Michelle Wood

How to Succeed in Affiliate Marketing: Hiring for a Merchant Development Team

Hiring in general is one of those classic balancing acts of art and science. It can be a little about luck, a little about a gut feeling you have, and a little about the candidates possessing the specific skills you are looking for.  

Hiring a Merchant Development team to build and manage your advertiser relationships for a publisher or cashback platform supported by a strong merchant portfolio, is no different.  

So what are the skills that you should be looking for and considering when you are trying to  hire team members to grow your merchant portfolio and ultimately your affiliate program revenue?

Here’s my take on what I look for that has helped me build very successful teams over my 18 year tenure in the affiliate marketing industry.  

1) Strong Relationship Builder

How strong is your Rolodex?  The number one thing I look for in someone is a history of building and maintaining business partnerships.  Affiliate marketing success is based on building a mutually-beneficial business partnership between the publisher/platform and the advertiser.  

Merchant Development professionals need to demonstrate they have the ability and the experience to listen and understand the client’s marketing goals and challenges.  Ensuring an understanding of advertiser goals will demonstrate that they are a trusted partner and that any recommendations are based on the advertiser’s needs.  

I have seen too many instances where a Merchant Development Manager makes a recommendation based on how they are compensated rather than recommending ideas that will help address the specific needs or  challenges of the advertiser. 

In contrast, having the ability to take a consultative approach with advertisers will ensure continued partnership and opportunity to continue growing revenue for both the advertiser and you as the publisher. 

The truth is that most people want to do business with people that they trust and have demonstrated they have their best interests in mind.  

2) Revenue Focused

Affiliate marketing is a pay-for-performance channel.  Meaning, if your platform/site is not driving consumers to your advertisers to make a purchase, then you will not make money. 

When looking to hire for your team, look for someone who has a track record of helping advertisers incrementally grow their affiliate program revenue by developing strategies and tactics that drive performance. 

You also want someone who is proactive: reviewing the performance of advertisers on a consistent basis to ensure they are always investigating how to improve a program, and executing on additional strategies to drive traffic should there be a dip in consumer interest or a seasonality effect. 

Again, if your team is not focused on revenue-producing activities for advertisers, you will not succeed as a publisher.  

Which leads me to my next important skill... 

3) Analytical

Merchant Development managers need to have a basic understanding of online marketing metrics and what levers can influence those metrics. 

It would be impossible for someone to make marketing or campaign recommendations without first understanding the key metrics to evaluate success.  

Additionally, Merchant Development associates need to have a solid understanding of what healthy campaign metrics look like so that they can identify any gaps or declines and easily determine what might be causing the lower-than-expected performance, and take fast action.  

Advertisers are looking for a partner that can not only grow their revenue but also identify missed opportunities for revenue growth and make recommendations. 

There is nothing more damaging to your business and your partnership with an advertiser than discovering several weeks or even months have gone by with declining performance for an advertiser because someone was not paying attention to the affiliate program metrics, or simply didn’t know what to look for.

4) Affiliate Industry Experience

While it’s not a requirement that someone have years of affiliate industry experience, I have learned over the years that the learning curve when joining a new company is vastly reduced if this person does have a basic knowledge of the industry, various affiliate marketing models, and the competition.   

Advertisers are speaking with Merchant Development managers from various affiliate marketing companies daily, and it's advantageous to understand the value your platform brings to them in comparison to what competitors offer. 

Also, the experience and knowledge someone can bring from their previous company on what affiliate marketing tactics worked and didn’t, can be valuable to you as you grow your merchant network and look to expand your capabilities for consumers and advertisers. 


The affiliate industry has become a tight community over the years and, to reiterate this point, people like to do business with people they like and trust.  Having a Merchant Development team that already has a background in the space and understands the nuances of navigating through affiliate networks, marketing agencies, and all the other supporting players in the affiliate marketing universe will help you make connections with top advertisers more quickly and will effectively expedite your affiliate program growth.


Merchants: grow your affiliate program with Wildfire's network


Published by Michelle Wood April 12, 2022
Michelle Wood