliable and good-fit partners for your brand.


Effective affiliate management involves building strong, long-term partnerships between your company and your affiliates. Having all your systems and processes in place is important. But being someone that your affiliate partners want to keep doing business with is mission critical. The ability to create, nurture, and foster relationships is a necessary component of any form of business development, including affiliate management.

Affiliate tracking

Affiliate data will help you refine your marketing strategy – collecting concrete and measurable results is key. Tracking affiliates’ sales activity helps you determine whether you’re hitting your revenue goals. Tracking affiliate program metrics also helps you figure out what you’re doing right and wrong when it comes to affiliate management, so you can make informed decisions on what to continue and what to change. 

Development and training of affiliates

Another core component of affiliate management is training and development. Depending on how complex your product or process is, affiliates may need initial guidance and phased training sessions to help them get acquainted with your product and the right way to promote it.

Ongoing communication

Affiliate management also requires regularly communicating with affiliates through frequent check-ins. You must be accessible and transparent to your affiliates. Email your affiliates, or schedule group sessions with them, to provide the latest updates and listen to their needs and questions. Schedule one-to-one sessions with your affiliate superstars to further develop your partnership and increase your combined impact.

Continued affiliate support

Equipping affiliates doesn’t stop with training – continuous affiliate support is essential. This includes being available for affiliates to address any concerns, questions, or challenges they have. It also includes providing any digital marketing assets affiliates can use to promote your product. 


Often, affiliate managers have senior management executives that they report to in-house. If this is the case for you, expect to periodically update management on your progress and show that your affiliate program is generating suitable results. You may be given ROI targets to meet. You may also be assessed regularly to see how you’re faring against expectations.

Program optimization

Affiliate management is an ongoing process, as opposed to a one-time or quick event. You’ll need to tweak the program and implement changes whenever there’s room for improvement or enhancements. The ultimate goal is making sure the affiliate marketing program is working at its best. This also includes coaching affiliates on how to improve their sales and providing incentives where needed. 

Security, fraud detection, and fraud prevention

Last but not least, secure your affiliate program and its related assets, and mitigate the risks associated with affiliate fraud. If affiliates unethically manipulate the way they use affiliate links to generate more revenue, they could drain your cash without delivering legitimate leads and sales. Making your program secure, and implementing fraud prevention measures, can help reduce or eliminate the threat.

How to manage affiliates: Choose affiliate software

The results of affiliate marketing move fast. This could pose a big challenge for affiliate program management. Thankfully, automation plays a role here. Marketing platforms like affiliate marketing software keep up with the high demands of running a successful affiliate marketing program for your business. These affiliate management platforms easily track affiliate sales, and other detailed metrics, in real-time so you see the performance of each affiliate. Plus, they automate commission payouts, to keep affiliates happy.

Affiliates also need the ease of a comprehensive, user-friendly affiliate dashboard or portal. They want to log in and see real-time results, tap into resources, and grab a little motivation while they are there. Affiliate tracking software enables you to get a dashboard like this up and running without hassle. 

What makes Referral Rock affiliate software different

You’re probably wondering – why choose affiliate management software over the other well-known option, an affiliate network? Well, affiliate networks have many more drawbacks than benefits. 

  • Affiliate networks own your affiliate data, so you don’t have full control over your program management and don’t have the full set of data you need to take your program to the next level.
  • Affiliate networks own affiliate relationships, and don’t keep affiliates engaged on your behalf (they’d rather have affiliates join as many programs as possible). With software, you own affiliate relationships and have the tools to keep affiliates motivated to promote you,
  • Affiliate networks charge extra fees – sometimes as much as 30% of sales. And that’s in addition to the commissions you pay for affiliates.
  • Affiliate networks only let you set certain commission structures and guidelines. But with affiliate software, your program is much more customizable – you have full freedom to manage affiliates, and award commissions, the way you desire.

compare affiliate software vs affiliate networks

As you can see, all of the disadvantages of networks can easily be avoided if you manage affiliates with software.

Referral Rock affiliate software can help you manage and reward affiliates the way you want, track affiliates with robust data reporting, and keep affiliates engaged. It seamlessly integrates with 50+ other tools, including CRMs (like HubSpot and Salesforce) and ecommerce platforms (like Shopify and Stripe), to streamline affiliate management workflows.

Plus, Referral Rock is flexible enough to manage referral programs as well, if you’d also like to incentivize customers to refer their friends. And don’t just take our word for it – Referral Rock has received high Capterra ratings for product, customer support, and fair pricing.

