If you’re going to achieve your sales objectives this holiday season, you MUST avoid the season’s equivalent of affiliate marketing “wack-a-mole” where MANY things are clamoring for your attention.

You need to focus on what’s important.

If you want this holiday season to be your best ever, there are 3 key areas you need to focus on…

  • Priorities
  • Making your program stand out
  • Giving affiliates what they need to succeed

This post is going to explain how to achieve all these objectives so you can maximize your sales this year.

And, in the true spirit of holiday season, I’ve included a bonus section where top affiliates reveal THEIR holiday strategies.

Okay…let’s get started…

No doubt about it…for many this is THE most chaotic time of year!

Especially for affiliate managers and business owners who are running their own affiliate programs.

To keep your sanity AND maximize your sales, you MUST use your time efficiently and effectively.

So let’s take a look at how to do that…

Your Holiday Season Priorities

There are an endless amount of things you COULD be doing.

But there a number of things you NEED to devote your attention to:

1) Focus on your existing affiliates

This is not the time to go out and try to recruit a ton of affiliates. It’s tempting. But, it doesn’t work. In theory, you’d think an increase in the quantity of affiliates would translate into more sales.

Here’s the issue…The holidays are a busy time of year for everyone.

Visibility is key during this time.

Communicating with brand new affiliates, who aren’t used to getting your emails and aren’t familiar with you, is VERY time-consuming.

Think about it. They probably have 17 other people emailing them. It’s okay to identify a few great new affiliates who might help you reach into some unique niches, but that’s it.

Spend your time with the affiliates who “get” you and your process.

Focus your time and effort on servicing the affiliates you already have.

2) Identify your “needle movers”

All your affiliates are important but there are some who are VERY important.

These are your “needle movers” – the affiliates who are going to sell the most.

For example, if an affiliate counts for 5% of your sales and you help her grow by 50%, that’s a 2.5% lift in YOUR sales. Time well spent.


…if you help ten affiliates who collectively account for 1% of your sales grow by 50%, that’s only a half percent.

No brainer, right?

You want to spend your time on the activity that produces a 5X difference.

I’m not suggesting that you adopt this attitude all year long…just during YOUR busy season.

(As you know, I’m a huge advocate for working with smaller affiliates and for helping them to grow.)

It’s just that during the holiday season, you’ve only got 8 hours to 9 hours per day to be productive.

Bottom line: If you have a product that only accounts for half a percent of your sales and you have another one that accounts for 10% of your sales, you focus on the proven performers.

3) Start NOW

You cannot wait until the week of Thanksgiving. There’s too much to do…starting with getting to know your existing affiliates.

All by itself, that’s a big job.

Learn about their revenue and their traffic sources. What are their stats? Study the heck out of the stats so you can get a sense of who could dramatically increase your sales.

Start planning your promotions and contests now. What do you need to request of your marketing department? Hopefully, you’ve already got your Black Friday stuff, but what do you need from them for the first and second weeks of December? What do you need from them for that Hanukkah promotion or that free shipping day promotion or that last shipping day before Christmas promotion?

And what do you need to request from your tech team? Your graphic designers? Copywriters?

There are many people on your team who “touch” your affiliate program. Start talking to them now. The last thing you want to hear at this time of year is…”I can’t get that to you right now, I’m just too busy.”

So, figure out ALL the things you need. Are your holiday promotions actually optimized? Are there special checkout pages? Are they working properly? What about any discount codes? Are THEY actually working?

NOW is the time to test things. Yesterday was better!

4) Study the competition

What are they doing promotion-wise? Sign up for their affiliate program and see how they’re communicating. Maybe you can just beat them by being faster?

I can tell you right now…if we’re two weeks from Black Friday and it comes down to picking between two programs, I’m picking the one that’s ready to go. One may offer a 40% commission. The other offers 30%, but it’s ready. I’ll take 10% less. I mean that’s a simple thing right there.

Look at your affiliate payout. Assuming that they are doing all the right things and offering a 40% commission but you’re at 30%, THAT’S a problem.

Maybe YOU need to bump up to 40% right now, cut into your margins a little bit so you can dramatically increase your sales.

What are they doing in terms of competitions and incentives? Are they running specific contests or incentive programs?

What kind of creatives are they providing? If they’ve got 10 different Facebook-sized graphics and they’re all holiday-themed, you probably need to have at least five. You don’t need 10…but you can’t have two.

What are your competitors doing in terms of communication? How often are they reaching out to affiliates?

