July 09, 2015

Why the Affiliate Sandbox is Shifting in the US

Author : Stephanie Harris


This article first appeared in PerformanceIN on June 8th, 2015.

The affiliate sandbox is shifting. The composite we have played in since the late ‘90s, layered with coupon, loyalty, data feed, and a smattering of content sites, has been disrupted. As the performance marketing industry matures, the perception of what a “valuable affiliate” is, and how it is measured, has evolved. Advertisers want more affiliate revenue, but only from sources and touch-points they recognize as incremental sales.

How many times have affiliate marketers found themselves in challenging conversations about those who “introduce” and those who “conclude” a sale, about “mommy bloggers”, about valuable content or niche sites, and “less valuable” traditional affiliate sites? Efforts are being re-directed to respond to this shift, and a cottage industry has emerged to address a clear gap. There are countless departments, specialist roles, processes, and software aimed at coaxing these high-valued content and blogger sites into the affiliate sandbox.


One of the biggest indicators of this is the shift away from the last-click-wins-all and toward the multi-touch model, with the most valued affiliates pegged as the “initiators”. Advertisers seek to grow this bucket of sites, and to address this need a great deal of time is spent in the pursuit of recruiting potential initiators. Through these efforts, the insight we’ve gleaned is that, with some exceptions, the engagement we need to have with these types of sites is different from affiliate engagement, and requires a pivot in thinking, in workflow, and in the structural model in order to address it. We can still grow the relationships our advertisers have with these types of sites, but not necessarily through the affiliate channel, and not always by working within our own sandbox.

These sites, as a whole, don’t respond well to the pay-per-performance model. Anyone who has tried tirelessly over the years to forge relationships with these sites at their conferences and in their milieu, and drag them out of their box, over the line, and into an affiliate program can attest to this. They are of a different breed. Affiliate marketing is traditionally focused on the conversion of a sale, and the traditional affiliate role is the execution of that sale. To focus on influencing the sale is a different strategy. And it requires a different approach.


To understand the most effective method is to understand the motivation. Why do advertisers want to spend so much time recruiting these sites? It’s not for the revenue they generate, or their sheer volume – typically these sites won’t do near the volume of the traditional affiliate, which is built more for mass appeal. What is valuable is their platform to speak to niche, targeted potential customers with a high customer lifetime value. And what are the sites interested in? They want to introduce brands to their audience, build enthusiasm, and generate content and sponsorships.

The essence of influencer marketing is the same as affiliate marketing: it’s about finding, creating, and fostering direct relationships with sites that advertisers care about. But we need to measure success, the ultimate sandcastle, in terms of reach and engagement, not on a converted sale. Sponsoring giveaways, contests, reviews, or creative paid placement, in exchange for an upfront fee for their time and access to their audience, gives advertisers the traction they’re looking for with these sites. Playing with a different set of guidelines for a different kind of sandbox will allow an advertiser to secure real estate on the coveted influencer sites, as well as foster relationships with site owners who have influence with target brand enthusiasts. This is a new day, and a new way to play.


If you’re interested in learning about how our new REACH program could help your brand, please request a consultation below.

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April 16, 2015

Fundamentals of a Successful Retreat: a 2015 Recap

Author : Stephanie Harris

Corporate Retreat, You Say? Let’s Do It The SPC Way

Ever plan a vacation for your family? What are your intentions? If they’re like mine, you want to reconnect, remove the distractions of everyday life, and get back to what matters most. You want to have meaningful conversation, and make lasting memories. You want everyone to have a good time, and return home feeling rejuvenated, refocused, and perhaps most importantly, happy and proud to be part of your clan. Well, these are the objectives I keep in mind when I plan one of our team retreats, because we are in a sense one large family both figuratively and literally – we are owned by two brothers after all.  We don’t all live under the same roof,  some are at the Austin HQ, others are in NYC, LA, Minneapolis, and even as far as Rome and Sao Paolo, so these get-togethers are crucial for maintaining our unity and our cohesion. We do them every 18 months or so, and it is some of the best money this family spends.

Here’s an inside peek at our most recent retreat that happened from March 23 – 26, 2015.

Work Hard

Brook Schaaf        Julie Avila

We are, first and foremost, in the business of generating the best ROI for our clients. So we use a majority of our time away from the onslaught of our daily work to discuss how we can best accomplish this. What are we investing in as a company? What are our goals? How can we best serve in our role as trusted advisors to our clients?

We each did a lot of talking… ok seriously a lot of talking!

Stephanie Harris CEO










Each “role”, whether a team or an individual contributor, presented on their unique challenges, what it is they do that we might not understand, and the kind of support they need from the rest of the organization to be successful. Interestingly, two groups used the same imagery to depict how they feel sometimes: being under attack from “bombs” of requests. I think we can all relate!

