This talk was given by Erik Harbison, Chief Marketing Officer of AWeber Email Marketing at SaaS Connect 2018 in San Francisco, May 1-2, 2018. Get the slides

Any business venture is a journey of trial and error, and there are bound to be lessons learned along the way. Attempting to drive growth through affiliates is no different.

This is what Erik Harbison, then-Chief Marketing Officer at email marketing company AWeber, took to the stage at SaaS Connect to discuss.

AWeber’s 15-year growth journey has many lessons that business leaders can take away.

How did AWeber spur its initial growth?

AWeber experienced hockey stick growth, with a fast spurt of initial growth that eventually slowed down. A lot of that initial growth can be attributed to the company’s in-house affiliate marketing program.

Affiliate marketing was a good fit for AWeber because the company’s customers were really passionate about the product — and they were especially motivated by the 30-percent commission AWeber offered.

Because of this, the company went to where its customers were with a message about how affiliates could earn significant passive income. Revenue grew quickly and steadily during this time.

Who gets more attention: Bigger affiliates, or smaller affiliates that need a little help?

The AWeber affiliates broke pretty cleanly along the lines of the 80-20 rule. Twenty percent of affiliates generated 80 percent of that revenue.

Yet AWeber saw the remaining 80 percent of affiliates as opportunities, not low performers. That vast group of affiliates just needed a little help to scale up their own businesses, and revenue subsequently followed.

What else drove growth?

The trifecta of an in-house affiliate program, a product that customers were passionate about, and integration partnerships allowed AWeber to keep scaling.

Eventually, a team was built to support partnerships, and the affiliate program was able to add value for SaaS companies. As that trifecta grew, the affiliate program became established as its own hub of operations with its own team, which only stoked passion from customers.

What lessons did AWeber learn from its growth?

There are four lessons that businesses should take away from AWeber’s growth.

  1. In-person meetings are more effective than email.
  2. Growth requires companies to invest in dedicated team members.
  3. Educate and nurture the ripest of the remaining 80 percent of affiliates.
  4. Remarkable experiences are the strongest selling point a company can have.