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Industry, and For Newbies

Can affiliate marketing replace sales?

Andrej Csizmadia

July 14, 2020
Last modified on June 17, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Affiliate marketing can be considered as a kinship of sales. In fact, both of these business activities are very similar and have the same purpose – to sell a product or service. Is it worth investing in affiliate marketing if your company has a capable sales department? Which of these methods works better, sales, or affiliate marketing?

Let’s compare these two business initiatives and consider if affiliate marketing can replace sales.

How does affiliate marketing work

The idea behind affiliate marketing is pretty simple. Affiliates first subscribe to a company’s affiliate program or network (usually just by joining it for free). Then affiliates promote products or services offered by a particular company and direct followers or potential clients to the brand’s website or a selling platform, using their unique affiliate links. 

How does commission work

Depending on a program’s conditions, an affiliate collects commission after each successful transaction. So selling as many products or services as possible is essential for both a merchant (seller) and an affiliate.

Read more: Affiliate marketing for beginners

Affiliate marketing as a support for sales

Now that you know how affiliate marketing works, it’s time to learn how to implement it in your business. Let’s start with affiliate marketing being used to support sales activities. When is it worth aligning the goals of your sales department with those of your affiliate program?

Affiliate marketing can be useful to test demand. If you are introducing a new product line, before getting all of your salespeople involved (and paying them a higher salary or commission), it may be worth launching an affiliate program. If it turns out that the demand is lower than you expected, you will only pay your affiliates for products that were sold thanks to them.

You can also implement affiliate marketing as an early-stage promotion — to promote a new product using affiliate marketing and see if demand is increasing or not. In the end, it may turn out that it is more profitable to continue with affiliate marketing than to invest in employing a group of salespeople within their own department.

Affiliate marketing is a perfect solution if you want to improve contact between customers and your company. These types of activities can be used as social proof. Nothing convinces people more than knowing that those who they follow and respect (influencers) use certain products and recommend them. 

Learn more: How to Choose the Right Influencer For Your Affiliate Marketing Program

Salespeople are very often seen as pushy clerks who want to sell a product to a customer at all costs. If the same customer, who perceives sales reps as intrusive and unempathetic, spots a post on Instagram published by their favorite influencer promoting a certain product, then they are more likely to be interested in buying it. And maybe that customer will go on to recommend it to others too. Remember that social proof is vital in sales and can directly influence buying decisions. As you can see, user-generated content is not the only marketing channel that can bring good results.

Since affiliates earn a commission (not salary) it’s very easy to motivate them to sell more. Let your sales department sell your regular product line, and if it doesn’t go well, leave it up to your affiliates. 

If you think that they need extra motivation, simply raise their commission. You will notice that sales will improve quickly. Your regular line will note higher sales volumes thanks to the sales department, and items that are in stock longer will be promoted and sold by affiliates. Thanks to this division of duties, both salespeople and affiliates will stay out of each other’s way while sales increase.

Affiliate support as sales replacement

Can affiliate marketing replace sales?

Now let’s talk about the possibility of replacing sales with affiliate marketing. Would it be profitable and, if so, when and why?

If you are just starting a business, it may be wise to utilize affiliate marketing. It’s an excellent solution because it does not require an initial substantial financial contribution just to get started. 

At the very beginning of your business venture, when your offer is not well known on the market, looking for cheaper ways to market your offering may be essential to stay in the game. Once your market position is stable, you can invest in setting up a sales department or increasing the number of affiliates you have. 

If you aim to get involved with various forms of promotion and sales, as well as to reach the largest and most diverse target groups, then you should focus on affiliate marketing. The thing is that different affiliates probably have different audiences, which practically guarantees a wider reach of your offering.

On the other hand, sales departments usually implement similar strategies to reach new client segments. Therefore, they often need a lot more time to achieve this than affiliates do. Sales departments usually have established positions in the eyes of potential clients already, making it easier to trust them.

Affiliate marketing – for whom and why

Now let’s think about whom affiliate marketing is for. We will discuss some examples and show you why you should invest in this promotional channel. What entities should consider adding an affiliate program to their existing marketing strategy?

  • New businesses – as mentioned before, it is cheaper to pay commission to affiliates than to secure wages for a whole sales department.
  • A brand whose products require expert knowledge to promote it well – it is better to rely on professionals in a given industry than to rely only on salespeople’s research.
  • Companies that have a well-established market position, but want to try different ways of reaching customers – sometimes it’s good to test various options.
  • Companies that want to work on customer contact or image – affiliates have more possibilities to work on the brand image than members of the sales department, because they have a more personal connection with potential buyers. Customers perceive affiliates more like their peers (in contrast to salespeople), which is why they trust them more. If you do not have PR coverage and want to improve your brand exposure, focus on affiliates – they not only sell and promote products, but also enhance your brand image.

As you can see, affiliate marketing is more useful for some businesses and less so for others. Consider whether your company is in any of the positions mentioned above if you are thinking about affiliate partnerships.

81% of the marketers and 84% of the publishers are already using affiliate marketing

At this point, it is worth mentioning synergy. As the rules of synergy states, sometimes it’s worth combining several methods to get better results than executing two strategies separately. Together they can deliver amazing results. Just as the principle of synergy states: 1+1=3.

If you want to know more about affiliate marketing, check out this article: 14 Actionable Affiliate Marketing Tips & Strategies You Need To Know

Conclusions – can affiliate marketing replace sales?

We can safely say that affiliate marketing can bring many benefits. Can it replace sales? In some cases, yes. But is it worth giving up a sales department for it? Probably not. Using affiliate marketing as sales support may be the wisest option.  The decision is up to you, and we hope that this article helped you make the right one.

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