Dan Bryant







It was a great example of our first value, professional intimacy, as it was a look at different personal perspectives – how we relate to each other, what we need from each other, how we can be better understood. Sounds like the core of all family dynamics.

We also did a demo of our proprietary enterprise management solution, which is being custom-built from scratch, ChocolateMalt (the actual chocolate malts to celebrate this session were DELICIOUS).

Affiliate Management Agency

We all were very excited by the cool things it can and will do in the future, and brainstormed additional features. As one of us pointed out, thankfully we hadn’t dubbed this an olive sandwich or we’d be less excited by this surprise culinary tie-in. Needless to say, we were rocking sugar highs for the rest of the morning.

Brian Littleton, ShareASaleWe even had guests join! Our friend, CEO and President of ShareASale, Brian Littleton did an amazing session on the exciting advances in the network. Another two core values, expertise and improvement, were on full-on display during this info-sharing and info-gathering meeting of the minds.   We came home with LOTS of ideas. I think ShareASale will be sorry we gave them so much homework!

Thanks to Khorus CEO Joel Trammell for also coming out. We have been working on our team alignment so that we all move in concert toward the achievement of our common goals. Our fourth value is responsibility, and it’s very important to us to own our actions. Khorus is a cascading goals software that will take this to the next level. One of our owners, Forrest Schaaf, even said it was perhaps the best presentation by a software provider he’d ever heard, which is high praise from Forrest! I had to agree – we were all inspired by the internal clarity this brought us.

Play Hard

All work and no play is “no way” for SPC. We work hard so we can play hard, and play we did! Since our retreats are the only opportunities we have to all see each other until the next time, we make the most of it! Check out our zip-lining high above the trees.

Schaaf-PartnerCentric           Schaaf-PartnerCentric

There was a sky bridge you had to walk over to get from one landing to the next, and one of us thought it was funny to shake this treacherous thing for the others still carefully balancing across. Talk about a bonding moment – he shall remain nameless, but I will never forget the look of pure terror on our team member’s face when felt the uncontrollable shaking of a very rickety bridge high above that he was still many steps away from crossing. The hysterical laughter from the rest of us safely watching from our perches made it all worthwhile. He likely will not agree.

We also did a fond farewell to Brook Schaaf, our departing CEO who stepped up into the Chairman role in March. We each went around discussing our favorite memories of Brook – some only the family should ever know about 😉 But some the world should share in – Brook serenading us at our last retreat at Disney World or wrapping his desk in plastic wrap, or his penchant for gag gifts (he once tried to send me an actual car dashboard because I kept mentioning I’d love to see a dashboard of, you know, KPIs and such).

Perhaps the best future memory of all though, was a presentation of a classy portrait for our departing leader that even had him blushing. We did this for a client once – his idea– so turnabout is fair play, no?

Brook Schaaf

We might do a separate blog post on the creation of this work of art. It’s not your everyday team that can put their collaborative minds together to come up with such a unique statement.

Socialize with Friends

Affiliate Program Management

A retreat is not complete without some socializing with the outside world, and we love to make an occasion of us all being together to eat, drink, and be merry. We invited everyone in the industry, clients, affiliates, contacts, vendors, and the like, to join us for a “community night” happy hour. We had a great time seeing old and new faces, connecting and deepening relationships, and walking around barefoot because our shoes killed us (that was me, but it was a pool location in my defense).

BuildASign Affiliate Program

Thanks to everyone who came to hang out with us at our community night. It is always wonderful to see and be seen, and I always love showing off my family. They were all well behaved … unless they were on the “late return” bus :-).

Now It’s Time To Say Goodbye…

Before you know it, it’s time to go home. Everyone always gets sad when the vacation is over. You know your family gets along well and loves each other when you see tears during the goodbyes. I take this as a testament to the strength of our bond, our culture, and our commitment to each other and our work. It’s that much more special when we don’t see each other every day to take time out of our busy lives to get together, re-engage, reconnect, and renew our dedication. That’s what successful families do, right?

On the way back to the airport, I kept thinking about our Start/Stop/Continue exercise (we do one at every retreat – if you haven’t done them, I highly suggest trying it out after a quick google search). We brainstormed a ton of great suggestions and ideas from each category to make our business stronger, our lives more productive, and deliver on our promise to our clients. Under “Continue” was the proposal “team retreat” with lots and lots of votes.  That’s one suggestion we will happily oblige.

Check out the full photo album on our Facebook page.


