In my last blog post, I discussed some of the consumer behavior trends that have been brought about by the current economic recession and how those trends are creating opportunities for affiliate marketers. Today I want to look at some other affiliate opportunities for a much more complex and difficult market: business to business (B2B). While I know that the majority of our members probably focus their affiliate business at end-consumers, some of our users may have already or are considering venturing into B2B affiliate marketing. Selling to business can be very lucrative, however business buyers are often a lot more discerning than the average customer, and have different and often far more specific concerns than the average consumer. Think of it this way; which decision would you put more thought into: a) purchasing some stationary to have around the house, or b) your boss asks you to take care of this months stationary order for your office. I don't know about you, but if I make a mistake when I buy something for myself I not nearly as concerned as when I make a mistake buying something for the company I work for!
Many businesses are struggling at the moment, and even the ones that haven't yet felt the effects of the economic downturn are putting in measures now to lessen the blow when the wave finally hits. So with all this doom and gloom, no one in their right mind would be trying to increase sales to business right now, right? The answer is not a exactly resounding “no”, but rather a “not necessarily”. It all comes down to what you're trying to sell. Businesses still need to operate, and they still need to consume resources in order to operate. They are just changing the way they approach purchases. While businesses are far more risk-adverse in a recession, they will all clamber over one another for something that will lower their fixed costs, make them more efficient and generate more sales. Let's have a look at 4 business trends and what affiliate opportunities they create:
1. “Cost-Cutting”, “Streamlining”, “Maximizing Efficiency”,...
Call it what ever buzz term you want – it means spending less money and making the money you do spend go further. Products which lower an overhead cost for a company, or allow one worker to do the job of two will be looked on favorably, particularly if the product is easy to use and doesn't have big learning curve or large switching costs.
2. Quick ROI
If the product your selling will give a business returns in a year or two (or just a relatively long period, depending on the kind of product), forget it. Some companies might not even be here by then. They want to know that anything they buy is going to start saving or making them money now. Business becomes very concerned with the short term in a recession, quite simply because for many businesses it is a fight for survival. Products that give immediate benefits/cost-savings/income will become very popular.
3. Lead Generation
It's all about sales! If a company isn't selling anything, then all the cost saving measures in the world will just delay the inevitable. Products that help bring in business at a lower cost-per-acquisition than the competition are certainly going to look attractive to business buyers. Reliability and believability is paramount though; while a “1000's of leads for just $50” product might grab a particularly desperate business owner, the majority will smell a scam and move on. No one is going to be risking their job on a disreputable product.
“Defend your training budget! It's the first thing to go when times get tough!” That's what my Sales Management Professor told me in business school – and being a 40 year veteran salesman, I'm sure he was right – sort-of. While many discretionary training programs might be cut to save money, businesses are trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of their workforce. Online training programs can be very cost effective, as are ebooks and DVD guides. They have small upfront costs, and may allow a worker to perform an additional task or skillset rather than employ someone else, or contract another company to do it.
So what kinds of products could you, as an affiliate marker, be trying to sell to businesses with a recession mindset? Here are just a few ideas: (Disclaimer: the sites I found and list in this blog are just to give you an idea of the kinds of products out there, nor I or Affilorama are recommending or endorsing these products and we strongly suggest you research any products thoroughly before becoming an affiliate.)
- Software as a Service: This is a huge industry and it's only going to get bigger. If you haven't heard of SaaS, take a look here. In a nutshell though it's a software application hosted on the web that you can access through your browser instead of installing it on your computer (think Google Docs). Why is this so big? Cash-flow for one. Paying $300 per month for a online software suite that is regularly updated rather than paying $5000 upfront for an application that will need to be upgraded in a year is an accounts dream come true. It also lowers fixed costs associated with technical support and servers (yeah, IT departments just love SaaS), and is easily scalable, meaning adding another user might just mean paying $20 per month more rather than buying another copy of the software or increasing your server capacity. Finding good products to promote might take a bit of research; and it may well be good to stick to areas you know, for example if you have a background in accounting, promote SaaS accounting applications. Some may even have an on-going commission structure which create great passive earnings. Here are two examples of SaaS affiliate programs I found after a brief search: www.ennect.com (Resellers) and allbase.com (Affiliate Program)
- Lead Generation and Mailing Lists: while this is probably one of the big categories for scams, there are also a lot of legitimate companies that create leads and business for other companies. Do solid background work before staking your own affiliate reputation on a product, but if you find reputable organization that an deliver real value, you could not only make good commission but become a respected information source for other businesses. For example: www.4dhotleads.com (Affiliate Program)
- Training programs and Material: eLearning is a massive industry, and there's a lot to choose from. Try looking at programs from a company's perspective; “How is this going to help my employees do something better/faster/more efficiently?”Also, as I covered in my previous post, online retail is one of the only glimmers of hope for many businesses right now. Products that help businesses who are already selling online do it better, or that help businesses who aren't yet selling online set up a virtual store front easily and cheaply could be very popular, particularly if marketed in the right way to the right people. Likewise, thanks largely in part to President Barack Obama's campaign for office, EVERYONE wants a social media presence and strategy at the moment, but few know how to go about it. Thankfully there are numerous ebooks and education material for helping businesses capitalize on this expanding medium themselves, rather than contract another company to do it for them. For example www.learntowriteproposals.com (Affiliate Program)
Attempting to get into the B2B affiliate marketing game may not be for everyone. Remember a big part of affiliate marketing is being able to get passionate about the product your promoting, and letting that passion permeate through your content and drive sales. If you don't have a lot of interest in business (apart from your own of course!), then I wouldn't recommend trying to sell products to businesses. However I know through some of the feedback we get from users that we have a really wide range of backgrounds here in the Affilorama community (one of the reasons I really like Affilorama actually!), so to some of our users who perhaps have a background in business – maybe you're retired or your doing affiliate marketing as a hobby or to supplement your income – you could be using your existing knowledge of business to sell products you understand to companies and business people like yourself!
I'd like to hear from any people who might have a background in business on what I've written here. Do you agree with the trends I've outlined? Or maybe you think businesses act in other important ways during a recession that you think I've missed (this list is far from comprehensive: people do Doctorates writing about how business responds to recession!). Any comments or critiques are definitely welcome! While I really hope Affilorama users can learn something from me, I'm always keen to learn something in return!