Industry Interview with Award Winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams

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As a continuation to my “Getting to Know Performance Based Marketing” interview series, I asked award winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams, a few questions. In his responses are some great points and tips for new merchants coming into the space.

Q:   How did you get into the Affiliate Marketing industry?

“Everyone seems to have a story for that question. It seems like we are approaching the first generation of people who actually got into affiliate marketing because they wanted to and set out to do it.

I am like so many over the past 10 years…I got into it by accident. I worked with a good friend of mine, Hunter Ingram, at HometownQuotes in 2004. I had no idea what an affiliate was. I was doing sales, web design, PR, and small bits of coding and Hunter was doing the marketing and affiliate management and was CEO. 

By mid-2006 it dawned on me that I was the one doing all of the communicating with affiliates. Poor Hunter…he was completely clueless on the programming and technical side of things so inevitably everyone got turned over to me at some point.

I complained about it so he made it official…I was the new HometownQuotes Affiliate Manager. Congratulations to me. Everything from that point forward is a blur and I have loved every minute of it.”

Q: What do you like best about the industry?

“First, the growth potential for individuals. Anyone can truly make as much as they want within reason…and “within reason” can have a lot of zeroes. 

Second, the individuals themselves. The people are generally amazing. Some of my most productive and enjoyable relationships are with affiliates and other affiliate managers. I have received so much help from well over 50 people over the past 6 years; affiliate managers and affiliates alike. “

Q: What do you think merchants need the most help with when starting out?

“I still don’t feel like I have figured that out yet.

If I have to answer it I would say they absolutely have to understand what affiliates want from them and there is no better way to find out than to ask. If at all possible, they should form an advisory group of 3-5 affiliates on whom they can lean heavily. It’s hard to do that without getting started, so if they have the money, get an experienced manager. If they are doing it themselves, they need to reach out to a few, offer something in return, and get their help. It takes a lot of time, but is well worth it.

Also, they need to know the landscape of their industry insanely well. They need to know who has an affiliate program, they need to join it if at all possible, and they need to know every detail about those programs: commissions, products, conversions, features, etc. You cannot lose sight of the fact that often affiliates are a small commission increase or better offer away from bolting for greener pastures.

Too many merchants throw up a link, get a $99 software to run the program, offer a % of the revenue and think it’s going to buy them a new house in the country with a well stocked lake and a new Mercedes. The reality, there is so much work before the program even launches.”

Q: What do you wish you knew when you first started that you would have done differently?

“The one thing I would have done differently is putting our program on a network. At HometownQuotes, it might not have been a good fit for ShareASale because of the dynamics, but with every other program I have been a part of it is absolutely the right choice. Being on a network has a ton of benefits, from helping recruit affiliates to tons of features that you just cannot get on an in-house program without tons of development time. 

Also, you don’t have to worry about paying them. Early on, that is important. You can consolidate your expenses into one payment rather than hundreds.”

Q: What do you think needs to be done to help bring a better name to the affiliate marketing industry overall?

“This might be a little controversial…OK probably not, but I wish that about 2% of the people in this industry would get out and do something else, like join the mob or the space program. The 98+% of the people in affiliate marketing are drowned out too often by some of the bad apples. The spammers, the coupon crooks (again a few bad apples within that niche give the rest a bad name), cookie stuffers, and shady review sites make the industry as a whole look like a scam to people who don’t know any better.

It begins with merchant education on the problems so they can police their own affiliates. Then the networks have to use information wisely and judiciously. As much money as some affiliates are making some networks and/or merchants, it can be hard to do the right thing, but it must be done for the sake of our industry as a whole.”

Matt is an affiliate manager consultant and trainer at Affiliate Management Trainers which offers personalized affiliate management training for internet retailers, and is available along with the rest of the AMT team to help merchants better understand their affiliates needs, how to get them active, how to recruit strong performing partners, how to improve their internal performance based marketing strategy and much more.