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In affiliate marketing, we talk a lot about traffic. Quality traffic that converts well is what gets the juices flowing for both publishers and advertisers. Tracking software is critical for making sure the advertisers pay proper commissions to publishers.

But there is another type of traffic that we don’t talk much about. This is communication traffic, flowing back and forth between affiliate managers trying to push their programs to potential or current affiliates, and vice versa. Whether they think about it or not, affiliate marketers are managing this communication traffic using a panoply of tools such as email applications, calendars, Excel sheets, social media and networks. But none of these tools manages this traffic with the equivalent effectiveness that tracking software does for tracking statistics.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is the exception. A CRM tool is the equivalent of tracking software when it comes to “tracking” communication traffic.

At the most basic level, CRM software allows you to have all your contacts’ information, calendar and emails in a single location. You’re probably thinking that Outlook does all that too. That’s true. But where CRM starts to shine is how it treats contacts. With CRM, your prospects are separate from, and treated differently than, your business contacts. That way affiliate managers can focus on recruiting by sending mass emails out to just prospects, and then once those prospects join the program, convert them to contacts at the click of a button.

Going further, a CRM will link records together to make it easier for you to find information. If you are a publisher who deals with three affiliate managers at the same company, you can have separate contact records for each, but have them linked to a single company record. Emails and other communications with contacts will show up under each contact. So rather than scrolling through thousands of emails in your general inbox, you can go straight to a particular prospect or contact and easily view all communications there. You can also upload any signed insertion orders or other agreements and attach them to specific contacts within a CRM.

Unlike email applications, which are meant to be used by a single user, CRM systems are designed for multiple users. So if you manage a team of affiliate managers, you can easily assign which affiliates they manage, keep tabs on their communications, share calendars, decide what information they should see, etc. Since all prospect, company, contact and communication records reside in a single database, if you have staff turnover, it is much easier to get a new affiliate manager up and running because all of those accounts and histories will still be there. You won’t have to start from scratch each time, and the employees you lose won’t have taken all that information with them to their next jobs.

Using CRM just for storing contact information is kind of like an advertiser using a network just to store links to their creatives. Without the dynamic tracking that takes place once those links get clicked, the advertiser would be better off storing creatives on their own servers. So to get the full benefit of a CRM system, you should use the built-in workflows. Workflows automate business processes similar to the way an assembly line automates manufacturing processes. You’ll still have to have some human input along the way, but the workflow essentially keeps putting the next tasks in front of you.

If you were to sit down and think about all the steps needed (including possible outcomes and resulting follow-up steps) to run an effective affiliate program, from recruiting to implementing to optimizing it, you’d probably have quite a roadmap to follow. Without pulling that map out multiple times a day, you probably wouldn’t know exactly where you are in managing your affiliate program efficiently. There is just too much to do. But by using that roadmap to create a workflow in a CRM system, so that every time you finish one task it automatically sends out another email, schedules a follow-up task, alerts you to overdue tasks, marks unresponsive prospects as dead, etc., you can focus on the appropriate tasks at the right times, without worrying about the process or dropping the ball on specific areas.

Although there are other benefits to using a CRM system, these are the main kickers. Bricks-and-mortar companies have been using CRM effectively for years, so now it is time for online companies to start benefiting from CRM.

Once a company recognizes the benefit of CRM, it often finds the process of implementing one disheartening. Configuring a CRM for the specific needs of a company and its industry can take a lot of time and money. Recognizing that hurdle, we designed eSilverBullet to be used exclusively for affiliate marketers, so although it still allows for custom configuration, it comes preconfigured to meet their needs.

This is a guest post requested by Gail Gardner of GrowMap for this blog and written by Adam Ward, Executive Director of eSilverBullet. Check out the eSilverBullet Affiliate Marketing Blog.

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