How to manage affiliates: Communication

Effective communication wins when it comes to fostering a successful affiliate marketing program. Setting clear expectations from the start, providing the tools and resources your affiliate partners need to be successful, and regularly communicating with your affiliates all have a significant impact on the outcome of your program.

1. Set clear expectations

When affiliates understand your brand guidelines, marketing materials, and business practices, they can better align with them. 

Setting clear expectations through an affiliate agreement is the best way to help affiliates build up your brand and your sales. The best affiliates will also be looking for a level of professionalism in your program.

Great affiliates know that establishing commission rates and payment terms upfront is not just good business, it’s a signal of trust and transparency. They know that solid affiliate commissions are the first step toward a productive affiliate partnership. It’s important for you as a business to establish these terms at the onset.

Defining ground rules for promotion strategies, and being clear about what messages and promotional methods are off-limits, is imperative early on. Communicating this in the beginning saves you from challenges that may arise later.

Part of setting clear expectations for your affiliates is making sure they understand any consequences they’ll face if they breach protocol. Strong management tools will support this. 

2. Train your affiliates well

Successful affiliate marketing management requires active participation. Brands do well when they provide necessary videos and guides for affiliate education. These are critical for onboarding and ongoing training.

When you provide the right training to your affiliate partners, you create an environment of success and functionality. Affiliates will know what to do and they’ll take the action needed. Providing your affiliate marketing team with training can improve affiliate performance.

Often, affiliates are social media marketers and bloggers. They know the importance of keeping pace with trends when it comes to communicating about your products. For example, they may want to capitalize on the popularity of videos and podcasts. Training and materials to help them do this while upholding your brand identity will create a win-win situation.

3. Keep affiliates updated

Affiliates are promoting your products in real time. It’s important to tell affiliates about ongoing product updates, promotions, and any changes in policy – as they happen. 

highlevel affiliate newsletter

Keep your affiliates in the know about important in-house information. There are a number of ways to do this, like effective marketing campaigns, you need to get the word out. Some strategies to share updates with your affiliates are:

  • Email newsletters
  • Your affiliate portal
  • Webinars/trainings
  • A private affiliate forum
  • A private social media group
  • Automated alerts or notifications
  • Personalized communications

4. Provide the necessary tools and resources

Whether they’re new affiliates or long-time influencers for your brand, your affiliates need the right tools and resources to optimize their results and turn their followers into conversions.

Provide high-quality marketing materials to your affiliates. This upholds brand consistency and also takes the guesswork out of sharing about your product. These assets may be website banners, social media graphics, appropriate links, and additional promotional materials. You might also create dedicated landing pages on your website, just for affiliates to send their leads to.

activecampaign affiliate resources

5. Regularly communicate with affiliates

Regular communication ensures that affiliates are well-informed about new products, promotions, and changes in policy. When the communication strategy is efficient, affiliates can respond swiftly to changes in market trends, they can capitalize on emerging opportunities, and align their own marketing strategies for optimal performance.

Develop a culture of open communication to create a sense of community and shared purpose among your affiliates. Listen to their concerns, and respond quickly. When you provide personalized communication, you cultivate stronger bonds. 

Affiliates who feel valued will engage more readily and be more invested in promoting the brand. These are the affiliates who will drive results. Celebrate their efforts and provide constructive support and feedback as necessary.

As a brand, you have the unique role of inspiring a sense of pride and accomplishment for each affiliate. They’ll be motivated to contribute to the brand’s performance when they know their worth.

How to manage affiliates: Optimizing performance

Now that you’ve got strategies for communicating with affiliates, it’s time to focus on how to boost affiliates’ performance. Setting strategic commission rates is one crucial part of affiliate management, but continuing to make data-driven decisions throughout the program is just as vital.

1. Offer competitive commission rates

If you want to foster high-performance affiliate partnerships, you’ll want to have your commission rates optimized for the best results. Offer your affiliates a competitive commission rate and payout to attract and retain high performers.

One of the keys to starting a successful affiliate program is setting up the best commission structure for your business. Remenber that affiliate marketing is meant to be performance marketing – you should only pay an affiliate when they deliver meaningful results for your brand.

Typically, choices for the type of commission payment may be cash or store credit per sale.

Stay away from pay-per-click or pay-per-impression models, because they put you at much higher risk of affiliate abuse. A better way is to pay a set amount per sale or a percentage of each sale that an affiliate makes.

