The B2B Affiliate Exchange Series

Affiliate Evolution: Close CRM's Journey to 300+ Quarterly Referrals

This interview features James Urie, the Senior Partnerships Manager at Close CRM, discussing the intricacies and strategies behind their successful B2B affiliate program. James delves into the program's genesis, highlighting the shift from sales to partnerships and how this pivot fostered the development of the affiliate program.

Team size
1 person
# Partnerships
3,800+
Partner platform
Interviewee
James Urie
Company website
https://www.close.com/
Job title
Sr. Partnerships Manager
Commission structure
Percentage-Based
Company
Close CRM
Payout
20%

Key Highlights & Takeaways

Welcome to our 'Key Takeaways' segment from our B2B affiliate interview series. In these brief but insightful videos, we highlight the most impactful strategies and insights shared by industry experts.
This interview is Brought to you by
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See It in Action

Before we delve into the specifics of your affiliate program, can you provide our audience with a brief overview of your company?

James Urie, the senior partnerships manager at Close CRM, explains that Close CRM is a specialized sales CRM designed by salespeople for salespeople.

The platform aims to boost sales teams' productivity and performance by offering an intuitive CRM system. This system includes comprehensive communication tools, simplifying sales processes, and allowing sales professionals to concentrate on their strengths like building relationships and effective communication.

The primary goal of Close CRM is to provide a seamless and unobtrusive CRM experience, enabling salespeople to leverage their skills without being hindered by complex software.

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What platform have you built the foundation of your affiliate program on? How has your experience been thus far?

James Urie and his team at Close CRM identified early on that their affiliate program, originally a component of a larger partnership scheme, lacked dedicated development and management.

James, recognizing the program's potential, shifted his focus towards enhancing it. A significant challenge they faced under his guidance was the absence of automated payouts in their existing platform, a crucial factor that needed resolution before any expansion could be considered.

Under James' leadership, Close CRM made a strategic move to PartnerStack, a platform they have now been utilizing for about three years. The transition to PartnerStack, spearheaded by James, has been tremendously successful.

From the onboarding process to the technical support, every aspect was streamlined, notably resolving the automated payout issue. PartnerStack has not only facilitated an efficient setup for Close CRM's affiliate program but has also been instrumental in supporting and amplifying James Urie's brand vision.

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Can you walk us through the inception of your B2B affiliate program? What motivated you to start and what initial objectives did you set?

James’ path to managing the affiliate program at Close CRM began during his tenure in the sales team.

His interactions with agencies and sales consultants frequently touched on the interest in a referral or affiliate arrangement with Close CRM. Initially, these conversations were primarily focused on leveraging contacts for lead generation.

However, they gradually evolved into more comprehensive discussions about potential partnerships. It was through these dialogues that James realized these were, in essence, early stages of a partnership program. This epiphany highlighted the necessity for a well-defined affiliate program at Close CRM.

The driving force behind this shift was the recognition of the immense potential in collaborating with a single partner to acquire multiple customers, as opposed to the traditional one-to-one sales approach.

This transition from direct sales to a partnership-centric model marked the inception of the affiliate program. The primary goal at this early stage, as envisioned by James, was to transform these informal referral interactions into a formal, scalable, and effectively managed program.

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Every growth journey has its set of hurdles. What were some of the primary challenges you faced in establishing and scaling your affiliate program, and how did you navigate them?

Addressing one of the primary challenges, Urie and his team at Close CRM focused on how to acquire new partners who would not only join but actively contribute to the affiliate program.

While it was relatively straightforward to attract interested parties, the real task lay in identifying those who would actively participate and significantly impact the program. Their strategy began with tapping into Close CRM's existing customer base, looking for customers who were already referring others to their platform. The team, under James' guidance, concentrated on incentivizing these individuals to further promote Close CRM.

A critical aspect of their approach was profiling these active referrers to understand their motivations and methods.

This insight was then used to attract similar, effective partners. James noted that agencies and consultants within their customer base were particularly productive in this regard.

Another significant challenge was sustaining partner motivation over time. To tackle this, James and his team prioritized maintaining regular and flexible communication with their top-producing partners. They focused on providing these partners with the necessary support and strategic insights, ensuring their ongoing success and engagement with the program.

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Affiliate programs require a mix of strategy and execution. Could you share one or two growth strategies that you believe were instrumental in taking your program to the next level?

Urie's strategy for expanding the affiliate program at Close CRM encompassed a blend of targeted recruitment and continuous engagement with partners.

The initial tactic involved identifying and recruiting active partners from the existing customer base. The focus was on customers who were already effectively referring others to Close CRM, with an aim to further incentivize their efforts. By analyzing the traits of these active referrers, James and his team were able to replicate this success by finding and engaging similar partners, thereby building a robust network of productive affiliates.

