The B2B sector appears to be one of the last bastions of the online world that affiliate marketing has yet to entrench. I believe the reasons for this are partly due to the inherent differences in the sales process between B2B and B2C companies, but also because B2B companies and affiliates are yet to fully embrace one another and show the necessary ‘leap of faith’.

Voucher code sites make up a large portion of the sales on most B2C affiliate programmes; in the majority of cases, these, as well as other ‘traditional’ affiliates, will not be applicable for B2B programmes.

General business sites with good traffic will struggle to gain a mutually satisfactory CPA rate unless the product has a very broad appeal. Content affiliates generally fall into the mid to long tail bracket for B2C programmes, but they are most certainly ‘king’ for B2B programmes.

‘Spray & Pray’ Will Not Work 

In B2C programmes, content sites can afford to be slightly broad and vague and so cover a wide range of B2C sectors and products. However, in the B2B realm, they must be focused towards the specific sector of the company they are promoting and be optimised for search traffic relating to their products. Simply providing some general content and adding an assortment of banners and links might generate some decent revenue for a B2C content affiliate, but this ‘spray and pray’ approach won’t work in B2B unless the site’s traffic is ridiculously high.

A good content site might take time for the affiliate to create or for the affiliate manager to find and recruit, but the bounty should make this worthwhile. 

The sales process for B2B companies is much longer; whereas a consumer can viably go from never hearing of a product to impulsively purchasing it in the space of 24 hours or less; this is not the case for B2B companies.  B2B purchases are very rarely made on a whim or impulsively, based upon a tantalising offer; the consumer will do a fair amount of research and the sale must be carefully nurtured. 

Voucher code and cashback sites can help to capture people as they near the end of the sales funnel so B2B companies shouldn’t ignore these, but lead generation plays an integral part of a B2B company’s sales process and this can be the heart of the problem. 

A Tailored Approach

A good B2B ‘lead’ can potentially be worth hundreds or thousands of pounds but if the quality isn’t monitored, a lot of the merchant’s money can be wasted. To ensure money isn’t wasted on poor quality leads, merchants would rather pay on a cost-per-sale but this can result in a prolonged lifecycle between an affiliate providing the initial customer contact and then having confirmation of the sale.  A tailored approach needs to be taken so the commission is fair and reflects the quality of the individual affiliate’s traffic. Paying a standard rate based on the lowest common denominator will not attract the premium affiliates necessary to make the programme work.    

Affiliate marketing is in its element when the boundaries are clear cut and as much as possible is automated, transparent and handled online.  However, in B2B, things can get murky – what if the contract takes a few extra days past the agreed cookie period to get signed or if the customer has been in contact with the company before over the phone?  Affiliates might be happy not to bother disputing these things if you are talking about a few pounds in commission, but in B2B these things can make the difference between a few hundred pounds.   

Ensure Same Level of Quality 

The B2B market is always going to be smaller than B2C in terms of sales volume but in terms of revenue generation, B2B is much stronger. Forrester research predicts B2B e-commerce is more than twice the size of B2C e-commerce. By the end of 2013, Forrester forecasts that front-end B2B e-commerce transactions are expected to reach $559 billion.  By comparison, B2C e-commerce is only estimated to hit $252 billion. 

It’s down to B2B merchants to provide a smooth, purely-online sales journey, with a content-rich website that offers the consumer the same level of quality they have grown to expect from B2C websites – build this and the affiliates will come! Then, it’s down to the affiliate, the network and the merchant to foster a close, trusting, relationship and ensure everything is done to optimise the quality of the sales or leads provided and the time spent from the affiliate providing the required course of action and getting paid is minimised. I think this is key to maintaining a sustainable, long-term relationship between the merchant and the affiliate, which is what affiliate marketing should be all about.