Here’s a great example of how you can gain a competitive advantage…

Almost 15 years ago, we had a competitor that always sent their weekly affiliate communication out on Tuesday afternoon. I started sending ours out Wednesday morning so that I could be able to react to theirs and look and see what they were doing.

Then, I moved ours up to Monday so that I was first. I just thought…we’re actually more creative, more adept than them. Let’s just beat them to market.

That’s the type of thing you want to do when you study the competition.

5) Watch out for fraud

Holiday season is like a magnet for affiliate fraudsters. (Although, it’s not as big a problem as you might think.)

What brings out the “bad” guys?…The surge in legitimate orders.

The increased activity at holiday time makes it easier for them to slide under fraud detection radar.

If you have 100 orders a day and two fraudulent ones, chances are, after a week or so, you’re probably going to catch the bad ones.

But when you have 1,000 orders a day and you get two fraudulent ones, you might not even notice.

For me, as an affiliate manager, the few times that I’ve ever had to address fraud occurred during a multimillion-dollar product launch or during the holidays.

Also, you want to be on the lookout for things that are against your rules.

They may not be illegal, but they’re against your rules.

Take pay-per-click trademark bidding…if you don’t allow it, just say so.

But make sure you DO watch out for things like…

…multiple orders coming from the same IP address.

…an affiliate who came out of left field and had a huge spike in sales.

…really high or really low conversion rates.

Holiday Season Rule-of-Thumb: Look for all the activities you normally would when trying to identify fraud.

For example, if you have an affiliate who’s never promoted before and he comes out of nowhere and sends 50 sales in a day with two of them experiencing credit card fraud, I’d be really watching their sales.

In fact, I would audit every single one of their sales.

6) Plan for Q1

Just because 30, 40, 50% of your sales are going to come over the next few weeks, it doesn’t mean you can forget about Q1.

You ALWAYS have to keep an eye on the future. You need to make time to plan the first 90 days into the new year.

I usually start doing this in October so that I don’t have to do it in December.

But if you didn’t do that, do it now. Set aside a 4-hour work block or two. Then, sit down and plan Q1.

What promos are you going to run for your affiliates? What are things you’re going to do to activate affiliates?

Just go ahead and create a plan for the first quarter of next year.

You don’t want to be so focused on the short term that you forget about the future.

How To Make Your Affiliate Program Stand Out

I’ve said this many times before…getting noticed today is easier than at any point in human history.

But STANDING OUT is harder than ever!

That’s especially true for affiliate programs at this time of year.

Affiliates are getting more emails than at any other point in the whole year. There are more offers to join programs…mostly because more people are spending money.

By most accounts, the average customer is spending about four times more in this one-month stretch than any other month of the year.

So, how do you make sure you get YOUR share of the holiday season pie and avoid getting drowned out in all the “noise?”

Here are just some of the things you can do to stand out:

Over-communicate the important dates

As an affiliate manager, make it your mission to over-communicate the important dates. Affiliates need to know ALL those dates…every single one.

Maybe you’re doing something different on December 10th? They need to know. Maybe there’s a flash sale going on? Or a two-day sale or weekend sale? Let them know.

Is there some sort of a special offer, bundle or discount they need to know about?

And don’t forget to spell out date ranges. For example, is your Black Friday sale Friday only? Friday through the weekend? What about Cyber Monday? Is it one day or two? Does it expire at 6:00 PM Eastern or midnight Pacific? Where does it apply?

And how about the last shipping day? Is it for the lower 48? Is it different for Alaska and Hawaii? Does it include Canada?

The amount of attention you devote to these details will determine the success of your program.

Remember, during holiday season you must BATTLE every day for your affiliate’s attention.

So over-communicate the dates and the promos, what they should be doing,  their links and where to get resources like swipe copy, and graphics and promotional strategies.

Use one-on-one communication

Committing to one-on-one communication isn’t easy. But, it’s absolutely worth it.

Instead of having your affiliate thinking, ‘Oh wow. I’m one of a hundred thousand people getting this email’, a personal message demonstrates you care.

Using Facebook Messenger, Instagram, DMs, Voxer and text messages are all great ways to stay top of mind.

You can’t do this with a thousand affiliates, but you can do it with the ones who are gonna move the needle.

Imagine an affiliate getting a message like this…“Hey dude, I just sent her an email with an update. It’s got your links for the upcoming promo and some swipe copy. Let me know if you need anything else.”

THAT gets an affiliate’s attention!

Use physical mail

Physical mail stands out.