Remember, you’ll need to choose between paying in cash or store credit. Generally, a percentage commission that is paid in cash will attract and keep the best marketing affiliates. 

affiliate commission payout example

You are in control when it comes to what commission structure you choose, such as percentage based, flat-rate, or a hybrid model. Percentage-based commissions provide a scalable approach. This incentivizes affiliates to aim for high-value sales. Flat rate commissions are simple and predictable, while hybrid models provide the best of both worlds and may cater to your affiliate preferences. 

You might also add a tiered component to your affiliate campaign, where commissions increase the more sales someone makes, or pay out bonuses when affiliates reach certain lifetime sales goals. And when possible, offer discount codes and coupon codes for your affiliates’ audiences. This supports affiliates to make more sales and earn more commission, as the reduced prices make their audience more likely to buy.

It’s important to strike a balance between what commission rate is sustainable, based on the cost of each lead, and offering great commission rates that are competitive. For your affiliate marketing program to be sustainable, you must ensure that profitability remains intact. It’s a fine balance to do this and keep your affiliates happy. 

2. Regularly review and optimize the affiliate program

Regularly review and adjust your program, including commission rates, as necessary. This ensures sustainability for your affiliate marketing program.

There are a number of key things to look at in order to regularly review and optimize your affiliate marketing program. To assess the effectiveness of your program, you’ll need to track and analyze results such as key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics.

These metrics provide insight into your program’s performance, affiliate management, and overall success. You’ll need to consider metrics like:

  • Sales revenue
  • Conversion rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Earnings per click
  • Earnings per affiliate channel
  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • New customer acquisition
  • Retention rates
  • Average order value
  • Time to convert
  • Affiliate engagement
  • Affiliate traffic sources
  • Geographic performance
  • Quality of leads and customers

Affiliate marketing software efficiently automates sale attribution and tracking, so you can see all of the critical data regularly. This helps you make informed decisions about your affiliate marketing program as needed.

3. Review individual affiliate performance

To run an optimized affiliate marketing program, it’s critical to regularly review performance trends of individual affiliate partners. By closely monitoring affiliate performance, you’re better able to identify high-performers, understand the strategies they use for success, and recognize areas for improvement.

Taking a data-driven approach to individual reviews helps your brand make informed affiliate management decisions. This fosters a productive affiliate community that maximizes performance.

Acting on performance reviews is important. You want your affiliates to be high performing, you want to support them when they lag. Paying attention to the data helps you develop rewards that suit your affiliate’s performance levels.

When an affiliate is not performing as well as you expect, you’ll want to take proactive measures to address the situation. Additional training may be required, or they may be at the end of their affiliate lifecycle. 

If affiliates are engaging in suspicious activity such as producing false results or conducting unethical practices, you must act swiftly to protect your brand. If fraudulent activity is confirmed it’s time to terminate the partnership. You’ve got a brand reputation and customers to protect.

Fraud detection tools (included in affiliate software) help businesses identify suspicious activity so they can act accordingly. Maintaining a trustworthy affiliate program is your responsibility as an affiliate marketing program manager. 

How to manage affiliates: Building strong relationships

A key part of successful affiliate marketing efforts is building strong relationships, as this makes affiliates feel truly valued. Follow these tips to best manage your relationships with affiliates: 

1. Foster a sense of community

When you build strong relationships with your affiliates, you build a strong community. Your affiliates are an integral part of your external brand communications. When you foster a sense of community through events, forums, or running contests, you create a culture that affiliates love being part of.

Digital and physical affiliate communities can be used to improve collaboration and performance. Using affiliate management software, you might also create leaderboards to help motivate affiliates. Top performers often inspire other affiliates and are useful for training and communications to encourage high performance. 

affiliate leaderboard

2. Treat affiliates as partners

Affiliates are not just another sales channel. They are your partners. Mutual respect and transparency support building strong affiliate relationships.

When you ask your affiliates for feedback regularly, you are better prepared to make important changes in a timely manner. Affiliates may need additional support through specific training or marketing and brand materials – listen to and address those needs, and you’ll build even more rapport with them.

It’s imperative that affiliates receive commission payments as agreed. Affiliate management is fast-paced. Timely and accurate commission payments are crucial in maintaining trust and motivation.


Now that you’ve finished this guide, you know how to manage affiliates in a stellar affiliate program, Use these best practices and strategies that are at the core of successful affiliate management, so you can create and maintain a highly successful affiliate program.

Effective affiliate management (including using the right software) is the foundation of a successful affiliate program. Apply the tips we covered above to help manage your affiliates more effectively.