March 19, 2015

Measuring Customer Enthusiasm: You Just Need To Ask The Right Question

Author : Stephanie Harris

NPS Score

Our Net Promoter Score is 67, Amazon’s is 64, and Apple’s is 72. The Net Promoter Score (or NPS) is a customer service metric derived from asking customers a very simple question: How likely are you to recommend us to someone? A score of -100 would mean everyone hates what you’re doing, and a score of +100 means everyone loves what you’re doing (and wouldn’t that be nice?). In reality, a score of 50 or higher is considered excellent, which is why I tout my company’s as a badge of pride. We’re all into big data these days, but here’s a deceptively small piece of information that will give you big bang for your buck. Read on for the insights I glean from it…

The Math

Ask your customers, on a scale of 1 – 10, how likely they are to recommend you to others. If a customer gives you a 9 or a 10, that makes them a promoter, a loyal enthusiast. Scores of 0 – 6 are detractors – these are your unhappy customers, whether they outwardly tell you they are unhappy or not. As for the people in the middle, your 7s and 8s, they are considered passives. They don’t count here in the formula, though they certainly count for what you can learn from them. From surveying your customers on this one seemingly simple question, you can derive the NPS score – subtract your percent of detractors from your percent of promoters and there you have it.

Your Promoters

Ok, so these are the guys that make it all look easy. In your customer base, these are the people who give you referrals repeatedly, tell colleagues and friends about you, and make you feel like you’re doing everything right. And maybe you didn’t even know this about them. You still have a lot to learn from the guys who score you 9s and 10s. Perhaps the high score is a surprise – they don’t seem as engaged as you’d figure an enthusiast would be, or you weren’t pulling out all the stops for these customers. That’s definitely something to look at. When you follow up with them (and it’s best practice in my experience to do so), you’ll be able to find out what exactly you’re doing that makes them so likely to tell others about your business, because if they were a surprise promoter, you’re likely placing value in the wrong things. And what of the promoters you were already counting on? Regularly seeing these loyal cheerleaders in the promoter rank gives you an idea of your true core base – are there trends into the types of customer they are (volume, vertical, demographic, etc.), what they value in your offering, who they interact with day-to-day? These are important insights upon which you can continue to build your success and customer retention.

Your Passives

This is an interesting set of the customer base. You might think a score of a 7 or an 8 is pretty good, and it’s not “bad”, that’s true. But it doesn’t boost your NPS score, and for good reason. They’re not enthusiastic, and they’re not unhappy, but this set is the one you have to work to nudge in your favor. What more could you be doing to increase their commitment to you and their feelings about you? Because clearly whatever you are currently doing is not resonating loudly enough with them.Again, who do they interact with most regularly, are there other similarities, do they receive the same attention and level of service as your promoters? Do they share any similar backgrounds? When you speak to your passives, work to uncover what is keeping them from giving you that 9 or 10 – this is where the real gold lies.

Your Detractors

This is a scary bunch. If a customer has rated you anywhere from 0 – 6, they are not thrilled with you. Maybe a 5 or 6 sounds fair to you – but from doing this many, many, times I can tell you the exercise does not lie. These guys will all give you the greatest churn rate, and they will often be a surprise. You might think “wow – I thought things were going well with this customer. They seemed happy, or at least never expressed dissatisfaction.” Or, “huh – I’m surprised by how many detractors I have when I’ve just launched this great new line of inventory.” What does this tell you? If you’re surprised by who your detractors are or how many detractors you have (which does pull the NPS score down), you are turning people off in a big way. Learning what is repelling that customer base will not only tell you where your true weaknesses lie (known or otherwise), but it will also force you to look at the hard questions. Perhaps you’re uncomfortably outside your area of expertise with this base, or there’s a department or function within your organization not operating as it should. And what if you get the same detractors over and over? You’re not doing enough to address the dissatisfaction and they will eventually leave. Work to uncover these answers and you could reduce churn, increase stability, and save yourself a lot of headache. Uncovering the source of this segment’s dissatisfaction could give you the wake up call that saves your business.

Your Overall Score

When you put this all together, what does it mean? Looking at the NPS score over time, you can trend your score against major milestones (and issues) in your organization’s history. We at Schaaf-PartnerCentric regularly measure our NPS and whether it’s improved, declined, or remained stagnant. Why do we do this? We want a snapshot of ourselves in time, to compare to the other snapshots we’ve taken, allowing us to look back at this album to see how we’ve grown, how we’ve changed, and how we’ve gotten better or worse in our customers’ eyes. It tells us whether our customers as a whole are becoming more or less committed to us, and more or less satisfied with our service. You gain clarity on a list of questions to ask yourself about your business: what might have affected my score, what were the positive indicators, the negatives? Perhaps most importantly, is their confidence in our direction increasing, enough to risk their own reputation by telling others to do business with us? Are you on the right path or do you need a course correction? The customer is always right, and they will tell you. You just have to ask the right question.

This article first appeared in LinkedIn on March 10, 2015.