Sure, you might spend a thousand dollars to send a holiday guide to 500 affiliates but it could be the best investment you make. You could print a five-page guide at Staples for about a dollar each…maybe a bit more if you add color. Five pages might cost you a buck twenty on the high end. It would probably cost about two bucks to mail via USPS. That’s $1,000 investment to stand out to 500 affiliates. That’s IMPACT!

Put together a “save the date” postcard. This could be a weekly postcard with reminders of those important dates we identified earlier.

Get creative with prizes and incentives

Run all kinds of different contests around specific dates and products. Get creative. Do an eight-day Hanukkah promotion. Do a free shipping promotion. Bundle three products for the price of two. Constantly look for ways to put together different deals and bonuses

Tell affiliates that, if they hit a certain threshold, they get X. For example, make a hundred thousand in sales, you get $20,000.

Now here’s the key. Your contests need to be individualized.

Here’s why…if I go out and say, anybody who hits a hundred thousand dollars in sales, gets $20,000, I KNOW I’ve got seven affiliates who are going to do that without any extra effort.

I want to know who’s going to hit $162k without really going out of their way. I want to incentivize THEM to hit 200,000. That will give me $38,000 in additional sales and I’m going to pay them $20,000 to do it, plus their affiliate commissions. If I can incentivize them now to push, they’re going to keep pushing long-term.

So make sure you offer individual prizes and contests. Get them excited. Do some drawings for your smaller affiliates.

“Hey, if you make one Black Friday sale, you’re entered to win this thousand dollar product or a thousand dollar prize” or “If you do five sales between December 1st and December 10th, you’re entered to win this prize”.

Do some fun stuff and get everyone in the game.

Give Your Affiliates What They Need

Your affiliates depend on you to give them what they need to succeed.

After all, making sure they have what they need could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to you.

Here are a number of ways you can make life easier for your affiliates so they can deliver a great ROI…

1) They need to know what’s hot

What are the hot items this time of year? What should they be promoting? Especially if you have multiple products. What products are outperforming the norms? When are those products hot? Are there certain products that are hot on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

Maybe there’s some stuff that’s geared more towards New Year resolutions. People won’t be buying them as gifts but for themselves for the new year.

Are there products that are more popular early in the shopping season? Newsflash: women shop earlier than men. Many men do their Christmas shopping AFTER December 15th. The targeting will be different depending on who is doing the buying. So it’s important to make sure your affiliates know that.

2) They need a winning plan

Affiliates need a year-round plan but they ESPECIALLY need one during the holiday season. And, it’s your job to put it together.

You can download our planning template for this. It’s the same template that we’ve used to get our affiliates to promote a bunch more.

Click here to get our promo plan template

All you have to do is hop on a quick 15-minute Zoom call and co-create a plan. Then, simply go through the schedule. ‘We’ve got Black Friday…This deal goes on Cyber Monday. We have the last shipping thing. Okay. So you’re going to send a teaser email on Tuesday, and then we’re going to give you early access to our Black Friday deals. So you can promote that starting at 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving.’

Boom. Boom. Boom. You just go down the line and create a plan with them. Affiliates need to be led through the plan for best results.

3) Your affiliates need great creatives

I’m not a creative expert but here are some tips I’ve picked up from our graphic designers…

a) Use images of people, not cartoon-style graphics. They convert better.
b) Keep your pictures simple with a focus on the use of the product or the product itself.
c) Split test your creative early on. Especially for your Black Friday creative.
d) Create a sense of urgency, use creativity to focus on things like deadlines and sales ending.

And, make sure that the text is legible on mobile.

If possible create holiday-themed creatives. The research shows a 14% increase in sales just by making graphics, slightly holiday-themed with snow, red and green, blue, and gold, etc. And, if your affiliates ask for a specific graphic, do your best to create it. It’s usually not that hard to do.

4) You must be available and present for your affiliates

That means managing your energy. Especially where sleep is concerned.

Shave a little bit off your normal sleep habits. If you normally get 8 hours, you might need to drop that to seven and a half. For me, seven and a half hours has always been ideal.

Whatever it is for you, prioritize sleep.

That might mean giving up a little bit of social time but it’s important in helping you manage your energy.

Have a conversation with family members and explain you’re in for a busy four weeks.

I’m not suggesting you spend no time together. Just cut back a little bit and go to bed a little bit earlier so you can wake up earlier feeling energized.

Also, you need to find time to exercise. If you typically do an hour and a half workout every day, maybe cut it to an hour and 10 minutes,

Now, how do you balance this with being available during busy times?

For me, the key is going through the day in two-and-a-half blocks of time over a 14 hour period. Then, I alternate between work-related activity and family time.

