Affiliate Marketing Fits Right In With B2B’s Move to Digital


B2B affiliate marketing is a relatively new phenomenon. It has experienced significant growth as brands, partners and networks adapt to the distinctive needs of businesses targeting other businesses. Challenges—such as subscription models, high-price-point products, no discounting, extended sales cycles and multiple conversion events—have expedited the need to reconsider how affiliate can be effective for B2B SaaS brands. With a history of diverse partnerships, these brands recognize collaboration’s importance—yet, until recently, affiliate was mainly seen as an option for only larger B2B brands, ones who could control their cost per action through one standard commission rate, plus some basic assets that could sell themselves.

The shift to remote work due to Covid-19 boosted confidence in making high-value purchases online. This led to an expansion beyond traditional sales models and increased overall competitiveness in the industry. Meanwhile, B2B buyers’ interactions in their purchasing journey are on the rise, predominantly from digital channels: According to a recent McKinsey study, the average number of distinct channels that B2B customers used during their decision journey was five, climbing to 10 in 2023.

All this has spurred B2B brands to explore the potential of an affiliate program—a scenario in which partners can effectively tailor messaging and content across the buyer’s digital journey. Historically, CMOs were apprehensive about the perceived lack of control in affiliate marketing, the challenges of a one-to-many sales approach and the absence of suitable partners to justify the investment. However, trends indicate a shift as CMOs advocate for heightened digital expansion, mirroring strategies employed by consumer brands for years; as stated in the McKinsey report, “the consumerization of B2B buying appears nearly complete.”

Per the study, leading B2B companies are embracing ecommerce, expanding omnichannel footprints significantly and extending beyond conventional sales team structures. The trend is shifting toward online transactions for business purchases—two-thirds of buyers in 2022 opted for remote human interactions or digital self-service at the ordering and reordering stages—and affiliate has emerged as a pivotal strategy in sustaining this growth.

With the affiliate strategy primarily digital, partners can reach new audiences across various channels. Additionally, partners can help enhance the sales team, providing new outlets to support buyers throughout the purchasing cycle. By working with different affiliate partners, products can penetrate the market quickly because partners have an existing audience and a wide range of digital channels to engage them.

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