The second crucial strategy was sustaining engagement with top partners. Emphasizing regular communication and adaptability to their needs, James' approach transcended the necessity of frequent meetings, favoring consistent interactions through channels like email and Slack instead.

The objective was to support these partners comprehensively, whether through technical assistance, offering unique discounts, or collaborative strategizing. This methodology was instrumental in maintaining partner motivation and productivity, significantly contributing to the growth and success of Close CRM's affiliate program.

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How do you measure the success of your affiliate program? Are there specific KPIs or milestones that you're particularly proud of achieving?

In evaluating the effectiveness of the affiliate program at Close CRM, Urie and his team prioritize several key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success.

The primary metrics include the number of referrals received each quarter, with a target set at a minimum of 300 referrals. Additionally, they aim for a 30% conversion rate on these referrals. Consistently achieving these figures is an indicator of the program's robust performance.

Another vital KPI for James' team is the growth in commission payouts to affiliates. They target a 15% quarter-over-quarter increase in commission payouts, a metric that offers valuable insight into the overall health and expansion of the program.

Beyond these formal KPIs, James and his team also pay close attention to the number of leads generated. Although an informal metric, this 'temperature check' serves as a crucial gauge of the overall engagement with and effectiveness of their affiliate strategies.

Keeping track of these KPIs allows James and his team to maintain a detailed understanding of the program's performance and areas for potential improvement.

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James has observed a notable trend in the rise of solopreneurs, particularly those branching out to establish their own agencies based on their expertise and knowledge. A significant portion of these emerging solopreneurs are former customers of Close CRM who often utilize the affiliate program as a cornerstone for their new ventures.

This trend has become a crucial part of Close CRM's organic inbound partnership funnel. In response, James and his team actively engage with these solopreneurs, offering insights and support to assist them in acquiring their first clients.

Another trend James has noted is the growing recognition of affiliate programs as a viable side hustle. More individuals are realizing the potential of participating in affiliate programs with tools and platforms they are already familiar with and value.

However, there's a noticeable gap in awareness among tech companies, many of which don't promote their affiliate programs as extensively as they could. To address this, James believes in the importance of effectively branding Close CRM's affiliate program and simplifying the education around it. This approach is seen as an opportunity to make the program more accessible and appealing, especially to those who might not traditionally engage in revenue-generating roles. By capitalizing on these trends, James aims to expand the reach and impact of the affiliate program at Close CRM.

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Based on your journey, what advice would you offer to B2B brands either starting their affiliate journey or looking to refine and elevate their existing programs?

James Urie's advice for B2B brands considering or looking to enhance their affiliate programs is centered on starting simple yet effective.

His recommendation is to kickstart the affiliate program with a technology solution that simplifies management. This includes capabilities to accept partners, track leads, distribute affiliate links, and manage commissions. James emphasizes the importance of initiating the program, even with manual payouts initially, and then scaling up as needed.

Once the program is operational, the next crucial step is to raise awareness among the entire customer base. He advises letting customers know that anyone can join the affiliate program and earn through referrals. This opportunity should be consistently highlighted in communications, such as newsletters and even in team email signatures.

As customer referrals begin to come in, James suggests analyzing these active referrers to build an ideal partner profile. Understanding how these partners operate allows for the identification and activation of similar partners, effectively scaling the program through a reverse-engineering approach.

Furthermore, James highlights the significance of leveraging integration partners in the SaaS industry. He recommends identifying partners that complement your product offerings and collaborating with them. Encouraging communication between customer-facing teams and those of integration partners can forge a cohesive referral network. This strategy, according to James, is not only low-effort but also highly effective in driving leads and growing the affiliate program.

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How have partnerships, whether with other businesses or affiliate platforms, influenced or supported the growth and efficiency of your program?

James Urie acknowledges that partnerships have been a fundamental factor in the growth and efficiency of the affiliate program at Close CRM. A critical component of these partnerships, especially in the SaaS industry, is integration partnerships.

These are instrumental in filling product gaps that Close CRM does not cover, establishing a symbiotic relationship. James focuses on collaborating with companies at similar stages of development, ensuring robust native integration between their platforms.

However, James points out that these integration partnerships are not limited to just technical connections; they also involve a strategic alignment of customer-facing teams.

By facilitating close cooperation between Close CRM's teams and those of their integration partners, they create a network adept at addressing customer objections and referring leads to each other. This strategy goes beyond mere referrals. It includes pairing up account executives or success managers from both parties to work collaboratively, sometimes even offering incentives (spiffs) for successful referrals.

James views this ecosystem of collaboration and referral between platforms as a valuable and accessible opportunity in the partnership landscape.

This approach significantly enhances the efficiency of Close CRM's affiliate program by capitalizing on the strengths of their partners and filling in any service or product gaps in their own offerings.

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