Even though it’s 14 hours, I never really work more than maybe eight, eight and a half hours in a day.

The key is that no one ever goes more than a couple of hours without a response.

And then on weekends, I would just check in like, three or four times real quick. 10, 15, 20 minutes tops.

So. that’s how you can manage your energy.

5) Keep surprises to a minimum

Your affiliates need a plan that everyone sticks to. No surprises. Don’t create a plan and then start changing it.

It’s okay to call an audible once during the month. But not every week. Don’t start going off and doing this thing and that thing and adding this and pulling in that…

One of the best ways to do this is to put a moratorium on tech updates. We have a rule where the Thursday before Thanksgiving was the last day to do any tech updates. We created and tested everything we could. That left us time to test it on the following day. And if anything needed to be fixed, it could be fixed on Monday. Done.

So…no surprises.

BONUS: Top Affiliate Managers Reveal Their Holiday Strategies

Here are some affiliate managers, friends and some other legends in the industry sharing their strategies for running their affiliate program effectively during the holidays,

JANINE CROOKS  “I’m the partner acquisition and development manager at Awan US. We own the Awan and Share A Sale affiliate networks. I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. So I’ve seen quite a few Q4 best practices. I wanted to share my number one strategy for making the most of your holiday sales…

Maximization is the key.

It’s vital that you study each aspect of your affiliate program to maximize the opportunity. Start by identifying and reaching out to your top publishers to ensure that everything has been checked and double-checked make sure all the links are working, that your publishers know about your best offers and have the creative and coupon codes they need. For your best publishers, even consider offering exclusive coupon codes or paying to boost exposure on their sites. Many may have affordable ways to place a special banner. Be included in an email, get the top listing on a page, or garner an exclusive blog post. When you already know that these publishers are top performers, the risk-reward ratio on these types of activities is quite low.

Since affiliate marketing is performance-based, leverage that encourages additional promotion during the holidays, consider promoting a special bonus based on any of your key metrics, whether that’s the number of sales, total sales volume, or average order value. This is something any affiliate can participate in. In fact, I often suggest having two types of promotions, one for the larger publishers and another for your smaller program members. The key here is to have something that they perceive as winnable, something that they feel like they can achieve. If they just put in some extra work on your program.

For the smaller affiliates, maybe it’s something like three sales or five sales or a bonus on all sales, over a hundred dollars. Something that they know they can do, something that’s not designed only for the big guys to win where the smaller side simply can’t compete and announcing this now also gives them time to put everything in place to win before the busiest time of the buying season. Maximize your communications with your affiliates too. Remember they are your partners, and as such, they could work best with you if they know your plans for the holidays. While I understand that maybe you don’t want to say what your special deals will be yet.

You can at least share with them that you’ll have deals on product categories or even special items. Tell your affiliates if you’re going to have special deals for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, your small business Saturday, especially tell them if you’re going to start holiday pricing earlier than black Friday, with all the supply chain issues and inflation, eating up. Some folk’s incomes, many merchants are starting their holiday promotions in mid-November, rather than waiting for the end of the month. Maximize alerting your affiliates and your customers about anything which is in short supply, or could be delayed in delivery. After 2020 consumers understand that some things may be hard to get like electronics or fitness equipment, but they’ll still buy even if it’s delayed, as long as they’re kept informed.

Trust your affiliates to help spread the word on your behalf and send out updates at least weekly about any issues and supplies or delivery, making it feel like a team effort to work together on this and that energy will carry over to the consumers as well at Awan and Share A Sale. We expect Q4 2021 to be spectacular. We hope it is for you as well. Both networks have additional tips and tricks on the awan.com and shareasale.com blogs wishing you a fantastic holiday season.”

STEPHANIE ROBBINS  “I’m with Robinson Interactive, a niche affiliate management agency focused on health and wellness brands. My number one tip for having a successful and profitable holiday season is to have as many assets as possible for your affiliates, as I’m sure this is an incredibly competitive time in the industry and you will be competing with a lot of brands with really big budgets. So my intent is to make it as easy as possible to promote my brands by going beyond banners and deals.

I offer everything from social media-sized images, videos, customized discount codes, HTML, email templates, landing pages, just as a few examples. I also create campaign asset pages that include topic ideas such as niche gift guides that would work well with my brands. This way I’m providing everything in affiliate means to be successful or at a minimum, get the ball rolling for their campaigns.”

RICK MAGENNIS  “Hi, I’m from Bear Cat Media. We are a full-service affiliate program management agency, and I am also the host and owner of the Rick Magennis show podcast, where we talk about all things affiliate program management. Today, I am going to share with you my number one tip for brands to make this the best Q4 ever.

So when I talk to brands and clients about increasing their sales for Q4, the number one thing I do is recommend allocating some additional budget to the affiliate/partner program. But also what I do is ask them to not only allocate more budget but to use that budget, to get into gift guides in content that is going to be searched during the holiday season so that they can make the most of it.

The gift guides are, are a very important piece to many brands Q4 sales, and I cannot stress it enough that it is a tremendous opportunity to get in front of a large number of customers, but also start a relationship with an affiliate that you may be working with for years to come.

It may start out as an inclusion or gift guide, and it may generate a significant amount of revenue for you, and then starting in Q1 and beyond it can blossom into something more, but the gift guides are very important because it puts your brand and your products in front of eyeballs that may have never even known about your brand or even considered your brand. So taking that budget that we talked about earlier, we took some budget and allocated it more towards the affiliate program.

Use that to get into some of the larger gift guides or the more established affiliate gift guides so that you can make this the best Q4 ever. I’ve seen this year in and year out work tremendously with not only my clients but other brands as well. And what happens is every year that you do this, the affiliates we’ll keep coming back to you asking you for inclusion.”

And then that just builds that relationship, which affiliate marketing is all about, but it’s going to pay dividends for not only the affiliate but for you as the brand. And again, I can’t recommend this strategy enough, and I wish you the best of luck this Q4 and holiday season and I hope to talk to you guys soon.

KELLY GROUND  “I’m the head of an affiliate and brand strategy from the premier global partner marketing agency, Acceleration Partners. I want to share my number one strategy to drive profitable sales this holiday season. Affiliate marketing is one of the most profitable marketing channels in the industry because we’re able to pay partners on a CPA and only pay if an action occurs. That means right now with the supply chain issue and inventory struggles, you will not pay for the traffic coming to your site.

You will only pay a commission to a partner if the traffic converts to a sale or order, therefore now more than ever, it is important to invest in affiliate marketing, especially if you want to hit specific KPIs, such as an aggressive return on ad spend. With affiliate marketing, you can work with a variety of partners and not have to necessarily rely on your brand’s promotions to be successful.

We know this holiday season we’ll have limited promotions with inventory issues. So leverage affiliate partners to engage with the audience you want. For loyalty partners, create your own promotion by offering a higher award or cashback rate. You do not need to have a site-wide offer to be successful

For mass-media partners, take advantage of the product roundups. Such as what are the best gifts for your dad this holiday season, or what are some great last-minute gifts as you get closer to Christmas, there are so many options. And finally, in addition to supporting your profitable revenue growth, remember affiliate marketing is the only channel that will give your money back when items are returned. So come January and consumers decide they want to return some of their gifts. You will be able to get your money back from partners.

If you’re in that locking period still. You do not get your money back from other channels. So think about it. You’re paying for a potential CPC to drive traffic to your site. The product may be out of stock. The consumer could even abandon the cart, or if the consumer does buy, they end up returning the items. You are still paying for that click, whether a transaction happens or not. Just another reason to love affiliate marketing. If you have any questions and you want to learn more, please visit www.accelerationpartners.com. Thank you.”

LINSEY KMETZ  “I’m Managing Director for Apogee Agency. We are a digital marketing agency based out of Atlanta, Georgia that specializes in affiliate program management, public relations, influencer marketing, and paid digital advertising. My number one tip for affiliate managers to activate their affiliates is to treat every affiliate you have like a part of your sales team, equipping them with all of the tools they need to promote the brand in the absolute best light, brightly colored creatives, product knowledge, and even the ability to use the products themselves to share with their audience over and over are crucial to the success of affiliate promotions in 2021. To take that one step further, consider giving your content creators the best web type deal to offer to their audience that can not be found anywhere else.

Customer behavior is constantly evolving and many people see something online and immediately hop over to see if it’s available on Amazon, cutting the affiliate out of that sale completely by offering a deal or a discount that is more attractive to the customer than what is available on Amazon or the large coupon sites gives that affiliate a fighting chance against the big guys for the sale.”


Text me anytime at (260) 217-4619.

Or…check out some of my free reports to help you get on the right track:

Find Your First 100 Affiliates

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Affiliate Program Terms & Conditions Template

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Get My Template for Writing Affiliate Emails

Sales secrets of successful affiliate marketers

Affiliate Marketing Sales Secrets

Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing with a resources page

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